Bolivian Coffee Sourcing Trip

This year we are excited to announce that we have had the opportunity to work with some new people in Bolivia. The company we are working with is Agritrade, they work with around 500 different farmers to collect coffee from all over Bolivia and bring it to their wet mill in Caranavi in cherry form.  This is, the best of Bolivian Coffee.

Boliva coffee farmer

The coffee makes the trek from up to 4 hours away down the mountains to Caranavi every evening by taxi. Agritrade pays top dollar for only the finest coffee coming from the farms and also pays for the transport by taxi so that there are no additional expenses incurred by the farmers. Once at the Wet Mill it is then sorted by hand to insure only the best cherries get through, this is on top of the meticulous sorting that the farmers have done before it is ever put in the taxi.

Boliva African drying beds

One of the most interesting things about this wet mill is how many options they have to process the coffee, they have 6 fermentation tanks, 3 mechanical driers, a concrete patio, African raised beds and Covered African raised beds. This helps ensure that each coffee is processed exactly the best way to bring out the flavours that their customers request.

After it is processed and dried it is stored in Caranavi in a temperature controlled room for 2 month before being shipped to the dry mill at El Alto. The dry mill is a mostly typical dry mill, they remove the parchment then run the coffee through density shakers and finally it is hand sorted to make sure no damaged beans get through, the only real difference between this dry mill and most other specialty dry mills is the black light sorting it goes through. As it is being hand sorted it passes through these black light tents where imperfections that are previously invisible to the eye are shown as little white dots, though not a defect in the coffee this coffee is removed, what this does in increase the clarity of the cup, making the flavours of each particular coffee pop out more and become more exciting.

Boliva coffee havester

At every step of the process the coffee is cupped to insure that the product is still what was agreed upon at time of purchase.

One of the biggest challenges in finding good Bolivian coffee is the small size of the farms, with most farms being 3 to 8 hectares, it becomes difficult to find quality coffee in the quantity we need by just dealing with individual farms. This is where Agritrade comes in, with the ability to work with over 500 farms and find the best coffee from all of those and then pass on this quality to us it makes it significantly easier.

For instance this year we will be buying from 5 different farms that Agritrade works with and has a good standing relationship with already, so instead of hunting down these farms from all over Bolivia we now have it much easier because of Agritrade. We are looking forward to working with Agritrade in the coming years; it is my hope that next trip down to Bolivia the farms that we are buying from this year will continue to be as good or better so that we can develop more of a relationship with the farmer. If we can find this kind of consistency we can then start playing with processing types to create the best and most interesting coffee for our customers. We believe they have already found the best Bolivia has to offer and through their continuous improvements in milling and experimenting we expect it to get even better!

Written by David Schindel, Lead Coffee Roaster, Fratello Coffee. 

Bolivian Coffee Sourcing Trip

Well it’s been a couple weeks since I got back from Bolivia on my first origin trip, I went down with a company called Invalsa who sources and exports coffee from Bolivia. The trip was a real eye opening experience, From seeing the coffee farms and their incredibly steep hills, being shown the incredibly labour intensive procedure that goes into milling the coffee after it has been picked and talking to the farmers and hearing how passionate they are about their coffee and how much they invest into making it a better product year after year.

Bolivian mountain range

The first few days we were in La Paz, which is the legislative capital of Bolivia. This is where we did the cupping of the top coffees that Invalsa had. After narrowing it down over 3 days we ranked the top coffees 1 through 20. The top lot came from Gregorian Gonza Mamani from the San Ignacio Co-op who we later got to meet.

Bolivian cupping

Once we were done with the cupping’s it was off to the Caranavi region, which is one of the largest coffee growing regions in Bolivia. (Also where our current offering of Bolivian coffee is from) After five or six hours of the scariest roads I have ever been on we arrived in the city of Caranavi, surrounded by palm trees, parrots and mangos! This was a very nice contrast to the rocky and dry area of La Paz.

Bolivian flowers

The next morning we headed off to the Seven Star Group Co-op, though it took us a lot longer to get there than expected, due to a construction company blowing up the road, the farmers were still very excited to see us. They decorated us with wreaths of flowers and then fed us as they spoke about how they were constantly improving their coffee due to people buying their coffee. Once we ate they took us down to a few of their farms and showed us how they pick the coffee and what they do with it after it has been picked. At this particular Co-op everything is de pulped washed and then dried on Raised African beds.

Raised African Beds

After we left the Seven Star Group Co-op we went to Cima del Jaguar which was the biggest farm we went to on our trip, just over 5 hectares. After following the farmer up his fields it really hit me how much work would go into just picking the coffee, I was exhausted half way up and that was without carrying any coffee cherries on my back! After a quick tour of the rest of his farm we took us back to his house and fed us supper. I found their generosity amazing from people who have so little to feed these 12 strangers, who come and look around their farms.

Bolivian culture

The next day we went to the San Ignacio Co-op, which was a very unique experience. As we pulled up we could see an arch way decorated with flowers and the Bolivian flag. As we stepped out of the vehicles we heard a band start playing and many of the families that lived there started heading towards us with wreaths of flowers and confetti. We were then pulled into a large dance number and danced up to an open field with tables and chairs set up. After what seemed to be 20 minutes of dancing (it was probably only 5 but I’m a terrible dancer so it seems to take longer to me) we were escorted to our seats and were promptly served a meal as the farmers once again spoke their speeches. After lunch a few of us went to tour the farms of this Co-op with Oscar? Mamani, the top ranking farmer’s brother, he showed us how they stump the trees (chop them down) so that new trees can grow out of the stumps, they do this after the trees have gotten to old, usually around 6 or 7 years, so they no longer produce as much. He also showed us they new way he was pruning his trees, he said that now that he has this new technique he gets almost 3 times as much as he used to before pruning. The thing I found most interesting about what he said was it was more valuable to have this kind of information and training than it would be to just have more money per pound and not be improving his crop. After another long climb back to the top of his farm we headed back to the Co-op and then were danced back to our vehicles.

Bolivian people

Once we left the San Ignacio Co-op we headed towards Coroico, where we stayed for the night. The next morning we headed out to the infamous “Death Road”. Though the road is still open very few people use it now because there is now another less dangerous road which goes from La Paz to the Caranavi region now. As we started up this very narrow road it was amazing to think that this one lane dirt road with 100+ foot drops on it was once the main two way highway. Being empty now it was very easy to take in all the beauty of the country side and the waterfalls that come down right on the road. It was an incredible experience and far less scary than some of the other roads we had been on!

Once we got back into La Paz it was time to say Goodbye to all the amazing people I toured around with on my trip and then head to bed.  I had to be at the airport at 3 am the next morning!

I had a great time touring around the country and was amazed how much I learned and continue to learn even back at home about sourcing coffee. I always figured you just went down there and came back with some amazing coffees, but it’s so much more than that. It’s about building relationships with people so when you go back you can keep getting better and better coffees every year. I feel I’ve only scratched the surface with what I know about sourcing coffee and I am very excited to continue learning more!

I would also like to thank Fratello for giving me this chance to go down and see what its really like, it is amazing and I would encourage everyone if they have the chance to go and see it, it is definitely worth it!

Written by: David Schindel, Lead Coffee Roaster for Fratello Coffee

Bolivian Specialty Coffee

  Bolivian coffee is truly a hidden gem of specialty coffee. I was very surprised at the quality of coffee being produced, in these small farms high in the Andes Mountains.  Growing conditions reach as high as 2500 meters above sea level.      Almost every farm is organic; however, not all are certified.  Typically these farms also grow other crops amongst their coffee trees such as orange, banana, and other tropical fruits.  Walking through these farms gives you a lot of history as many have been handed down for many generations. Their farms and processes methods are very small as most farms are never more than 10 hectares.  The growing conditions and processing methods are very typical of what would be found in Africa. You will find a lot of naturals, and semi-washed coffee on these farms.