It’s not easy to get to Rodrigo Yandi’s El Arrayan farm, home of our third and final Short Stories coffee. First you have to spend a few hours in a car driving out of the nearest town up into the mountains, on roads that get steeper, narrower and bumpier the further you go. Even with good directions you can still get lost and end up parked for a while, passing the time picking wild blackberries while you try to get some phone signal to put you back on track.
Then the road runs out and you have to leave the car at a neighbouring farm and walk up the rest of the mountain on foot through forests, grassland and cattle pasture, but once you get there, to a plateau at the edge of a ridge at nearly 2,000m, the views are so spectacular and the air is so fresh and crisp that you forget about the hike and just stand filling your lungs deeply.
The most remote of our Short Stories producers this series, Rodrigo Yandi is also the most low-tech and most softly spoken. The area of farm that’s dedicated to coffee is around three hectares, an average size for a Colombian finca, but the altitude is higher than most and the lack of infrastructure has led to some different solutions to typical production scenarios.
Rodrigo’s parents used to own the land that the farm is on, and when they passed away he decided to buy out his sisters and move onto the property. The property used to be called El Placer, but he renamed it El Arrayan, after the myrtle shrubs that grow on the land. Two years ago he built the house where he, his wife Fracine, their two sons and two daughters now live, and is slowly building the mill infrastructure around him as he goes.
The respect and love Doñ Rodrigo has for the environment is evident, in this remote spot he has set out to achieve low impact living and being as self-sufficient and reliant as possible. He keeps a few animals himself and the family grows a range of fruit and vegetables that are foreign to me, but which allow them to go longer between trips to the market for supplies. The family’s nearest neighbour is a cattle farmer who provides milk when they need it.
He admits it can be lonely living so far from everybody, but on the upside, he says he can raise his animals without annoying the neighbours! I immediately bond with a huge pig that appears out from some nearby trees, waddles over to me and plops itself down to get belly rubs. I had forgotten how similar to dogs they are, having grown up on a small but more commercial pig farm myself I’m happy to see this one living free range and acting just the way a pig should.
At this altitude Rodrigo says he harvests nearly year round, he hasn’t had an issue with the drought that hit lower farms and while he has consistently good yields, his current harvest is the best he’s had yet. He has both Caturra, Castillo and Colombia varieties, all of which look healthy and vibrant as we walk around the farm. Kelly, Rodrigo’s oldest daughter, follows me around and keeps bringing me cherries that she squeezes between her fingers, showing off the size of the parchment inside. Even if they hadn’t been in her small palms, the coffee looks bigger than average and Rodrigo does, in fact, grow a good percentage of larger screen size coffee, another indicator of the health of his soil and trees.
His processing is the least technical I have seen in a while, but that doesn’t mean that the quality of his coffee is any less. After the days picking, he collects the cherries at his mill, which is a simple tin roof held aloft by four poles to cover a pulper perched on top of a tree stump.
Because he doesn’t have fermentation tanks, he pulps the cherries around six in the evening, collects the parchment in poly sacks, let them dry ferment for about 16 hours, then washes them, still in the sacks. The parchment then gets spread out onto tarps on the ground to dry, or placed in the free standing raised parabolic drying bed he has just constructed outside his house.
Starting with selecting only the ripest cherries and letting time, temperature and his particular microclimate work in his favour, he is able to produce exceptional quality coffee with modest means. As the strong silent type, he plays down his achievements when he talks about what he does, but it is clear that his knowledge and close relationship with his coffee more than makes up for the lack of technology or equipment.
I’m excited to finish this series of Short Stories with the El Arrayan from Doñ Rodrigo. This is a coffee that showcases the light, delicate body and bright shining acidity of its high altitude provenance and the love that’s been heaped on it from start to finish by a man with a passion for coffee, the forest and his family at his core.
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