For the second year in a row, our company was part of a very special coffee buying experience in Colombia, called ‘Huila Best Cup’. This program was established three years ago by Café Imports’ founder Andrew Miller and Banexport’s Jairo Ruiz. The purpose is to find and reward the best producers in the area, incentivizing them with a significant increase in the cash they receive for their coffee.
Jairo and the Banexport team in Colombia are amazing and talented people. It would be tough to find an export company that does more to benefit the farmer-producers in their country. Their mission is to get the best quality coffee for Colombia, and to ensure the producers get rewarded directly for this. They have an experienced team of agronomists that work hand in hand with the producers to improve their farming and milling processes. The better practices bring a higher cup quality, and more money for their harvest.
We were shown a prime example of Banexport’s work in our visit to Elgin Guzman’s experimental farm near the town of Pitalito, in the Colombian state of Huila. Elgin partners with Banexport to analyze differences in harvesting and processing techniques on specific varieties of coffee. For example, they use a Brix meter to measure the sugar content in the cherries, to determine the optimal time for picking. This goes well beyond simply picking the red, ripe-looking cherry. They have discovered that the Castillo variety is a denser bean that needs to remain on the tree longer to fully ripen (although it may appear ready). They even harvest at a specific time of day (6-10a) when the fruit is not stressed by the sun, and therefore the sugar content is highest.
Every step of the process is handled in this manner, very scientifically, with the ultimate test being taste of a cup of coffee. Another example is using different color screens to provide shade for the drying patios. Keeping everything else the same, Banexport and Elkin have discovered that a particular blue screen provided the optimal amount of solar radiation. Keeping temperature and humidity the same, the blue screen cupped 4 points better than the other colors.
All of this experimental work is shared with other producers in the area, with the greater benefit of elevating the coffee quality in Huila and improving the economy. They guide producers through sensorial analysis to suggest modifications to picking, pulping, fermentation, drying, and storage. The process is tailor made to each farm, generating long-term partnerships with coffee producers.