AN INTERVIEW WITH FELIPE ARCILA
By Jessica Sheridan
My grandmother’s father also used to grow coffee, so four generations of growers,” Colombian coffee producer Felipe Arcila told me as he described how long his family had been coffee farming.
On a chilly winter day in Wisconsin, I had the opportunity to hop on a phone call with Felipe Arcila, the producer of our upcoming Reserve offering, 200 Hour Supernatural Colombia. Having started our partnership with Felipe and his exporting company, Cofinet, last year, we were already aware of how special their coffees were. If you have the opportunity to try the 200 Hour Supernatural Colombia that is from Felipe’s farm, or have had the opportunity to try the other two Reserves we sourced in 2020 from Cofinet, Pink Bourbon Natural and Gesha Natural, it will be apparent to you that the coffees from this group of people speak for themselves.
With some of the most wildly fruity, yet notably clean natural processed coffees that I’ve ever tried, to some very solid washed regionals, it’s impressive that Cofinet is only about 5 years old. Tasting their coffees and listening to Felipe’s determination, however, it’s no surprise that they have risen to meteoric success amongst roasters in Australia and elsewhere–their coffees are special, and you’ve never tasted anything quite like them. Speaking with Felipe this January, as in the past, it is clear that though he is humble, he is a pioneer at what he does, and we look forward to seeing where the next 5 years take both Felipe and the producers he works with at Cofinet.
FARM TO CUP INTERVIEW
with Jessica Sheridan & Felipe Arcila
JS: “Tell me a little about yourself… What led you to a career in coffee?”
FA: “My grandfather and my father both grew coffee and worked in the industry their whole lives. My dad worked for an exporter for over 40 years. While they were working in the coffee industry they were also growing coffee. Since I was young I was surrounded by coffee. I was not encouraged by my family to grow coffee due to the changing C price. One year could be awesome, then you could have two or three really bad years consecutively in a row. After being pushed by my family to do a BA in engineering or anything that wasn’t growing coffee, I did a BA in Civil Engineering, then moved to Australia to get a MA. I was shocked to see how the coffees were sold in Australia, and kept wondering why don’t we have these in Colombia? That forced me to start doing experiments with my family farm in Colombia. Then after that, I got hooked by coffee, and there’s no way out. After I started processing and tasting coffee every day, I don’t see myself anywhere else.”
JS: “What’s your oldest coffee memory?”
FA: “One – just walking through the plantation with my dad when I just about 5 years old. It was the blossoming week of the year and the smell was just insane. Second – my brother had an accident in the wet mill.”
JS: “Where is your farm(s)? Altitude? Harvest size?”
FA: “Jardines del Eden – Pijao, Quindio, 1700-2001 masl.”
JS: “What varieties do you grow?”
FA: “Castillo was the original variety; these days we went a bit wild. Wush Wush, Sidra, improved Typica from Ecuador, Red Java, Maragesha, and more.”
JS: “What processing methods do you use?”
CLR: “Since I lived in Australia I had the opportunity to taste other coffees that were natural processed, and wondered why we couldn’t do that in Colombia, so I had my dad start running trials. Drying naturals in Colombia is a headache because of relative humidity and the rain that we get is absurd. 90% of days during harvest are rainy…which makes it almost impossible to dry a natural. Although…I did not give up…experimenting with naturals every year, eventually sending our first lot to Australia. Roasters started reaching out to us, asking for specific flavors, which encouraged us to keep experimenting. We now do 10-12 different natural processing methods…By way of doing drying…adding yeast…adding microorganisms…adding mandarin skins. [ and more]. Always trying to push the boundaries. Doing our best to keep it very interesting for roasters, and it’s not easy.”
JS: “What kind of risk is involved?”
FA: “This year we harvested a big batch of Pink Bourbon with eucalyptus leaves and no one wanted to take that coffee even though we liked how it tasted. [So]…there’s a lot of risk involved. We are aware we can only do this in small quantities unless roasters commit to bigger quantities.”
JS: “Tell me about Cofinet… What’s the mission of this project of yours? How many producers do you work with in total?”
FA: “Cofinet started with the idea of being able to sell our family coffees for a more stable price. As I was telling you…growing coffee for my family has been hard over the past 15 years, and we had two or three really bad financial years in a row. We always heard our dad complaining about the price and how hard and risky it was to keep growing. The USD fluctuated a lot over the years, and the fertilizers and the labor keep increasing in price, while the C prices remain [relatively similar] for the past 40 years, so our idea was to sell our family coffee. When we started sharing our family coffee in AU the first time, it was that it was not that great. At that time my dad was growing 1400masl commercial coffee, and they were cupping it next to 2000masl coffees from Panama with aerobic fermentation, and we were out of our league… So we started to experiment and work, and with feedback, we realized fast that we could not only help our family but include other people who wanted stable prices throughout the whole year. It’s also been important to share what we’ve developed at our processing center. The 200hr naturals, next year a lot of growers in Colombia that we’ve been working with for over 3 year now will be doing the same. It’s rewarding to be able to replicate that and share the work and have it turn out really well. Cofinet is [about] sharing.”
JS: “How has the pandemic affected you, your farm, and your business?”
FA: “The first semester was very rough, especially in Colombia. It was very challenging, but after June, it got much better. We did face a rough year in regards to labor…in my case I believe we were quite lucky. We had about 80% [of pickers] turn up, but in other parts of Colombia, much less did. […] cherries were being left to fall on the ground. For the business it was a rough year…things got a bit stuck, but it also encouraged us to be more efficient, more competitive…helped us identify who wants to work with us long term.”
JS: “Do you feel exploring alternative processing such as naturals is one way to mitigate climate change and environmental impact?”
FA: “One of our main principles is to use the least amount of water as possible. [When we process coffee], 1/4-1/5 [the amount of water is] used than normal. I believe the less water we use, the more helpful.”
JS: “We’re about to launch your 200hr natural Castillo from your farm, Jardines del Eden. What’s special about the 200hr natural processing method?”
FA: “We do a lot of effort to maintain temperatures between 20-22*C. We also hand sort the cherries. When you push fermentation too much and have overripe or underripe, the flavor can go significantly wrong. So for long fermentations we need the best of the best, otherwise the taste can go off.”
JS: “Are you working on anything new/exciting? What are you looking forward to in 2021 and beyond?”
FA: “We’re looking forward to the first proper crop of Jardines del Eden, which has our exotic varietals. Sidra, SL-28, Papayo, and more. Cannot wait to cup and share those coffees with our customers around the world. We’re going to start working with a few Peruvian growers as well. I’m going to travel to Peru in April and stay there for a few months to try to apply the processing techniques we’ve learned in Colombia in Peru as well.”
JS: “What’s something important you would want people drinking your coffee to know?”
FA: “I would love them to know there is a lot effort behind the cup. It’s everything my grandfather, grandmother, learned… it’s many years of work and growing coffee. We’re very happy for you to drink our coffee all around the world. We’re very proud of ourselves and to be able to have our coffee in front of you.”
200 Hour Supernatural Colombia launches January 14th at stonecreekcoffee.com, with a few bags available at each of our cafe locations as well. We only purchased four 35kg bags of this super limited offering, so be sure to grab some while you can — it won’t be here long! This Reserve offering from Felipe’s farm, Jardines del Eden, is nothing short of a masterpiece. This coffee was exposed to an anaerobic fermentation of 150 hours, placed inside grain pro bags maintaining temperature below 22 degrees Celsius by placing the coffee inside a water tank. Later, it was placed on raised beds until 18% moisture content was achieved. Afterwards the coffee was placed inside grain pro bags again for 50 hours and later left to dry below 40 degrees Celsius on raised beds until 10.5% moisture was achieved. This microlot is 100% Castillo variety.
In a mug of 200 Hour Supernatural, you’ll experience a medium body reminiscent of a natural processed Garnacha wine paired with a deep fruitiness akin to fruit snacks, notes of Cacao nib, and the juiciness of watermelon and lime. And cheers to producers like Felipe, who make our tasty cups possible to enjoy!
Click the button below at 7:30am on January 14th when this coffee officially becomes available online to snag a 12 oz. bag for $30. And as always, get this truly unique coffee shipped straight to your door with free carbon neutral shipping via UPS Ground.