Planta Achocalla

Planta Achocalla is the name Agricafe have given their brand new dry mill in La Paz that became fully operational in 2017. It’s located about halfway between La Paz and El Alto, in a new suburb of outer La Paz called Achocalla. Their previous dry mill was rented, and located in El Alto. They are very excited to have finished this mill, and be ready for production of the 2017 coffees!

The plant is located about 20 minutes drive from El Alto airport. The roads are very steep and a little dangerous with deep gutters and sharp corners. Along the way there are many street vendors, who sell everything from small individual candy, to bags of peanuts, and plastic bags of fresh fruit juice. There are also a huge amount of vendors selling building supplies to support the huge amount of grown that the towns of El Alto and La Paz are experiencing. On the way down to the mill we passed a truck that had rolled over into the gutter, spilling its load of scaffolding and timber onto the side of the road. Unfortunately it’s a very common sight in Bolivia, since most of the roads and cars are in poor condition, and not always suited to the pot holes and steep hill inclines.

The drive down to the mill has amazing views of the surrounding mountains. La Paz sits in somewhat of a valley (despite being at 3,600m above sea level), surrounded on one side by the vast tablelands of Altiplano and the other side by the Cordillera Real, a mountain range that sits between La Paz and the Amazon basin where the coffee is grown. The view from the mill is spectacular, and gives  a great perspective on La Paz and how it sits among the surrounding ranges.

The mill building itself as well as most of the processing equipment inside the dry mill is all new. For a smaller size dry mill, the quality of processing is very good. In terms of actual size, the closest we have seen before is the new dry mill at Finca Santa Clara in Guatemala, which is a similar size. The mill is also the home of the Agricafe offices, for Juan and Efrain the factory managers as well as Pedro & Daniela Rodriguez, and for Reynaldo looks after the  financing side of the business. It also has a cupping lab and meeting room, again with spectacular views of the surrounding area. The mill building also contains the roastery for Buena Vista Cafe, the local brand of roasted coffee that Agricafe sell internally. The roastery has an old 5kg Probat, a 12kg Diedrich which does most of the roasting, and a 1950s 30kg Victoria roaster that is waiting to be restored.

In terms of volume, Agricafe estimate that they have the capacity to process 6 tonnes of coffee in parchment per day, or one container every three days. There is not a great deal of storage space in the mill, so the processing needs to be on an intermittent basis, as the parchment comes in. 

First, as the coffee arrives, the lot details are checked to ensure they correspond with the lot they are expecting. Then the parchment is weighed, and the moisture percentage is checked. The parchment is then loaded into a floor loader and send up via an elevator, then back down through the first screening machine. This machine has two large vibrating screen, the first that allows only coffee beans to fall through (screen size 25 of so), effectively screening everything larger than coffee beans out. The second screen sits below the first one, and screens out everything much smaller than coffee beans (screen size 14 or so), allowing any dirt or stones to filter through.

The second stage is the actual de-hulling of the machine. They have an old huller made by Pacific, which basically rubs the coffee in parchment together, using friction to loosen the parchment off the beans.

The third stage is a screen sizing machine. This is basically the same machine as the first stage, but the screen sizes are much more finely tuned, allowing only coffee that is between 14 and 18 to pass through to the next stage.

The fourth stage is a density sorting machine. Again this is a vibrating table that separates the very light beans (un-ripes etc., ) out of the lot of coffee. From this stage the seconds, or the rejected beans, go through a second density sorting machine that recovers any dense, or firsts, and feeds them back to the main lot.

The fifth stage is an electronic laser colour sorting machine. This is a 15 channel machine, which very quickly takes photos of every bean that falls down the channel, and rejects beans based on a set of parameters. The operator can tune this machine very well, it can reject only full black or sour beans, or any bean that is slightly outside of a colour range. These machines are great for quality because they are extremely efficient at sorting. In other places this sorting is done by hand, or not at all. In more developed countries like Brazil it is very common to see a laser sorter being used.

The last two stages are hand sorting. The mill employs 8-10 temporary workers to hand pick over the coffee from conveyor belts, the first goes through a dark room lit only with a ultraviolet light, and the second is lit normally. The UV light shows any beans that are affected by a number of defects, higher moisture content, mould, bacteria, and even chip marks from the de-hulling machine. The light doesn’t always show every affect bean, but it does show a few of them, and can show defects in beans that otherwise look fine. Once the coffee has gone through the UV sorting, it is sorted in normal light, and from here the coffee is weighed out from a silo into bags for export.