Written by Ted Statchura, Director of Coffee
Back in 2011, we made our first coffee purchase from Granja La Esperanza. Everyone at Equator fell in love with the Gesha variety from their flagship farm Cerro Azul. One year later I began planning my first of several visits to Granja La Esperanza with the goal of formalizing the relationship.
Granja La Esperanza is managed by Don Rigoberto Herrera Correa and his brother Luis. It comprises four farms in Colombia’s Valle del Cauca Department, and another in Cundinamarca. The family’s coffee business began with Don Rigo’s grandparents, who founded a farm called Finca Potosi. In 1945, Don Rigo’s father planted three new coffee varieties––Typica, Yellow Bourbon and Red Bourbon––ushering in a new direction for the family. Don Rigo and his brother Luis were the only siblings (out of 11!) that showed interest in coffee. In the late 1990’s, the brothers transitioned their entire holdings to organic production. They also purchased a new farm near the town of Trujillo, which they named Finca La Esperanza.
In 2007, Don Rigo leased a coffee farm called La Carleida in the Boquete region of Panama. It was planted with the now famous Gesha variety. A year after taking over management of the farm they won first place in the Best of Panama competition with their Gesha beans. Next, Don Rigo established a new farm in Colombia where he planted Gesha seeds brought over from Panama. That farm became the much beloved Cerro Azul, located near Finca La Esperanza. The establishment of Cerro Azul launched yet another era in the history of Granja La Esperanza, one that involved winning countless awards in coffee competitions throughout the world, including the 2013 Roaster’s Choice award. Don’t be surprised to learn that Equator was the roaster in that collaboration.
Although Finca Cerro Azul is planted primarily with Gesha, many Equator fans know of the smaller Enano trees that also thrive on the farm. These plants began as Gesha seeds that matured into the treasured Enano variety. No one is sure exactly when this happened, but the coffee plant is known to spontaneously hybridize into new varieties. (Lucky us!) The Enano trees were easy to identify because of their compact size and dense foliage, which is distinctly different from the taller, more sparse Gesha bushes. Enano trees are tagged with ribbons so that the coffee harvesters know to keep the fruit separate. In fact, there’s usually one person who harvests the Enano trees, while the rest of the pickers work on Gesha. Though not of the Gesha variety, we love Enano for its similar characteristics — brightness, jasmine, and peach-like flavors. These special Enano beans are sold exclusively to Equator.
In addition to Enano, Equator is roasting another coffee from Granja La Esperanza called Tres Dragones Natural. The “dragons” in this case refer to three massive tower-like coffee dryers that were installed after a fire burned down the processing mill on Finca Potosi. The three dryers are dedicated exclusively to drying whole coffee fruit. This is called a “natural process.” The resulting lots of coffee made this way are named Tres Dragones. When they built the new mill, Don Rigo and his brother Luis’ hope was to match the natural processed coffee they had perfected on their farm Las Margaritas--located directly across the valley from Finca Potosi.
Although it’s hard to pick one, Finca Las Margaritas may be my favorite Granja La Esperanza farm. One reason is that it’s planted with a huge number of varieties including Pacamara, Sudan Rume, Tabi, Laurina and Sidra--many of which Equator has also roasted. In addition to the number of coffee varieties, the farm also uses its own wet mill and drying facility, which means the coffee cherry no longer needs to be transported from far away. Las Margaritas also serves as a research facility where different varieties of coffee can be evaluated alongside new processing methods for implementation in other locations.
Another reason the farm is so special is a small plot of land on the farm affectionately called the ‘Field of Dreams.’ Roasters from around the world who visit the farm are invited to plant a seedling on this plot. With each subsequent visit they can see how their tree has grown along with Granja La Esperanza’s own varieties. In 2015, I had the privilege of planting a Yellow Bourbon seedling. Last Christmas, I received a small bag of roasted coffee from the tree I planted. That Christmas felt really special to me.
Another variety tested on Las Margaritas was Mokka. Based on the promise it showed, the family searched for a new farm to cultivate this unusual variety. Enter the newest member in the family of farms, Finca Hawaii, which is in Cundinamarca Department near the town of Sasaima. It’s named in honor of Ka‘anapali Coffee Farms, the source of the Mokka variety seeds.
Ka‘anapali Coffee Farms, located on the Hawaiian island of Maui, helped popularize the unique Mokka cultivar, which is somewhat of an oddity due to the small coffee cherries it produces and its tiny beans (coffee beans are the seeds of the coffee berry). Before making its way to Colombia, this rare Mokka variety was crossed with the locally grown Hawaiian Typica variety. But the history of the Mokka variety goes back even further. It’s thought to have been collected by researchers in Brazil from beans that originated, at some point, in Yemen. The beans do have a striking similarity in appearance to a Yemeni variety called Ismaili, known for its silky smooth body and bright acidity.
The farms operated by Granja La Esperanza represent an outstanding level of achievement rarely matched by other coffee producers. Equator is fortunate to be one of just a small set of roasters to partner with the quality obsessed professionals at Granja La Esperanza. As I was writing this post, I watched bags of Enano and Tres Dragones disappear from the shelves at our roasting facility. We receive only two deliveries of coffee from Granja La Esperanza per year, and it will be many months before our next crop of coffee lands, which is to say, get these two coffees while they’re still available! Cheers to Don Rigo and his team in Colombia for consistently producing some of our most exceptional coffees.