Bolivia Mid-Harvest Update

Published 7 October 2021

Each year we look forward to visiting beautiful Bolivia to spend time with the Rodríguez family, who own the exporting business Agricafé and their own Fincas Los Rodríguez.

Border closures have kept us away for the last two seasons, but with the current harvest nearing its completion, we caught up with Daniela Rodríguez over the phone to learn more about how this year’s coffees are coming along, and how the family has overcome the different challenges brought upon by the pandemic. 

As with every producer or exporter we’ve talked to recently, Daniela reiterated how much of an impact Covid-19 has had on their cost of production. Strict preventative measures have required the Rodríguez family to invest heavily in setting up accommodation and facilities for staff who are not allowed to travel home every day, and on protective equipment to keep everyone safe at their farms and mills. 

As a result of the fear and uneasiness caused by Covid-19, many of the seasonal workers who pick and process coffee at Fincas Los Rodríguez simply did not return this year. With schools closed, parents with school-aged children were required to stay home instead of working during the harvest. On top of this, government-imposed density limitations forced the Rodríguez’ to reduce the number of workers onsite, to meet safety requirements. The reduced labour force has proven to be one of the greatest challenges caused by the pandemic, particularly in a year where good, consistent rains in the growing regions have resulted in higher yields than average. 

This year’s bumper crop has been protected by the microclimate created by the Andean mountains, as it has helped Bolivia’s coffee-growing regions avoid the frosts that have affected neighbour Brazil. Daniela also reported that this year’s climate patterns have returned to what they consider as normal, after an unusual 2020. Unlike last year, when conditions stayed warm during the harvest, the team has experienced cooler days in 2021, allowing cherries to mature more slowly. 

This has helped overcome some of the hurdles caused by staff shortages, as pickers have been able to keep up with the pace of cherries ripening. To streamline things further, the Rodríguez family have employed two harvesting specialists from Guatemala to impart their expertise. By implementing new techniques, the team have been able to pick coffee more efficiently, while reducing the number of bruised or damaged coffees in the process. 

Being unable to host visitors during the harvest has also created more uncertainty for Agricafé, as having to market and sell their coffees remotely has increased waiting times in securing sales. In an effort to overcome this, the team has been very active across their communication channels, and have been in constant contact via group chats and WhatsApp calls. What’s been particularly heart-warming is the way they have recreated the experience of visiting their beautiful estates through Instagram (which you can personally get a taste of by following @agricafebolivia), as their regular posts and stories have allowed us to see many of the familiar faces and beautiful views we otherwise would have missed out on. Their very detailed newsletter has also kept us informed of all the technical details of this year’s harvest. 

When it comes to the coffees produced, quality has remained on par with previous years. Unsurprisingly, the favourable weather conditions experienced this year have resulted in very sweet cup profiles across the board. We have begun cupping offer samples this week, and familiar farms like La Linda, Floripondio and Los Rodríguez are tasting as delicious as ever! The family has also continued to push the boundaries of the cup profiles produced by the exotic varietals they grow. Their knack for innovating processing methods has produced further expression in the coffees this year, with many of their Gesha and Java varietal lots showing increased elegance and complexity of flavour. 

As we progress through the buying season we’ll be sharing information and insights into this year’s selection – keep an eye on our socials and newsletters for updates. And, as always, let us know now if you’re excited for a particular coffee from Bolivia and we’ll add it to our brief. The coffees we select now will land in Australia in early 2022.