ORIGIN STORIES: AZAHAR AND THE COFFEES OF CARLOS GUAMANGA
Words by 49th Green Coffee Buyer, David Pohl
MEET: CARLOS GUAMANGA
Perhaps more than any other country in the world, Colombia is the definition of a coffee origin
The largest producer of washed arabica coffee in the world, over 540,000 coffee producing families, the oldest and largest coffee producers federation, the Colombian Coffee Growers Federation, and vast regional diversity, there is nothing else like Colombia. At 49th we are fascinated by Colombia and over the years have developed amazing direct relationships where long term commitment results in incredible coffees and equally compelling stories of transformation.
Azahar Coffee is our primary export partner in Colombia and I recently caught up with founder Tyler Youngblood. Azahar is an innovative export company, that bases its trade on a “Dynamic Pricing” model that takes into account multiple variables to make sure coffee producers are receiving a fair and stable price from year to year - this is very much not the norm in the coffee world, where wild variability can wreak havoc on small farmers. Azahar has also pushed the industry by creating a unique “Sustainable Buyers Guide” - which lays out a sustainable approach to buying based on research from Colombia- and just recently embarked on a project to evaluate pricing that includes fair wages to farmworkers - often the most overlooked sector of the coffee industry. 49th believes the Azahar approach is the right approach and has been an enthusiastic supporter of the work of Azahar, and other like-minded exporters around the world.
2020 Harvest and Pandemic Updates
Colombia has been hard hit by the pandemic, where COVID 19 has created both a health and social/economic crisis for millions, including coffee farmers. Azahar has had to adjust its work to navigate this environment, where severe restrictions on movement (quarantine, no domestic or international flights, and limits on travel from one town to another), have made the business of exporting coffee extremely challenging. Of course, we haven't been able to travel to Colombia since March either, but despite this Tyler commented that Azahar is adapting, they are exporting coffee, and he is “sensing optimism” from customers around the world. .
The Southern Colombia region of Huila, where we source much of our coffee, has just wrapped up its Mitica (fly crop) harvest, which runs from July-August - we usually buy coffee now and again from the main harvest early in the new year.
I had the opportunity to speak this week with Carlos Guamanga, one of our closest relationships forged through Azahar, who updated me on the harvest.
Carlos is originally from a small town in Cauca and made his way over to Huila at age 16 looking for better opportunities. He found work harvesting coffee, where the dismal wages forced him to migrate further east to the remote region of Caqueta. There he landed better-paying work in the agriculture industry but was surrounded by a violent war raging between the guerillas and paramilitaries. After a couple of exciting but tumultuous years, he returned to Huila to renew his national identification and was presented with a fork in the road - the option to join the military or settle down on a farm. Having long been drawn to rural life, he opted to skip the military and get on with his lifelong dream of having a coffee farm of his own. Carlos bought three hectares of land in 2007 and named it “El Recuerdo” (The Memory) to remind him of the long journey from Cauca to Caqueta, before finding his new home in Huila.
From humble beginnings, Carlos went on to submit coffee to the Cup of Excellence in 2013 where he placed 9th, and through this event was connected with Azahar, and the following year 49th Parallel. Every year since we have been blessed with an array of offerings from El Recuerdo - Caturra, Tabi, Bourbon and Pink Bourbon, traditional washed, as well as experimental lots with extended fermentation. Over time Carlos has been able to invest price premiums in processing infrastructure, more land (now five hectares), and improvements to the road, resulting in better quality coffee and a better quality of life for Carlos and his family.
We just signed a contract for additional coffee from Azahar, including two lots from Carlos Guamanga, which will be available later this year. In the meantime, you can enjoy a wonderful Pink Bourbon from El Recuerdo which is available right now!