The Secrets of Bolivian Coffee
Young coffee plants
Compared to its Latin American neighbours, Bolivia produces only a very tiny amount of coffee. It's production amounts to less than 1% of the world coffee market. Thanks to investment, education and the perseverance of it's coffee farming families this origin offers great quality if not quantity.
Bolivia was once synonymous with low quality coffee, which often went into blends, but in the last 10 -15 years the quality has improved dramatically, producing some amazing Lots like our San Pablo Honey Processed. Read on to discover more about the secrets of Bolivian coffee.
A Brief History of Bolivian Coffee
The exact origins of the coffee industry in Bolivia are hard to fathom, but what we do know is that for much of the last century the coffee growing regions of Bolivia were divided up between a small number of wealthy land-owners. It remained this way until the 1950's, when the Bolivian Government introduced land reforms, carving up large areas of land into smaller plots, where possible, returning the land to the families who had originally owned it.
One such area is the San Pablo colony. The producers there are either first or second-generation coffee farmers. Following the land reforms, the Bolivian Government encouraged people from the Altiplano and La Paz to move to the tropical agricultural areas to farm coffee by giving them free parcels of land. San Pablo was one of the settlements for people from the Altiplano and many of the coffee producers there are very small, each having between 1 and 3 hectares.
The shift towards specialty coffee started in the 1990's and gathered pace in the 2000's thanks to foreign investment in infrastructure and training, the highlight of which was the introduction of the Cup of Excellence program in 2004.
Coffee is dried on raised beds
Today, farmers co-operatives and associations such as the Bolivian Federation of Coffee Growers and Exporters work with specialty coffee merchants to open up access to overseas markets, to attract investment and continuously improve their farming methods. Getting the crop to market however remains a difficult and challenging process.
Bolivia is a land locked meaning it cannot directly ship it's coffee overseas. What's more, the main coffee growing region, the Caranavi province is situated in an area which is mountainous, containing the highest peaks of the Andes Mountains, which run all the way along the entire continent of South America.
Difficult terrain, including the infamous Death Road, limited access to technology and infrastructure make post-harvest quality control a difficult task. Around 23,000 families rely on coffee farming for their livelihood and farmers work in co-operatives, sharing equipment, facilities and working to improve quality.
The infamous 'Death Road' - Don't watch this if you're of a nervous disposition.
Much of the coffee in Bolivia is produced without chemical fertilisers and pesticides. Producers grow mostly Caturra with some Catuai and/or Typica. Caturra is favoured in some regions for yield and cup quality, giving plenty of citrus acidity. However, more recently Catuai is gaining popularity, since it is more productive and resilient (e.g to leaf rust) than Caturra but with a similar cup profile.
We were lucky enough to get our hands on a bag of specialty beans from the small colony of San Pablo earlier this year (March 2018). Farmers there have been experimenting with honey processed coffees (blog post coming soon on honey processing) to add complexity to the cup. We're mighty impressed with the results. The roasted bean has a lovely burgundy hue to it. When we drink it black it we are reminded of pomegranate and grapefruit. With milk it takes on a more Cadbury's fudge like quality. Get yours here, for a limited time only > San Pablo Honey Processed.
Sadly our Bolivian San Pablo coffee was very popular and has now sold out.