August 29, 2018

The Faces Behind Andino

By Jamie Isetts
The Faces Behind Andino
Producing amazing coffee takes a village. With the challenges present in many of the rural, developing places coffee grows in, each coffee that arrives to us with quality is a mini-miracle.  In August, we spent time visiting the “village” that helps make our Andino espresso a reality.  Here’s a profile of real people that create Andino from the town of Bruselas in Huila, Colombia.


The very first step of the harvest season? Pick the cherries off the tree. Marina is a picker on Mayelo Toro’s farm. For quality coffee, picking ripe and consistent cherry is a necessity. Easier said than done: Marina was finishing up a five hour session in the field when we met her bringing in her cherry to Mayelo’s wet mill, where fruit is pulped and fermented off the bean.


Producers manage the vision of the farm, and on small farms such as those in Huila, also take on many of the daily tasks. Good farmers think of their farms like a small business, and each infrastructure improvement or fertilization is an investment. Mayelo and his wife are of that mind, meticulously tracking their lots to look for patterns and opportunities to improve.


When a producer has questions about cultivation or processing, we always recommend they go to the experts: trained agronomists and technicians. An agronomist uses an education in plant biology and farm management to help producers improve the health of their plants. Healthy plants = better coffee and more stability. In the case of Andino, our export/milling partner Caravela employs a team of technicians that travel to each farm on a rotating schedule. They work with the cupping team to advise on farming and processing, with the goal of improving quality and streamlining costs. The choice to execute these practices is up to the farmer.
Traveling to the farms is no easy feat. These producers are tucked in the steep, high-altitude corners of the Andes, and often require a long trip by motorcycle or on foot. Tatiana oversees dozens of farmers in Bruselas and works directly with the cupping team to give feedback and advise to the producers on her list. She also drives a really powerful dirt bike.


Tasting one coffee is a hobby. Tasting fifty per day is a job for an expert. Duver manages the quality control for all of the coffees that pass through the Bruselas warehouse. He works closely with Tatiana and other technicians to offer feedback to all of the farmers that sell to Caravela in this area. When not cupping coffee, he often makes farm visits as well to reinforce the connection between the farmers’ practices and cup profile. His cupping scores are more than observations: they dictate how much Caravela offers to pay for the lot. Duver also has a razor-sharp sense of humor, which keeps this pressure feeling light.

These are just a few of the folks who make this coffee possible. Warehouse managers, drivers, mill technicians, and exporters are also critical to what we do in Colombia. By working with each individual year on year, we can better understand how to be good partners.