Cultivating strong and mutually beneficial relationships with the producers we work with is an integral element of our craft. On our most recent trip to Colombia, we had the unparalleled opportunity to check in with one such producer—Wilfredo Ule Vargas at Finca Alcatraz. Unrivaled not only for the quality of coffees he provides us with year after year, Wilfredo is also our first direct farm relationship, the first coffee producer to instill his trust and offer his friendship in our earliest days of sourcing green coffee. The past five years working alongside him have flown and we’ve witnessed our partnership grow and flourish.
On our most recent trip, we had the opportunity to check in on the maturation of his recently planted Bourbon trees, now dense with cherry. Bourbon, arguably one of the finest varieties of coffee in existence, dates back to the early 1700’s on Réunion Island (then Île Bourbon) off the coast of Madagascar. The seeds traveled there from their origin of Yemen, and have since served as the genetic foundation for many varieties prevalent today. Upon our visit, Wilfredo had just finished drying a small quantity of the first semester of harvest, a few cups of which we roasted, tasted and savored. This coffee will be an absolute gem when it lands stateside, one that we cannot wait to get into our roaster and subsequently, to you.
From Huila, we traveled to Quindio, Colombia to visit some other coffee producers who have been working tirelessly to increase their level of quality, with remarkable success over the last few harvests. Many of these farms are threatened by leaf rust, a fungus that thrives under a specific set of climatic and environmental conditions and has the capacity to destroy entire farms. To counteract this international epidemic on a local, regional and national scale, many Colombian farmers are now planting disease-resistant coffee varieties. In Colombia, the most common disease-resistant variety is called Castillo, which has been bred to possess great cup character, productivity, ease of cultivation, and disease resistance.
Perhaps the biggest difference in harvesting a variety like Bourbon vs. Castillo is discernible in the ripening process. While Bourbons ripen to a deep red in color, Castillos are best when left on the tree for slightly longer, eventually ripening to a deep purple. This seemingly minute factor can determine the difference between a good and a great coffee. A longer ripening time for Castillo can result in more robust sugar development within the cherry, and thus, a greater coffee. Each step along the coffee supply chain requires meticulous care, dedication and hard work. We truly never cease learning and growing alongside our wonderful producers.
At Sightglass, we take the utmost care in delivering you a cup of coffee that is always exceptional. It’s our daily work. Ultimately, we are at the end of the chain that starts the moment a cherry is picked off the tree. Trips like these aid in making that chain seem shorter and our connections with our producers ever-stronger. It is in nurturing this bond and strengthening our understanding and connection with our farmers, their unique challenges, and their coffees that ultimately allow us to practice and share what we love each and every day.