ALTITUDE: 1,600-1,650m above sea level
VARIETAL: Java Coco
OWNER: Pedro Rodriguez
In the cup: Sweet and distinct, with strawberry, red grape and white chocolate. Rich and buttery, with a winey acidity and long finish.
This tiny 100% Caturra micro-lot is from a farm called Alasitas which is located in the colony of Bolinda, which lies in a lush, steep mountain valley around 10 kilometres outside of the town of Caranavi.
Bolinda was founded 52 years ago and was once known as ‘Bolivia Linda’ or ‘Beautiful Bolivia’. Over the years this name was shortened to Bolinda, and it is now one of the larger settlements in the area.
Alasitas is owned by Pedro Rodriguez. Over the last decade, Rodriguez has worked tirelessly to build the production of, and market for, Bolivian specialty coffee, helping hundreds of local farmers recognise and realise the potential of their land and crops.
Pedro Rodriguez entered the coffee industry 30 years ago, ditching his suit and his accounting job to pursue a passion for agriculture. Fifteen years ago, Pedro recognised the potential for specialty coffee in Bolivia, and over the last decade he has built a visionary business called Agricafe, which produces its own coffee and works with local producers to buy and process their coffee, aiming to build long-term relationships with them, based on mutual trust and benefit.
With a young, dynamic, and passionate team, including Pedro’s son Pedro Pablo and daughter Daniela, Agricafe represents over 1,000 small producers based in the Caranavi province as well as further afield in the South Yungas region. Many of the Caranavi-based producers deliver their whole cherries to Agricafe’s Buena Vista Mill in Caranavi. This meticulously run mill processes many of its lots separately, allowing for full traceability back to the individual farmer or colony.
Over the last decade, many of the producers that Agricafe works with have stopped producing coffee (many farmers have switched to coca—grown for the drug trade—which provides them with a higher year-round income), and this, combined with falling yields for those still in the coffee game (as a result of leaf rust and simple farming practices) has seen coffee production across the nation more than halve.
In 2012, Pedro Rodriguez responded by planting his own farms to guarantee supply and the future sustainability of his business, and to demonstrate to local farmers what can be achieved with the application of modern farming techniques and a scientific approach. Under this project, called ‘Fincas Los Rodriguez’, Agricafe now has 12 farms, and aims to plant around 200 hectares of coffee in total across them.
Alasitas was planted in 2014, and is 20 hectares in size, 16 of which are under coffee. The farm sits at about 1,600-1,650 metres above sea level. This high altitude helps to ensure a slow maturation of the cherry because of the stable night-time temperature and mild day temperatures. The slow maturation leads to an increased concentration of sugars in the cherry and bean, which in turns helps to produce a sweeter cup of coffee.
Pedro and his family have invested a lot of time and effort into trying to make this a ‘model’ farm that other producers in the area can learn from. The coffee is meticulously organised by variety and is well spaced in neat rows, making picking much easier to manage than on the more traditional farms in the region. Pedro has trialled several varieties on this farm, including Geisha, Java, and Red Caturra. This lot is 100% Red Caturra.
HOW THIS COFFEE WAS PROCESSED
This very special lot was hand picked by a team of highly skilled pickers and processed on the same day at the Rodriguez family’s mill. It was pulped and then fermented without water for 16.5 hours and then cleaned and dried slowly using mechanical driers (for over 67 hours with temperatures no higher than 40 degrees) and then finished off on raised beds, and was turned regularly to ensure it dried evenly, and carefully inspected for any defects.
Once the coffee was dry, it was transported to La Paz where it was rested, and then milled at the Rodriguez family’s brand new dry mill. There, the coffee was carefully screened again by machines and also by hand.
WHATS IN A NAME?
Alasitas means “Buy Me” in the local Aymara native language. The name comes from a festival called Alasitas, which is a festival of desires and honours the Andean god of abundance.
Starting at noon on the 24th of January every year (which also happens to be Pedro Pablo’s birthday!) Bolivia’s capital, La Paz, comes alive with a sense of promise, wishfulness and whimsy. The scene may seem strange to someone unfamiliar with this cultural event that has its roots in pre-Colombian Aymara traditions and has evolved over the centuries to incorporate elements of Catholicism and Western consumerism, but to locals, Alasitas is an important fixture in their calendar.
During the festival, thousands flock to La Paz to buy miniature items – cars, hours, university degrees, suitcases full of cash, potential spouses – of everything they want in the coming year. It can be something material, or something that brings luck – like a chicken that will help you find love, or a frog that will bring you good fortune. All miniatures are blessed by a Yatiri (a spiritual leader in Aymara culture) and offered to the Ekeko, the Andean god of abundance. Minitures are exchanged with family and friends, in a hope that their dreams will be realised, and in turn, you will also be blessed with abundance.
(Info courtesy of MCM)