Bolivian coffee harvest runs from April (below 1,000 masl) to October (up to 2,000 masl). In 2006 the country exported 85,000 bags of green coffee. The coffee rust hit the region very hard after that and the production dropped to 20,000 in 2017. The increase of the coca production also led to a decrease of the coffee production. Indeed, as soon as the coca production became legal in some areas of Bolivia, many farmers switched coffee production to coca production which is more profitable (5 harvests a year with big profit).
Caranavi known as the capital of coffee is located in the lush forest of the Yungas region. This is where the famous Death Road follows the Andes Mountains from the dry Altiplano to the lush green forest of the Amazon jungle. This unique region has two climates and is home to the most fertile soil and consequently where the majority of coffee in Bolivia is produced nowadays. All the coffee has to travel this treacherous road to be processed and exported from La Paz.
Every Wednesday in Caranavi is market day and people come in from their small communities to buy basic goods to stock up for the week; all kinds of potatoes, pastas, quinoa, vegetables, toilet paper, dried llama meat. The majority of the population here is native, and vibrant colours and bowler hats complimented this beautiful market.
Agricafe is a business owned by the Rodriguez family and has been started in 1986. By then, the family used to rent wet mills in Caranavi region, buying cherries from 2,000 producers and in 2001 they built their actual wet mill, called Buena Vista, in Caranavi. They, very quickly, built a dry mill in la Paz and then started exporting operations. In 2013, a few years after the national drop of production, they decided to buy land and start farming as well. They now have 8 farms in Caranavi region (60 ha) and 5 farms in Samaipata region (60 ha). Up to 300 people are working for the company at the peak season. They hire agronomists from different countries as consultants every year.
The total farm runs on 12 hectares of which 3 are planted with coffee trees of 4 varieties: Caturra, Red and Yellow Catuai and Typica under native tree shade system. In the rest of the farm they produce limes, oranges, banana, cassava and grow chickens.
The entire production is organic and certified.
The cherries are harvested and taken to Buena Vista Mill the same day where they are honey processed. After some mechanical pulping that removes part of the pulp, the beans are directly moved to raised beds for 3-4 days before being dried in mechanical dryers: big square boxes with hot air flow at the bottom. When on sunbeds, coffee is moved every 30 min in the morning and every hour in the afternoon. When on the boxes, coffee is moved every hour. The temperature in the mechanical dryers never goes over 40 degrees Celsius and MC and T are controlled at all time with MC/T meters.
When they reached 12% MC and after a few hours of resting, all coffee is bagged with Ecotact and Jute/plastic bags and sent to the dry mill in La Paz with sample bags on the side. The lots sit there in parchment until they are prepared for export.
After milling, cupping and after making sure the moisture content is around 11%, the coffee is bagged in Ecotact and jute bags before being exported through Arica port in Chile.
Manco Kapak is a colony in the Caranavi area of Yungus. The colony is at around 1550 masl and is surrounded by jungle and small coffee farms. After the land reforms in the 1950s, the Bolivian government encouraged people from the Altiplano and La Paz to move down to the tropical agricultural areas to farm coffee by giving them free parcels of land. Manco Kapak was one of the settlements for people from the Altiplano, and therefore many of the coffee producers there are very small - having between 1 and 3 hectares - and practise more traditional organic farming methods. All of the producers in this area have Caturra, Catuai or Typica, which gives the cup profile lots of acidity and complexity.
Since producers in Manco Kapak produce relatively small amounts, they deliver their coffee to the Buena Vista mill in Caranavi together, where it is processed and dried. This allows all of the producers to reduce their risk as they get paid immediately, and it allows the mill to control the quality of processing to ensure that the producers receive quality premiums later.
This year the producer group decided that they would like to start producing honey and natural processed coffees, since their washed coffee doesn’t always have the same level of complexity and quality as other colonies in the area. This was the perfect way to elevate cup scores and complexity, and get a higher percentage of their production up to microlot quality.