El Fuerte

  • Country
    Bolivia
  • Department
    Santa Cruz
  • Region
    Agua Rica
  • Town
    Samaipata
  • Altitude
    1,600 - 1,800m above sea level
  • Variety
    Caturra
  • Processing
    Semi-Washed
  • Owner
    Pedro Rodriguez

A full bodied, rich and sweet coffee with a silky mouthfeel, honey sweetness, and notes of dark chocolate, melon and jasmine. Very transparent, clean and balanced.

El Fuerte is owned by an incredible man called Pedro Rodriguez and his family. Over the last decade Pedro Rodriguez has worked tirelessly to build the production of, and market for, Bolivian specialty coffee, helping hundreds of local farmers recognise and realise the potential of their land and crops.

Pedro Rodriguez entered the coffee industry 30 years ago, ditching his suit and his accounting job to pursue a passion for agriculture. Fifteen years ago, Pedro recognised the potential for specialty coffee in Bolivia, and over the last decade he has built a visionary business called Agricafe, which focuses on forging long-term relationships with producers, based on mutual trust and benefit.

 

With a young, dynamic, and passionate team, including Pedro’s son Pedro Pablo and daughter Daniela, Agricafe represents over 1,000 small producers based in the Caranavi province as well as further afield in the South Yungas region. Many of the Caranavi-based producers deliver their whole cherries to Agricafe’s Buena Vista Mill in Caranavi. This meticulously run mill processes many of its lots separately, allowing for full traceability back to the individual farmer or colony.

Over the last six years, many of the producers that Agricafe works with have stopped producing coffee (many farmers have switched to coca—grown for the drug trade—which provides them with a higher year-round income), and this, combined with falling yields for those still in the coffee game (as a result of leaf rust and simple farming practices) has seen coffee production across the nation more than halve.

In 2012, Pedro Rodriguez responded by investing in planting his own farms to guarantee supply and the future sustainability of his business, and to demonstrate to local farmers what can be achieved with planning and the application of modern farming techniques. Under this project, called ‘Fincas Buena Vista’, Agricafe now has 12 farms, and aims to plant around 200 hectares of coffee in total across them.

The first eight farms that Pedro planted were in Caranavi, where his wet mill is located, but in 2012 he also started to explore the region of Agua Rica, which is located in one of the most easterly departments in Bolivia. Rice, timber, and natural gas are the primary drivers of industry in this part of Bolivia, but Pedro, who owns a house in Santa Cruz, decided to trial producing coffee in the region. This was risky – precipitation in Samaipata is low, and there are often frosts and strong winds in the region. However, Pedro also recognised that Samaipata had the perfect conditions to produce exceptional coffee, with high altitudes, nutrient-rich soil and a similar climate to that of Caranavi (the main difference being that Samaipata is a little dryer, and a little less tropical than Caranavi).

El Fuerte was established in 2013, and it is the first farm that the Rodriguez family planted in this region. When it was initially planted it was an experiment to see if coffee could be grown in the area. The coffee thrived and the cup profile was distinctive and different to the Caranavi lots, and so the Rodriguez family have begun to invest more heavily in the region, planting three more farms and setting up a wet mill.

El Fuerte is located at the edge of the National Park Amboro, 20km east of the town of Samaipata, and around three hours away from Santa Cruz. A scenic road running along the beautiful Rio Piray leads to the small town, which attracts Bolivians and foreigners alike who use it as a base to go on nature walks through the large Amboro national park and the El Fuerte Aztec ruins. The valley between the national park to the north and the hills to the south has traditionally been used for food production, and a lot of citrus, potato, lettuce, and cabbage are produced here for the towns of La Paz and Santa Cruz. The road usage reflects this, being dominated by large trucks hauling food in one direction to Santa Cruz, and in the other direction on the 14-hour drive to La Paz.

 

The area that the Rodriguez family has identified as ideal for coffee production is set amongst this old food-producing region, with the lowest parts of the valley being at 1,600 metres above sea level, and the highest parts of the land being 1,800 metres. The national park to the north protects the valley from strong winds and high temperatures, and the waterways in the valley help to regulate the lower temperatures and keep away frost.

El Fuerte is named after a World Heritage site 15 minutes away from the farm that dates back to pre-Aztec times, and attracts visitors from all over the world. The farm was first planted with coffee in 2014 and this is its first year of production. The farm is 35 hectares in size, 10 of which are under coffee.

La Fuerte sits at 1,540 – 1,650 metres above sea level. This high altitude helps to ensure a slow maturation of the cherry because of the stable night-time temperature and mild day temperatures. The slow maturation leads to an increased concentration of sugars in the cherry and bean, which in turns helps to produce a sweeter cup of coffee. Angel, the farm’s manager, hires pickers from the Samaipata community to carefully hand pick the coffee during the harvest. These pickers are trained to select only the very ripest cherries, and multiple passes are made through the farm throughout the harvest to ensure the coffee is picked at its prime.

Pedro and his family have invested a lot of time and effort into trying to make this a ‘model’ farm that other producers in the area can learn from. The coffee is meticulously organised by variety and is well spaced in neat rows, making picking much easier to manage than on the more traditional farms in Caranavi. Pedro has trialled several varieties on this farm, including Geisha, Red Bourbon, and Yellow and Red Colombian Caturra. This particular lot is 100% Red Caturra. Currently there are not a lot of shade trees on El Fuerte, as the altitude keeps the farm cool, but trees have been planted to act as wind breakers in order to protect the coffee trees.

HOW THIS COFFEE WAS PROCESSED

This very special lot was picked on the 8th of August 2017 and processed on the same day at a wet mill located on the farm (that was built this year). It is “semi – washed” which means that the coffee cherries were pulped and then dried without fermentation. The coffee was dried slowly using mechanical driers (for 60 hours with temperatures no higher than 40 degrees) and then finished off on raised beds.

Once the coffee was dry, it was transported to La Paz where it was rested, and then milled at the Rodriguez family’s brand new dry mill. There, the coffee was carefully screened again by machines and also carefully by hand.

You can watch an interview with Pedro Rodriguez, the owner of El Fuerte, here