Category Archives: Fincas

Reviews the various coffee farms visited (farm, finca, and Point of Origin are all used interchangeably on this site). This is meant to add value to the understanding of the end product to consumers and even allow them to choose to visit the source as well.

Rusty’s Hawaiian Site Visit: Pahala, Hawaii

In early April 2011, both Cafe Hounds took a journey to Hawaii in search of the storied Kona coffee, in addition to some sunshine and snorkeling – oh, and Kris had a conference for the Association for Asian Studies  (AAS), which he presented at. During out visit we had the pleasure of sampling some wonderfully crafted coffee drinks on the island of Oahu before we jumped on a short flight destined for the beautiful Big Island, where we landed in Kona.  Once there, we decided to casually sample a few plantations in the immediate area near our Bed & Breakfast in south Kona (Ka’awa Loa). In short – they stunk.

Ka'awa Loa B&B

So the ONE big coffee related adventure on Big Island was our visit to the wonderful farm of Lorie Obra and her family in the Ka’u District (in Pahala, Hawai’i). It was amazing. The Obra family house and farm is located in the small and relatively impoverished village of Pahala – with less than 1,350 inhabitants just east of the southern tip (South Point – Ka Lae). According to 2010 Census Data, more than  80% of the population is Asian/Pacific Islander or a mix of the two. Many of the inhabitants descend from the Philippines – a country that Maher Hound used to live in until a volcanic eruption destroyed his home in 1991. This fact made visiting the volcanic island of Hawai’i that much more special.

Maher, Miguel and Lorie On The Farm in Pahala, HI

Lorie agreed to meet with Kris and Maher on relatively short notice and coordinated the meeting with her coffee consultant – and friend – Miguel Meza. Lorie’s daughter Joan Obra and her husband Ralph Gaston joined the group as well – after somewhat recently arriving in Hawai’i themselves to join the family business after most of their lives on he mainland.

I drove us all up the road a mile or so to their farm where we were then able to walk around and experience the relatively young and VERY well planned out coffee farm of Rusty’s Hawaiian. The brand and the farm were started  in 1999 with the seedling of a dream by Rusty Obra, a retired chemist who sadly passed away in 2006 – leaving his wife, Lorie with the tough decision of whether to continue his dream…or cut her losses and move on. She bought into his dream and kept forging forward in a naturally advantageous habitat for superb coffee – planted on the slopes of the Mauna Loa volcano, which makes up the majority of Hawai’i’s biggest of islands, Big Island. Standing on the farm you can see the ocean off in the distance looking south towards South Point where one can find Green Sand Beach – where the sand is colored in such a way due to chemical and gaseous reactions from volcanic/lava eruptions with ocean water.

On the farm, Miguel and Lorie have experimented with several varietals – but the five that we had the pleasure of cupping that day were the:

  1. RH Lot 24 Tipica
  2. Bourbon (red)
  3. Yellow Caturra Natural Dried FRUKO
  4. Red Caturra
  5. Yellow Caturra Natural Dried

The farm currently has no certifications at all – though they stated that they plan to certify organic eventually. They stated the reason was because achieving certification is not viable and – probably mostly – it is not viewed as an important aspect of quality in their sales strategy. (aka – their buyers don’t care about certification as much as their unique flavor profile and superb quality control). Thus far, they have not experienced broque (bug diseases).

Cupping With Miguel At Lorie's Home

One of their most important variables in annual yields is rainfall – 1) they don’t have an irrigation system 2) volcanic soil doesn’t really retain water very well. To that end, Miguel shared with me that the average commercial farm in the Kona district (where he also engages in coffee consulting for other farms) yields about 1,000 pounds per acre (due to higher rainfall counts) compared to averages ranging from 400 to 600 pounds per acre at Rusty’s farm. This relatively limited annual yield capacity for Rusty’s creates a situation where demand outstrips supply by far. For this reason, the $80 per pound for some of the coffees we sampled was understandable.
The hospitality shown to Kris and I at Rusty’s Hawaiian farm and home was exceptional and encapsulates not only the Hawaiian way, but reminds me fondly of my (Maher) time in the Philippines. Hopefully, there will be more to come on Rusty’s Hawaiian and Miguel Meza – and the change that they are catalyzing in Hawaii’s specialty coffee industry.
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Finca Review: Alto del Naranjo – Manizales, Colombia

Finca1

And so was — the Alto de Naranjo coffee farm located just outside of Manizales, Colombia in the Caldas Department of the coffee growing region also known in Spanish as the “Eje Cafetero”.  I was wrapping up my 3-month stay in Nicaragua and arranged for a 10-day stop in Colombia before heading back to study in San Diego.

Caldas_CO_map

The trip to Colombia involved many mini-trips including taking a flight on Avianca from Bogota to Manizales where a friend picked me up and – the next day – took me to a farm southwest of Manizales in the municipal division of Alto del Naranjo bordering the Rio Rioclaro.

Specific Location of Alto del Naranjo

Specific Location of Alto del Naranjo

The trip to Horacio Montoya’s wonderful farm was an impulsive decision made the morning after a night out enjoying vallenato and Caldas’ very own Cristal licor.

The REAL Juan Valdez

The REAL Juan Valdez

The drive up to this series of farms that sit high upon the Colombian mountainside is always an adventure made more pleasant by stopping for some fresh cooked chicharrones, patacones (fried green plantains that are squashed and fried – best served with a bit of salt and perhaps salsa on them), beans, rice, and flank steak. Add a maracuya en agua (passion fruit diluted in water) and save your thirst for some freshly roasted/ground/brewed coffee on the actual farm.

Homemade Roasting Device for Stove

Homemade Roasting Device for Stove

Upon my arrival to the farm I realized that I wasn’t the only foreigner ‘aprovechando’ (taking advantage of) the owner Don Horacio Montoya’s charming hospitality and effervescent personality.  There was a delegation of about 15 Japanese tourists there from the Japanese Chamber of Commerce who were exploring the coffee plants, riding his horses, and enjoying the fruit of his labor – fresh coffee.  Rather than interfere with their visit, my colleague and I interviewed him shortly and then explored the fields ourselves.
It quickly became clear to me that Horacio Montoya is no stranger to … strangers.  He has foreigners, especially from Japan, visiting his farm all the time.  His son Diego is about 17 and a Facebook addict like the rest of the  world.  Montoya has been able to take profits and reinvest them in providing his wife with more sophisticated roasting machinery, improving the prospects of hosting families on his property (eco-tourism), installing high-speed internet for watching the Grade C coffee market prices and for self-marketing his product on top of what the National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia does.
Although the quality of the coffee that is roasted and packaged on the farm is nothing to write home about, it is a novelty rarely seen in the coffee industry.  The farmer realizes that the maximum value added chain of the process flow is roasting and retail and so he attempts to capture that profit for himself by ‘vertically integrating’ in a way.  Considering he sells each package for 7.000 Colombian pesos, at the August 1, 2009 exchange rate this would equal roughly $3.42/pound.
He surely sells a better final product by selling it straight in green bean form in the traditional 70kg sacks that Colombian lights are so well known for. Visiting this region of Colombia is simply a necessity.  It’s safe, it’s beautiful, it’s continuously developing at a rate much faster than more frequented Central American locations and the Colombian hospitality will forever leave an impression.  Not to mention, this smooth and acidic coffee shares certain flavor properties with its neighbors but, there are some undiscovered gems in this region of Colombia.  So long as the weather keeps up, I expect some of the single-origins of Colombia to possibly migrate to this region as they have in Popayan, Cauca & parts of Nariño, Huila, etc…
Stay tuned because Santa Marta in the north has some interesting beans coming out of it that will require another on site visit and their own write up in the coming months.  Until then, I’ll leave you with a few pictures and details about the enchanting Alto del Naranjo farm in Manizales, Colombia.
Altitude: ~1,700 meters
Varietals: Caturra, Typica
Land: 4.8 hectares
# of plants: 25,000
Annual Production: Unknown
Harvest 1: Sept-November
Harvest 2 (mitaca): Late Jan-March
Proportion domestically sold: n/a
Proportion exported: n/a
Main avenue of getting coffee to market: Federcafe – National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia
70kg Sack for Sale to Exporters in Colombia

70kg Sack for Sale to Exporters in Colombia

Main aspiration of owner/farmer: Fetch a higher premium for his family’s hard work.  Send his children to the university and see his son Diego become fluent in English (we’re working on this part already).  A big part of this goal is for him to attract eco-tourism to this zone so that all of the farmers that form part of his cooperative can begin to economically benefit from increased spending and attention to this largely untapped area of natural beauty in Colombia.
Don Horacio Montoya Ponders the Future of his Industry

Don Horacio Montoya Ponders the Future of his Industry

Contact @ maher@cafehound.com
– Maher Hound
Horacio Montoya is somewhat of a celebrity
Articles in Spanish: El Espectador, El Pais, La Republica
Brazilian article: Nossa Cara
Japanese videos: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7,