Small Producers of China Alta

  • Country
    Colombia
  • State
    Tolima
  • Municipality
    Ibagué
  • Town
    China Alta
  • Elevation
    1,800-2,000m above sea level
  • Variety
    Caturra, Colombia, Castillo
  • Processing
    Washed
  • Average Farm Size
    3 hectares
  • Contributing Producers
    Aldemar Quimbayo, Alfredo Conde, Benedicto Puentes, Brayan Marin, Claudia Olaya, Geraldine Buitrago, German Sanchez , Hilmer Conde
  • Relationship Length
    Since 2020

Pink Lady apple, nectarine and marmalade sweetness, with a creamy body and lingering finish. Great balance and structure.

This coffee was grown and processed by eight smallholder producers that are situated around the village of China Alta, a small community located in the municipality of Ibagué, in the state of Tolima, Colombia.

The farms that contributed to this lot are very small – on average just 3 hectares in size – and are located between 1800-2000m above sea level, in the steep, rugged hills that surround Tolima’s capital city, Ibagué. The region of China Alta is named for the Rio La China, a small and beautiful river that swerves through the mountains and eventually feeds into Rio Magdelena, Colombia’s principal river. The farms sit alongside Rio La China, and the water is used to irrigate and process the coffee. Alta refers to the higher elevation areas of this area, where the sweetest and most refined coffees are grown and harvested.

Historically the area of China Alta has been known for cattle, sugarcane and trout, which are still farmed in pools along the river. Coffee is a relatively new crop for the region, having only been planted in the last 30-40 years. Most coffee farmers purchased land in the area because it was more affordable than traditional coffee farming areas like Planadas and Chaparral, in Tolima’s south. Higher elevation areas were considered less prosperous than lower areas because they typically achieve lower yields. However, this region has since gained acclaim for the high cup quality, sweetness and complexity of the coffees produced here.

 

Most farms in the region are planted with the Caturra variety, which was the most popular variety during the 1970s and 1980s when the farms were established. Coffee in China Alta is farmed with traditional techniques. Fertilisation occurs around three times a year, usually after manual weeding, and pesticides are rarely used. The coffee is selectively hand-harvested, with most labour being provided by the farmers and their families.

ABOUT TOLIMA

Coffee from Tolima has historically been very difficult to access due to the region’s isolation and instability. For many years this part of Colombia was under the control of Colombia’s notorious rebel group, the FARC, and as a result, it was unsafe and violent. Since 2012, safe access to this region has been possible as a result of peace talks between the Colombian government and the rebels. Since this time some stunning coffees from small producers have become accessible to the international market.

The word ‘Tolima’ comes from the local indigenous language and means a “river of snow or cloud”. The region sits on the Cordillera Central, in the middle of the three mountain ranges that provide a range of microclimates well-suited to high-quality coffee production. Coffee is the leading agricultural activity in the region, followed by beans and cattle.

 

The most well-known regions in Tolima for specialty coffee are Planadas and Chaparral in the south. This coffee comes from the areas surrounding Ibagué, which is further north in the state. The city is also known as the “Ciudad del Abanico” or the “city of the folding fan” because when you look at it from the sky the rivers running from the mountains split up the crops of rice and cotton, and it looks like a beautiful handmade folding fan.

Our export partners for this coffee, Pergamino, have worked hard commercialise specialty-grade coffee throughout Tolima, and are now able to source some stunning coffees from very dedicated producers. They work closely with the producers to give them feedback on their coffees (provided by Pergamino’s expert team of cuppers) and provide top up payments when the coffee is sold at a higher premium.

Head here to learn more about the work of Pergamino.

HOW THIS COFFEE WAS PROCESSED

The coffees in this lot were selectively hand-harvested, with most labour being provided by the farmers and their families. They were processed using the washed method at each farm’s ‘micro-beneficio’ (mill).

The coffee was pulped using a small manual or electric pulper and then placed into a fermentation tank, where it was fermented for around 48 hours (depending on the weather and the farm’s location) and then washed using clean water from nearby rivers and streams.

 

It was then carefully dried (over 10–18 days) on parabolic beds, which are constructed a bit like a ‘hoop house’ greenhouse, and act to protect the coffee from the rain and prevent condensation dripping back onto the drying beans. The greenhouse is constructed out of plastic sheets and have adjustable walls to help with airflow, and temperature control to ensure the coffee can dry slowly and evenly.

Once dry, the coffee was delivered to Pergamino’s warehouse, where it was cupped and graded, and then rested in parchment until it was ready for export.