Fair Trade– and organic-certified coffees tend to be harder to come by in Colombia, but the association members of Cooperativa Mutiétnica Y Pluricultural De Pequeños Caficultores Del Cauca (COMEPCAFE) are dedicated to working together and in concert with their environment to bring some of the best certified coffees in Cauca to market.
Anyone who’s ever visited Colombia brings back starry-eyed descriptions of how beautiful the place is: Such deep green forests and dazzling blue skies as you’ve never seen, the rugged mountainsides fairly bursting with coffee. Considering the idyllic landscape, then, it’s difficult to understand why there isn’t more of a general emphasis on growing organically, or achieving organic certification: In fact, many producers rely heavily on chemical fertilizers and manufactured inputs such as commercial fertilizers, and there is generally little incentive offered by the National Coffee Federation to pursue certification or alternative practices because productivity and robustness are paramount.
Part of our intention at Café Imports is to consider what makes coffee a sustainable product, not only economically speaking, but also more holistically: Coffee as a plant and an agricultural crop should contribute to, rather than detract from, the health of the people and places it affects.
We have many producing partners whose husbandry reflects this shared value, but perhaps one of the most dedicated is a group located in the Cauca department: the Fair Trade–certified La Cooperativa Multiétnica Y Pluricultural De Pequeños Caficultores Del Cauca, or COMEPCAFE.
Founded in 2010 by a small-but-mighty group of 44 producers, it has grown to include nearly 1,000. The name of the organization itself speaks to the structure and the community, as it is truly a cooperative effort among multiethnic and multicultural smallholders, the majority of whom are members of several indigenous and Afro-Colombian groups who live and work around the towns of Piendiamó and Morales. The group is committed to working not only as one with the planet, but also as a unit together, and the more than 900 affiliated farmers actually don’t hire any outside labor during the harvest season, instead preferring to take turns picking, sorting, and delivering to the co-op with each other.
Among the membership, 167 of the producers are certified organic, and another 25 are currently in transition to receive their certification, in part because the producers know they can rely on Café Imports to buy more of their organic coffees every year.
One of the challenges to certification is that these farms are incredibly small, ranging from ½ hectare to about 10 hectares maximum in size, and while the producers rely primarily on their coffee crop for their livelihoods, they also grow most of what their families need, including banana, cassava, orange, bananas, and other staple crops. In order to be certified organic, they must follow the guidelines and standard practices on all of their crops, not only those they intend to sell: This creates higher costs, and is often the reason farmers don’t pursue the credentials.
As it is, COMEPCAFE’s members work seven days a week to make ends meet, typically spending four days on their own farms and helping neighbors, while holding jobs outside of the coffee fields the other three days.
From a quality standpoint, however, COMEPCAFE delivers again and again, which is a breath of fresh air from an FTO offering in general, but perhaps especially one from Colombia: The cups offer a balance of toffee and caramel sweetness with tangy lime and lemongrass, and more delicate touches of melon and florals. This is in part thanks to the high altitude (1750–2200 meters), good varieties (including Colombia, Caturra, Castillo, Typica), and meticulous processing (12-hour dry fermentation after depulping, four full washes, and parabolic drying)—but also certainly thanks, too, to the spirit of the community and the support the members provide each other.
We look forward to sharing these excellent and example-setting FTO Colombian coffees with you, and to cultivating a long and growing relationship with this intrepid group of producers.
Click here to read more about this year’s just-landed offering from COMEPCAFE, and e-mail sales@cafeimports for more information, samples, or to purchase coffee.