Coffee exporter Virmax introduced us to Orgánica about five years ago, at which point the coffee-growing association was still establishing itself as a viable organization and was only able to produce small amounts of coffee. Most of Colombia's certified organic coffee from small producers comes out of Cauca and the growers of Orgánica had all belonged to larger, regional cooperatives before joining Orgánica in hopes of finding recognition for their high-quality product and more accountability from the organization. Nelson Melo and Liliana Pabón, both of whom have backgrounds in organizing, galvanized a handful of growers to sell coffee to Virmax for the first time in 2005, and, over the next few years, membership and overall production grew steadily.
In late 2009, the aforementioned leaf rust struck Colombia and reduced Orgánica's output by 75 percent, but, with perseverance and patience by all parties, production has rebounded. In 2010, we crafted our annual Holiday Blend from La Golondrina, and a dollar per pound sold supported organic composting and soil building projects with Orgánica's farmers. We're now seeing those funds put to good use, and we know that the group has a better chance of surviving in Colombia's productivity-focused coffee industry with these resources and our ongoing relationship.
Colombia's tiny, family-run farms have traditionally sold their produce to exporters for mass-market blending and homogenization, causing many of the country's most exquisite coffees to get lost in the mix. Our unique La Golondrina project, however, partners directly with Cauca's most talented, dedicated farmers to source only the best lots of each harvest, creating the most sublime Colombian coffee experience there is. Layers upon layers of sweet caramel, chocolate, and cherry support La Golondrina's classic, citrusy brightness. This is what Colombian coffee is meant to be.
The colonial, white-washed city of Popayán is located in the southwestern Colombian region of Cauca, which even now is, unfortunately, probably still better-known for drugs and violence than for its impressive altitudes and extraordinary coffees. The farms of Orgánica's members lie in clusters around the villages of Timbio and Piendamó, to the north of Popayán, and they range in size from one hectare to more than 20 hectares.
By producing high-quality coffee according to the rules of organic certification, the growers of La Golondrina achieve what many have deemed impossible in the volume- and productivity-focused country of Colombia. The Orgánica association behind La Golondrina depends on the charismatic and unflagging leadership of Nelson Melo and Liliana Pabón, and, over the past few years, they have helped the organization grow to include more than 130 members despite the loss of a third of its members during the 2009 outbreak of leaf rust that halved Colombia's total coffee production. Much of Counter Culture's La Golondrina lot comes from a group of growers in the tiny village of Guayabal, which is home to microlot producers Arismendes Vargas, Kenny Idrobo, and the team of Manuel Melenje and Inés Borrero, among others, and which has hung together through tough times due to their strong cooperative spirit.
The association of organic coffee producers responsible for La Golondrina calls itself Orgánica, which translates as "organic" and would be a confusing name for a coffee. We named Orgánica's coffee La Golondrina, which is the Spanish word for swallow, and we use the bird as an icon to symbolize the ability to cross frontiers and make connections between people at great distance from one another.
Varieties: Caturra, Castillo
Elevation: 1,500 - 2,000 meters
Harvest: April - July 2012
Drying: Patio, Raised Screens
Notes of cherry and caramel and hint of savoriness supporting La Golondrina's classic citrusy brightness.
After picking, growers de-pulp, wash, then ferment for an average of 18 hours in concrete tanks generally at their farm.
The coffee is dried on patios but more commonly on raised beds inside a protective plastic shelter, again generally on their own farms. Drying times range greatly due to weather, but average 10 days.
After processing the coffee, farmers bring it to Virmax's warehouse and cupping lab in Popayán once it has fully dried. Virmax sets a high bar for cup quality and physical quality, so it's not uncommon for newer members of the farmer association to experience a rejection of, or hear that they need to re-sort, their coffee before it is eligible for grading. These high standards require extra labor at every stage in the supply chain, which results in higher costs, so each year we work to balance to the cost-benefit ratio of these strict standards.