There are direct sourcing relationships, and then there are really direct sourcing relationships. How many British roasteries are lucky enough to say they receive regular visits from an actual coffee farmer?
Probably very few. But that’s exactly what we have been fortunate enough to enjoy in recent months, after outstanding Colombian producer and chef Esnayder Cuartas was put in touch with us in the spring of 2021.
If you visited our Courtyard Coffee Festival last August, you will likely have tasted his incredible food and sampled coffee from his family farm Finca Las Cruces. Nestled in the Cordillera Central belt of the Andean mountains, the Farm of the Crosses sits just outside the town of Quinchia in the Risaralda Department of West-Central Colombia. With a quarter reserved for water conservation, the total area shared between coffee plants and plantain trees is only 7.5 hectares (18.5 acres) - a fraction of a square kilometre.
As with so much of South America, the Quinchia region has a chequered colonial past. Named after bamboo grass fortresses punctuated with human skulls (known as Quinchos, constructed by indigenous Guaqueramae Indians), this equatorial region is characterised by rolling hills covered with dense scrubland. Rocky outcrops and shallow valleys lie between 1800m and 2400m above sea level, creating superb conditions for growing coffee. So good is the terroir in this region that in 2011 UNESCO declared Quinchia and its surroundings part of the Coffee Cultural Landscape of Colombia, a World Heritage Site.
Our relationship with Esnayder has been a worthwhile learning experience in both directions. Head Roaster Elizabeth Furth speaks of her role in the journey from farm to cup:
We sat down with Esnayder and discussed all things coffee farming - the challenges facing producers in his region, his dual lives in London and Colombia, and his plans for the future of Finca Las Cruces.
CFC: Tell me a little about the history of your family's coffee farm in Quinchia...
ESNAYDER: Finca Las Cruces has been my maternal grandparents home since the 1950’s. My grandfather was one of the early pioneers planting coffee in this area, he built up his family there (14 sons & daughters) and he was one of the initial members of the Colombia Coffee Federation. This farm was inherited by my mother in the 1980’s, and since then my father has taken on the task of adding fruit trees, walnut trees, and other food crops. We spent quite a lot of our school holidays there, so it is land that has lots of collective family memories.
I took over the running of the farm in 2005 and have spent time working in gastronomy in the UK. I started with replanting the fields with new trees after a period of crop rotation, and have a more systematic way of cultivating coffee. With the agronomist assistance of the coffee federation, I am applying clean, sustainable, and organic principles.
After 10 years of running the farm, I decided to try direct trade in order to benefit from my experience of living in the UK - this way securing the long term future of the farm by making it financially sustainable. There is a fuller history of the farm at http://fincalascruces.com/history-of-the-farm.
CFC: What influences your choices of coffee varietal - what's the climate, altitude, soil, and other factors of terroir on the farm?
ESNAYDER: My grandfather and uncles planted Bourbon and Caturra varietals, but unfortunately in the 1980’s leaf rust (la roya) had a very detrimental effect on the coffee fields. It bankrupted lots of farmers and changed the nature of the coffee region, leading to the introduction of other crops.
To deal with this, the FNC (Federacion National de Cafeteros) developed a varietal Castillo (also called Variedad Colombia - ‘the Colombian Varietal’) that is resistant to leaf rust and this was the varietal that the FCN was recommended to plant, as well as Catimor. So the decision on varietals was mainly given by the FNC. I decided to remove all the Catimor as it did not offer a cupping as good as Castillo. I’m planning to go back and plant some pink bourbon on the next phase of re-planting.
CFC: What are your goals for the farm in the future?
ESNAYDER: The goal for the future of our farm is to make it financially sustainable. In this way the farm can build up the funds to self-support itself, securing the jobs for the families who depend on it. Also to improve the quality of the soil which will be reflected in the cup, showcasing the characteristics of the soil and area where it’s grown.
The journey we are on to learn and improve the way we do agriculture continues, and we are sharing the results with our neighbours and the broader community. We want to help other farmers to achieve better results, securing the future of coffee farming.
CFC: What has been the benefit for you and for Finca Las Cruces of you living in London?
ESNAYDER: I was part of the Colombian Diaspora who were encouraged to leave the country in the early nineties. The country was on the brink of collapse, due to social and economic instability. I was determined to adapt and integrate into the place where I was living, so while I was at university in London I worked in the hospitality industry. This not only provided me with a means of living, but with an insight of the changing gastronomy in the fine food sector – including the appreciation of good coffee.
At the same time as getting involved with the running of the farm, I saw the emergence of the speciality coffee movement in the UK, and that gave me the incentive to produce an excellent cup to be there at the end of an excellent meal. On another front, we as a family were able to keep changing the way we were doing agriculture on the farm, by financially supporting this project for years from my London earnings.
CFC: What have you learned from spending time at the roastery with Elizabeth and the rest of the team? Has it influenced the way you will operate as a farm in the future?
ESNAYDER: The relationship between a farmer and a roaster is a very important one - at both ends they are the deciding factors on quality. For me the coffee should showcase the characteristics of the land, altitude, minerals in the soil, other crops planted nearby, and the care and the attention that the farmer gives it. Elizabeth’s understanding of the physical structure of the beans and its origin help to bring the best flavours out of our product.
It’s been an invaluable experience to find out from an excellent roaster what quality to expect, and what elements can be fine tuned during the processing stage. Understanding how speciality roasters work and being able to build up relationships is of great value for me as a producer.