Category Archives: From the Road

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.



Yopno Coffee Training

| October 17, 2014


The YUS Conservation Area includes three distinct regions, named for the main rivers and languages spoken – Yopno, Uruwa, and Som.  It was four years ago that we began to work with the Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program (TKCP) in developing a sustainable coffee program as part of their mission to improve the livelihoods of those who have pledged their land for conservation.  The pilot project began in Uruwa, which had the most coffee and also were furthest along in terms of management and processing know how.  Having just completed our fourth harvest with the farmers of Uruwa, we have turned our focus to Yopno.


After a delayed flight and a considerable amount of waiting, I arrived at the Teptep airstrip with Benjamin, Daniel, and six coffee pulpers.  After a brief snack we hiked to the village of Nian, where the workshops were to take place. More than 70 farmers had gathered from the surrounding villages to take part in the training.  As livelihoods coordinator for TKCP, Benjamin has a wealth of knowledge and experience teaching about quality coffee production.  Joining him was Daniel of the Coffee Industry Corporation (CIC), and Namu, a Yopno community leader, one of the first to pledge land for conservation.


Over the course of four days we covered the topics of garden management, pruning, harvesting, cherry selection, pulping, washing, fermentation, and drying.  On the final day we tasted YUS coffee (from Uruwa) together and spoke with anticipation of the day that the quality of Yopno coffee would be included.  We are setting a goal for the harvest of 2015 for the first export from Yopno to Caffe Vita.  First, the farmers must finish pruning and cleaning their gardens, organize into groups to set up their pulpers and construct solar driers, and construct a storage warehouse near the airstrip.



We spent the following few days visiting villages throughout the region, meeting with farmers and checking out their coffee gardens.  As Caffe Vita’s buyer I am filled with anticipation and excitement for the people of Yopno and their coffee.  Having witnessed the positive impact in the Uruwa region, we are looking forward to replicating the same success in Yopno.  Additionally, from a quality standpoint, the farmers of Yopno have the potential to produce some truly exquisite coffee that will be among the highest grown in the world.  Our GPS read out elevations of 2000-2400 meters above sea level at all of the farms we visited.  With massive swings in temperature between day and night, ridiculously fertile black soils, and old growth heirloom varieties of coffee, the sky is the limit.