Category Archives: Farm Direct

From the Road: East Timor

| February 3, 2016


East Timor is one of the newest nations on earth, a small country sharing an island with Indonesia in the south eastern corner of the archipelago.  The Portuguese colonized in the 1600’s primarily for exports of sandalwood and were the first to bring coffee to the island.   After the Portuguese left in the 1970’s, Indonesia invaded and claimed it as their 27th province, leading to decades of violence and oppression.  Finally, after mounting international pressure, Indonesia relinquished control and East Timor became a sovereign nation in 2002.

In the decade and a half that has followed as this new nation finds its footing, Timor remains one of the poorest countries.  An estimated third of the population relies on coffee for their means of income.  Far too often, they earn a relative pittance for the fruits of their labor and the cycle of poverty continues.


Last year we gained knowledge of a Japanese non-profit, Peace Winds, working the coffee sector of the Letefoho highlands, developing quality and delivering prices well exceeding the local fair trade cooperative’s rate.  After cupping type samples from last harvest and realizing the tremendous potential for quality in the area, we booked our flights and hit the road.

Our trip began in Sumatra and continued through Java (both areas we’ve frequented regularly over the years), but the prize of this trip was to be our first visit to Timor. Flying into the capital of Dili, the mountainous landscape emerges from the coast, with rivers carving valleys to the ocean.  Our first afternoon in Dili was spent cupping, visiting the office and warehouse, and meeting the local staff, including our gracious and knowledgeable host, Ryou.


Early the next morning we set off for the highlands, a steep winding climb through breathtaking scenery.  Our two nights in Letefoho were inspiring on many levels.  The people here are among the friendliest, resourceful, and joyous we’ve ever met.  The terrain is gorgeous and varied, with swaths of grassland, steep rocky slopes, pockets of forests and coffee, and beautiful rolling mountains as far as the eye can see.  The climate is hot and dry during the day, with cool clear nights providing a deep clear glimpse into our vast universe.


As for the coffee, it seems to like it here just fine as well.  The old growth typica and hybrido de Timor (locally called arabe and moka respectively) seem well suited to conditions reminiscent of Western Ethiopia.  Shade is proved by casarina and lantoro trees, and many of the farms are intercropped with taro, cassava, squash, and chilies.  We visited six farmer’s groups during our visit and what witnessed proved clear evidence that this is indeed a community we want to work with.   Farming groups vary in size from 11 to 30 households each.  During the harvest season, the entire group works together to pick and sort cherries, making what might seem a daunting task far more enjoyable and manageable as a team.


Evening of the harvest, fruit is pulped using locally made hand crank pulpers (the heavy disc is carved from gum wood).  Freshly pulped parchment is sorted and placed in sacks to ferment for two nights, before being washed and then dried on tarps in the sun for an average of five days.  The dried parchment is delivered to the Peace Winds warehouse in Hu-apu (Letefoho Villa) with samples sent to Dili for evaluation and cupping.  The coffee remains in the cool dry conditions of the highlands until ready to be shipped.


We have our first shipment from this community due to arrive later this month!


From the Road: Peru La Convencion

| November 23, 2015


We recently wrapped up a visit with our farming partners in La Convencion, Peru.  It was about three years ago that we established this relationship and I’d be lying if I said it’s all been smooth sailing.  The year after we selected the 30 farmers that we would work with (based on quality and sustainability), the region was hit hard by the devastating leaf rust fungus, roya.  To compound matters, oil was discovered in the area and as a result labor has become scarce and costly.   However, we’ve remained committed and are beginning to see our investments pay off.  By all accounts the flowering has been strong with high expectations for next year’s crop, and our premium that supported the construction of 30 solar driers has resulted in better dried, cleaner, sweeter coffees.


To appreciate the distance this coffee travels to reach your cup, here is the breakdown of the journey from Seattle: Flights to Houston to Lima to Cusco, a jaw-dropping drive through the sacred valley and over a 14,000 foot pass through the snowy mountains before descending into the buzz of insects and parrots squawking that make up the lush high jungles of La Convencion.  We set up camp in the town of Quillabamba and made daily sojourns through the winding back country roads that lead up to the farming communities of Canelon, Santa Rosa, Alto Pamucuyoc, and others.   Straight through and you’d be looking at about 30 hours of travel.


We were able to reinvigorate our project by visiting and listening to our farmers and putting in some serious work cupping and calibrating with the crew at the mill.  We rely on their expertise to ensure the success of these coffees.   Deliveries are scrupulously inspected and cupped and set aside awaiting their imminent journey to the Pacific Northwest.


Though leaf rust has been a challenge, the worst seems to be past, and some farmers have even discovered a rust resistant strain of bourbon and set up a nursery for the next generation.  We won’t see the fruit for another 3 years most likely, but there is hope on the horizon.  Staying on top of fertilization schedule and maintaining cleanliness on the farms has aided in the health of the trees.  Still, a hot, humid, and rainy summer could cause a flare, so most of the farmers are cautiously optimistic.


These coffees have now shipped and we hope to have them dialed in and roasted in time for Christmas.  The sweet almond essence and caramel flavored nature of this high-grown typica is a perfect winter treat.  Looking forward to it.

Introducing : La Esperanza & La Bastilla

| March 19, 2015

Sunrise in Tolima

We are excited to present our two most recent arrivals from Colombia.  These coffees are a result of our journey through the department of Tolima last year.  After cupping through numerous producer lots in Seattle, Bogota, and Ibague, we sketched a loose itinerary and hit the road.

We got stuck... until someone had the bright idea to jump up and down on the rear bumper while revving.

We got stuck on a few occasions, but eventually made our way to some gorgeous farms in Gaitainia, Planadas, Bilbao, Herrera, El Limon, and San Juan de la China. I was tremendously impressed by the skill, dedication, and knowledge exhibited by the many farmers we met.  Two among them stood out, not only for the quality of their coffee, but for their tremendous hospitality and passion for coffee cultivation.

Norbey's farm stretches from where he is standing down the steep slope to his house below

Just outside of the town of Bilbao we were hosted by Norbey de Jesus Estrada at his farm, La Bastilla.  The land was previously used for grazing cattle, before Norbey saved enough money as a coffee picker in Antioquia to purchase the farm.  In the ten years since, he’s planted mostly the caturra variety, along with a small amount of the rust resistant varieties castillo and Colombia.

DSC04252Norbey lives with his wife and two children at the farm and hires a few hands from nearby to help during harvest.  We were offered a delicious lunch: rice, beans, salted beef, and a massive bowl of colada for dessert.  We noticed that his coffee pulper, fermentation tank, and drying racks were immaculately clean and the water used for washing coffee is from the same fresh spring the family drinks.  These factors, in addition to the lofty elevation, fertile soil, and attention to detail, result in a super sweet, balanced cup of coffee,

Morning harvest at La Esperanza

About 250 km north of Norbey’s farm, near the town of San Juan de la China, we met another young, dedicated coffee farmer – Jhon Leguizamon.  His farm, La Esperanza, is situated on a steep, north facing slope and is planted with an even mix of caturra, Colombia, and castillo. Jhon was born on the farm and inherited it from his father eleven years ago.


In total, four hectares are planted with coffee, while three hectares are set aside as virgin forest.  The micro-climate features wide temperature swings, affected by the cold wind blowing down from the snow capped peak of Nevado de Tolima and the hot, humid air rising from the valley below.  Extreme conditions often result in exquisite coffees – and Jhon’s is a prime example of this.

Careful drying helps preserve the fine acids and sugars,

The great care taken during the harvest, washing, and drying of coffee were on full display during our visit.  Precise cherry selection, meticulous sorting, carefully monitored fermentation, and a unique two-stage drying set-up were highlights of his process.  Jhon’s goal is to produce the highest quality coffee possible and then help his father convert his farm to full organic production – a rarity in Colombia.


These two incredible coffees will be available for a limited time at all Caffe Vita locations and online.



Farm to Cup: Caffe Vita & Jackson 20 Travel to Guatemala

| December 17, 2014

For many years, Caffe Vita has sourced excellent coffee through our farm direct partnerships in Guatemala, one of the most prized coffee producing regions in Central America.

Coffee cherries.

Coffee cherries in Guatemala.

Usually, our Green Coffee Buyer Daniel visits the farms on his own but last week, a special guest from Alexandria, VA came along for the ride. Chef Brian McPherson of Jackson 20 has served Caffe Vita since opening six years ago. Located in the Hotel Monaco by Kimpton, Jackson 20 was named after President Andrew Jackson and is known for contemporary versions of traditional American classics.

So how did a Chef from Virginia get to spend six days in Guatemala with Caffe Vita? Long story short, our own, Bob Prince, pitched the idea to Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, consistently named one of FORTUNE’s 2014 “100 Best Companies to Work For,” and a longstanding Caffe Vita wholesale account. The goal of trekking six days throughout Guatemala together was to take a talented chef who uses our coffee in his or her restaurant on a journey to witness Caffe Vita’s innovative farm to cup process.

The first week of December, Bob, Daniel and Chef Brian visited current, former and potential new partners in four coffee producing areas of Guatemala. When the trip began last Sunday, it was clear that Guatemalan hospitality would be a common thread throughout their stay.

Chef Brian and Bob Prince

Chef Brian and Bob Prince looking tough at Finca Nuevo Vinas.

First they spent time with the Keller Family in Finca Nuevo Vias where Caffe Vita has sourced coffee for seven years. The community threw a party and roasted a pig to welcome their guests on the last day of their trip in the country, a highlight of the experience according to Daniel. The FNV coffee has been farmed by the Keller family for over 100 years, and in 2003, they made the full transition to organic farming, an expensive and lengthy certification process. This is where Chef Brian first witnessed pulping, where the seed from the coffee cherry is removed from the actual fruit. For six years, he has served Caffe Vita coffee and now he knows exactly where it comes from.


Chef Brian McPherson holds pulped coffee cherries in Guatemala.

Next, they made their way to Finca Pacamaral to meet the farm’s new owner, Sergio. Vita previously purchased coffee from this land but Daniel was looking forward to meeting with Sergio to discuss a potential partnership in the future.

After Finca Pacamaral, Valmar in Coban was next on the list, where Vita has purchased coffee for the past two years. Coban’s climate this time of year is very similar to Seattle, cold, wet and cloudy. Bob and Daniel felt completely at home surveying the property in their rain gear, and were welcomed into the farm home of the Valdez family.

Coffee cherries dry in the sun at Santo Tomas Pachuj.

Coffee drying in the sun at Santo Tomas Pachuj.

Then it was onto Santo Tomas Pachuj where Andres Fahsen grows coffee near the Lake Atitlán region, a nature preserve. Andres visited with us at Caffe Vita in Capitol Hill when he was in town for the Specialty Coffee Association of America’s annual event last April.

Compost with red worms at Finca Chacaya.

Compost with red worms at Finca Chacaya.

After Santo Tomas Pachuj the team drove to Finca Chacaya, a farm on the western shores of Atitlan that still grows old typica coffee, the first variety of coffee brought to the country and which is now hard to find.

Lastly, the team drove to San Juan Sacatepequez to visit the celebrated farm San Jose Ocana. Guillermo Sanchez gave a wonderful tour and provided a delicious lunch of local cuisine.

To be able to share this unique farm to cup process with Chef Brian was a fantastic experience for Bob and Daniel. Now that he has witnessed it for himself, Chef says that he plans to find new ways to use Vita coffee in his restaurant. Even bringing home dried husks to hopefully make bitters to be used in Jackson 20’s famous bar program.

Connecting with our Guatemalan farmers over long conversations, property tours, cuppings, and special meals with hard working families is certainly an experience these guys will never forget. “Every farmer we met exuded a strong sense of stewardship and pride for their land,” according to Daniel. This is something that Caffe Vita takes into account when searching for the best coffee; it’s about more than just a cup of coffee.

Learn more about how Caffe Vita meticulously sources the best coffee through our farm direct partnerships across the globe and purchase our own Guatemala Valmar single origin coffee today while supplies last.