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.
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
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 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
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
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
– Maher Hound
Horacio Montoya is somewhat of a celebrity
Japanese videos: 1