He's the Monty Don of cultivating coffee. Fabio is passionate, a master of his craft, incredibly generous and can't help but get emotional in the best possible way. Like when we (including Fabio) tasted Finca Villa Natalia's coffee for the very first time, after all these years of growing and selling. His incredible farming skills meant he was already achieving specialty grade coffee... lucky for us!
There's an option to tip Fabio at checkout but we've explicitly told them to spend the money on whatever they want. Since our last visit to Colombia, Villa Natlalia have invested in a second drying bed and better fertiliser. Above, Alex is given a tour of their on-site washing station which allows them to do all the coffee processing on the farm.
More about Finca Villa Natalia
Finca Villa Natalia lies to the east of Garźon in the region of Huila, Colombia, standing 830 metres above sea level. The coffee plantation is divided into lots of castillo, caturra and colombia coffee varieties.
The coffees we received were processed at the farm by Fabio's daughter Natalia, who took the most ripe of coffee cherries and experimented with different drying techniques (washed, natural, honey) to create unique flavour profiles. They succeeded in attaining a specialty coffee grade of 85-86, which is a huge success for the farm.
An interview with Finca Villa Natalia
We talked to Fabio's daughters, Natalia and Angela to find out more about their experiences in preparing and exporting their coffee to the UK.
Natalia is Fabio's daughter and single handedly sorted and processed all the coffee we received.
We start working at 5:30 in the morning, first thing I do is to drink a cefecito (cup of coffee) then I listen to the birds and see my Father's garden. At 6:00 am the hand pickers arrive, we hand over the “coco” (collecting bucket) and sacks to put the coffee in. I tell them which lot they will be working in. At 12:00 they come to the house again to have lunch, and we start to weigh the collected coffee, taking note of the amounts each of them collected. My father and I work together at the washing station, he in one station and I at the other. In the afternoon at around 4:30 and 5:00 pm, the collectors leave the plantation, they eat a big piece of bread with coffee or lemonade, we weigh again the rest of the coffee they bring and we continue (me and my father) making grain selection and flotation till 9:00 pm, it is all day crouched and sitting. Once we do all this, we begin fermentation in bags or baskets depending on what profile we are looking for, and according to the amount of coffee we have during the day, this is an average day of harvest in the farm.Once the fermentation starts, we need to continue working on the de-pulping, the fermentation and grain selection. After the coffee fermentation process is complete, we take it to the drying room. The coffee needs to be moved every half hour for it to dry properly, so we do that as well. That is more or less a working day in the farm.
About 10 months ago approximately, we were implementing and beginning the transition to specialty coffee at Villa Natalia Farm.In 2020, I helped my father renew his experience and applied this new knowledge by processing the coffee with the extended fermentation process, which we had never done before. We began to do this with small amounts 35 kg, 50 kg, 100 kg of coffee cherries. Using previous mitaca (a smaller, secondary crop that is picked outside of the main harvest period) and small coffee crops as a test, we ensured quality control so that once we had finished each process, it was sent to be roasted and tasted in order to know the cup defects. Those results gave us information that could help us to improve for future harvests, besides that, we were very attentive to each detail in the fermentation process, making grain selection by hand, which we have never done before on the farm. With this last practice, we could remove the unripe cherries that go into the process and therefore obtain a better cup profile.
We've improved and adjusted some of the spaces on the farm, such as the main drying room. We removed part of the plastic cover on two of the sides and replaced it with a mesh that allows more air to flow through the coffee, so we get a better drying result. This provides more air circulation and ventilation and therefore less humidity, which is good for the specialty coffee process.Apart from that, we took special care of the tools used in profit plant operation (the processes which the coffee cherries go through after harvest), a deep cleaning of the de-pulping machine, the tanks and the places where the coffee was stored. And as I said before, we made a big effort to guarantee that only the best and most ripe cherries were the ones being processed.
A very important and relevant change for me in this harvest has been the direct communication with the coffee collectors. We have been able to work as a team, with clear communication before the coffee collection began, stating that we need careful hand selection of only the best cherries, avoiding the unripe cherries as much as possible.I worked together with my Father during the cherry floating selection process. He worked on one side, I worked on the other, using different tubs to make it more efficient. Ensuring there are no unripe cherries in the final coffee is a very challenging process. This time, we used plastic baskets to store the red cherries and we left them there for around 24 hours to oxidise and set the flavour. After this, the coffee moves on to the fermentation process in bags or baskets, depending on the requirements. The ventilation of the drying rooms has helped as well. For this harvest we used six racks, a kind of shelving, where the coffee was dried by the sun and air, allowing us to try a different drying process.
Next harvest is going to be between March and April ¨la mitaca¨ (which is a small, but generous harvest), and of course the idea is to have consistent processes in all the lots we are going to produce, we want to improve some spaces on the farm such as the storage room and the profit plant and we want to define a specific spot for cherry and grain selection, in order to have a more organised method and be more efficient.In a previous question you asked what changes we had done, so we bought some wood pallets and special bags, so once the coffee was dry, we packed it in these bags and store it on top of the pallets away from the floor. We are doing that next harvest as well. So these are mainly the things we are going to do. We are just starting!
Angela is Fabio's daughter and we worked closely with her to import Villa Natalia's coffee to the UK. Angela speaks fluent English and put our Spanish language skills to shame. We keep in frequent touch with Angela and share a love for music.
I met them through a couple of Argentinian friends that are my dauther´s godparents, my friends and I used to work on cruise ships (we are musicians. A commmon thing between the Carrington’s and I), that is how my friends met Suzy and Alex, and they introduced us.
Well, in the first place I think the most challenging thing was to find an exporter that we feel confident with, we had tried to make the exportation a year before but could no find the way. Secondly, I tried to guide and accompany my sister while I was in Bogotá (she was on the farm processing coffee, working side by side with my father, and sometimes there were dificult moments, it is not easy to tell a lifetime coffee grower how to make things), there was a lot of work to do, and ocassionally she was overwhelmed with a lot to handle.
I want her to have as much joy as she can, i want her to have confidence and been secure about herself. I want her to have options such as have the privilege to decide where does she want to go to college, or where city does she want to live, i want her to be a free and poweful woman. And most of all i want her to be a good person, with the capacity of changing her path if needed, without loosing herself.
It was long time ago, an Aunt (my mother´s sister) told me (I was very young, around 17 years old) ¨your father should export the coffee, that is a good bussines¨ I thing that phrase was a little seed in my head. And I started thinking about it more seriously in 2018 when we (my sister, my father and I) went to a specialty coffee fair in corferias (the bigest place for fairs in Colombia) called ¨expo especiales¨ , wich is a huge event around coffee. At that moment I realized coffee is a big and thrilling world, and I started thinking how could we export, then I met you, and the road was more clear having a precise thing to do.
Well, I have to admit that I really did not know how to figure that out, I asked some people involved in coffee, but the truth is, that nobody told me what aspects to consider in order to get a fair price.It was during the process that I was aware about what to bear in mind. So, this first exportation has been a great experience, but I am sure next time I am going to think and double check the farm costs for each different process. The last price was suggested by the woman that helped us to accomplish the exportation.
It will pay for the coffee at a higher price, and from that money we cover farm costs such as hand collectors and occasional workers (my father made a loan to pay the bills, exportation process takes time, and we need to pay right away once the coffee is collected) and all those expenses are paid by the coffee.
I have big dreams for Villa Natalia, first I would love to guarantee the exportation of the entire production, with this and time, we can really make improvements that will allow us to work better and consequently produce better coffee, second I want to make the farm not just a specialty coffee farm, but a demonstrative one, where coffee lovers and coffee roasters interested in our coffee all around the world can visit and learn about our coffee processes, and general coffee knowledge.
Humble, hardworker, loving