As we head into fall, it’s that time: Colombia season. In times like these where Colombia brings extra complexity (more on that below), solid partnerships win. Our partnership with Nariño stalwart Grupo Tablon in Tablon de Gomez, run by Gildardo Chincunque, is a perfect example. The coffees we’re bringing in are quintessential Nariño, with notes of cherry, pear, green grape, white sugar, hibiscus tea, and vanilla. Despite a year that’s seeing larger quality challenges for Colombia as a whole, these coffees are as exciting as ever.
We’ve been working with Grupo Tablon for five years and our milling and shipping partners in the region for even longer. Gildardo is a producer and a local parchment collector, paying cash for parchment from his wife, son, cousins, aunts, and uncles, as well as the surrounding local communities. As an independent cash buyer working in a tight-knit group of communities, he has more skin in the game than most, so we start the conversation and define volume commitments starting in spring. He’s calibrated to our standards and in the fall, we meet up and purchase coffee together. This year, Red Fox QC team leader Fabian Viveros (a Colombia native) and newer QC team member Maria Flores (a Oaxaca native who joined up last Mexico season) spent five weeks in Colombia this summer selecting through offers from both Inzá and Tablon ensuring that the quality was right.
Gildardo pays upfront, and once the coffee moves to Pasto, our trade partner pays him out and takes over milling and shipping.
Although it’s hard to beat last year’s combination of challenges—protests leading to roadblocks for producers, La Niña’s heavy rains that made both cherry ripening and drying difficult, frost events in Brazil that left large multinationals struggling to cover shorts via Colombia, and the extended supply chain crisis—this year brings its own slew of difficulties. La Niña is still going strong (bringing the same difficulties with cherry ripening/drying and reduced volume), buying conditions are as competitive as ever (via both an elevated C market and the same large players trying to cover shorts), and transit costs are still ultra-high.
The combination of La Niña and large buying entities like the Federación Nacional de Cafeteros (Federación) and multinationals still scrambling to cover shorts has led to larger-scale quality issues in Colombia. It’s not just that drying is more difficult: it’s that prices are sky-high for wet, unsorted parchment and higher still for dried parchment, so producers are understandably rushing to pick their fruit and get it to market while they can guarantee astronomic payouts.
The song remains the same with transit costs: they haven’t yet begun to dip, and increases and rolled bookings are still common.
That said, we’re ultra-confident in the coffees we’ve bought and our ability to bring them in. Fabian & Maria did a tremendous job selecting through the parchment coffees Gildardo presented to them. Along with cupping they were careful to make sure that our selections were perfectly stable in terms of both water activity and moisture content.
The larger buying conditions may be chaotic, but as always, strong partnerships win.
To say that farmgate prices in the region are the highest we’ve ever seen them is an understatement.
This year, instead of paying out quality premiums for lots above base tier, we’re paying 2.8 million pesos per carga (ppc) for all lots.
Context: in years past, if we were paying around 1.2 million ppc, we were paying at least 20% above the local price and could collect as much coffee as we needed from the communities we worked with. We would host brigada cupping competition events where first place prize in the best years was 2 million ppc and runners up received 1.9, 1.8, 1.75 million. At the time, they were extravagant prices.
Now, because of the C market and La Niña conditions, volumes are way down (an estimated 20-30% in any part of Southern Colombia where we buy) and prices are way up. The Federación is offering prices around 1.7/1.8 million ppc for wet, unsorted parchment and upwards of 2 million for dried parchment. The local price has jumped to about 2.5/2.6 million ppc as of when we left three weeks ago. Our price remains above the local price, but the situation is unprecedented.
While these price conditions can stress even the most ethical producer associations and buyers, producer wins are rare and should be celebrated. With care, communication, and mutual support, we all get there together.
|Interested in sourcing coffee with us? Reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about our work, check out our journal and follow us on Instagram @redfoxcoffeemerchants, Twitter @redfoxcoffee, Spotify, and YouTube.|