El Fuerte

  • Country
    Bolivia
  • Department
    Santa Cruz
  • Region
    Agua Rica
  • Town
    Samaipata
  • Altitude
    1,540m - 1,650m above sea level
  • Variety
    Red Caturra
  • Processing
    Semi-washed
  • Owner
    Los Rodriguez Family
  • Farm Size
    35 hectares (10 of which are planted with coffee)

Creamy and full-bodied. Milk chocolate, condensed milk, pear, and golden sultana. Lingering cocoa on the finish. Great for espresso.

El Fuerte is located in a new growing region in Bolivia called Samaipata which is located in the easterly department of Santa Cruz at the foot of the Bolivian Andes.

The farm sits on the edge of the national park Amboro, 20km east of the town Samaipata, and around three hours away from the town of Santa Cruz. A scenic road that runs along a beautiful river leads to the small town that attracts Bolivians and foreigners alike. It is a popular base for nature walks and the World Heritage El Fuerte Aztec ruins, after which the farm was named.

El Fuerte is owned by the Rodriguez family, who also has a business called Agricafe, which produces coffee from its own farms and also sources quality micro-lots from small producers in the Yungas region.

Coffee production in Bolivia is, and always has been, very small. Pedro began his journey in coffee by working with small producers in Caranavi, building a wet mill to process their coffee, and educating producers to selectively handpick their cherries. He also started to process small micro-lots from each of the producers, and because of the unique combination of heirloom varieties, rich soil and incredibly high altitudes, the results were outstanding.

However, despite increased international recognition for its quality, coffee production in Bolivia began to rapidly decline over a very short period of time for many reasons. Some farmers switched to coca – grown for the drug trade and illegal to produce in Caranavi – because it provided them with a high year-round income. For those still in coffee, their yields were also declining as a result of ageing coffee plantations, unsophisticated farming techniques, and leaf rust. The combination of these factors resulted in the nation’s coffee production decline by more than half.

 

In 2012, as leaf rust started to obliterate the production in many small farms, Pedro and his family began to invest in their own plantations, fearing that coffee production in Bolivia would disappear completely. This, they recognised was critical to guarantee a minimum level of supply and thus ensure the future sustainability of their business. They acquired land in Caranavi near their Buena Vista mill and created their first farm, Finca La Linda. “This is where the dream started,” Pedro says.

Today Agricafe has 12 farms and around 130 hectares of coffee under the banner of ‘Fincas Los Rodriguez’.  Seven of these are in Caranavi, in the department of La Paz, and the remaining five are in Samaipata (where El Fuerte is located), in the department of Santa Cruz in Bolivia’s east.

The Rodriguez family’s approach to coffee production has been extremely methodical, innovative and scientific. Along the way, they consulted leading specialty coffee agronomists from around the world to help them produce exceptional coffee and build sustainable and healthy farms. A wide range of varieties have been trialed, along with different farming techniques, to optimise quality and output. They have carefully documented their findings at every step of the way and continue to innovate and invest in improvements to produce the very best quality coffee they can.

The Rodriguez farms are some of the most organised and beautiful we have come across. Coffee is well spaced in neat rows and meticulously organised by variety, making picking and lot separation much easier to manage than on more traditional farms in the region. The farms are vibrant, luscious and healthy, and produce exceptional quality and yields.

ABOUT EL FUERTE

Agricafe’s first farms were planted were in Caranavi, where the wet mill is located, but in 2012 they also started exploring the region of Samaipata. This was risky – precipitation in Samaipata is low, and there are often frosts and strong winds in the region. However, Pedro recognised that Samaipata also had great conditions to produce exceptional coffee, with high altitudes, nutrient-rich soil and a similar climate to Caranavi’s  (with the main difference being Samaipata being a little less tropical and is also drier 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 has started investing more heavily in the region, planting four more farms and building a wet mill (which is located at El Fuerte).

The area in Samaipata that the Rodriguez family has identified as ideal for coffee production is set in a traditional food-producing region, with the lowest parts of the valley sitting at 1,600 metres above sea level, and the highest parts of the land at 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 regulate the lower temperatures and keep away frost.

El Fuerte is 35 hectares in size and sits at 1,540-1,650 metres above sea level. This high altitude, along with wide daily temperatures – ranging from 5-30 ˚C – helps to ensure very slow maturation of the cherry. This slow maturation leads to an increased concentration of sugars in the cherry and bean, which in turn helps produce an incredibly sweet and complex coffee.

 

El Fuerte is managed by Angel Aguilera, who lives on the farm with his wife and family. Angel and Pedro have trialed several varieties on this farm, including Geisha, Bourbon, and Red Caturra. This particular lot is 100% Red Caturra.

HOW THIS COFFEE WAS PROCESSED

Angel hires pickers from the Samaipata community to carefully handpick 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.

This coffee was carefully picked and processed on the same day at a wet mill located at El Fuerte. It has been “semi-washed” which means that the coffee has been washed and pulped and dried without any fermentation. After the cherries were weighed it was carefully sorted by weight using water, and any floaters removed. It was then pulped and dried straight away in a stationary dryer for 60-75 hours with temperatures no higher than 40˚C. When the coffee reached 16% humidity it was rested for five hours in a silo, and then carefully dried until it reached 11.5% humidity.

Once the coffee was dry, it was transported to La Paz where it was rested before being milled at Agricafe’s dry mill, La Luna. At this state-of-the-art mill, the coffee is meticulously hulled and sorted using machinery and also a team of sorters who carefully sort the coffee by hand under UV and natural light. The mill is one of the cleanest and most impressive we have seen – you can read more about it here.

WANT TO KNOW MORE?

You can watch an interview with Pedro Rodriguez, the owner of El Fuerte, here and about Agricafe’s small producer training program, Sol de la Mañana, here and about Bolivian coffee more generally here.