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Field Report: Coffee with Nelson Chaves

A couple of weeks ago Harris (Wholesale Manager & Educator) joined Xavier (Co-founder & Green Buyer) for an origin trip down to Colombia! While there, the two spent time with several of our producing partners. Harris had a special encounter with Nelson Chaves though– one of our favorite producers for his amazing coffees and his affinity for his Chicago Bears hat. To celebrate their connection, Harris wrote the following op-ed outlining the visit. Enjoy!  

Field Report: Yacuanquer, Colombia

Like a lot of us traveling to family or friends' this season, Xavier (our co-owner and green buyer) is visiting the homes of our coffee family. Exercising our direct trade philosophies, X is currently in Ethiopia. Just a couple weeks ago, he was in Colombia, the heart of some of our longest standing relationship. Xavier stopped back by Chicago briefly in between the stints leaving us with the following story and images:

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"Field Report: Yacuanquer, Colombia

Let's go back to the future (or past). It was 2016 when I first met Nelson Chavez. Then, Nelson Chavez struck me as most producers in Narino do; he was laid back, humble and somewhat skeptical of my fellow travelers and I’s presence. But still being (somewhat reluctantly) hospitable, he showed us his work sharing what it means to him and farm aids.

The setting dominated my first impression of Yacunquer. It is majestic; a hybrid of Shangrila and a J.R.R. Tolkien novel, it’s definitely cinematic from sunup to sundown. There, Nelson’s farm, La Esperanza, is by far one of the steepest climbs I have ever managed to scale. I climbed slowly losing my breath at every step-- all the way up--, unlike Nelson who I witnessed ascend to the summit as if he levitated to the top without breaking a single drop of sweat.

Now, three years later (or present), I’ve seen Nelson grow, not only with his operation but also in the warmness. Seeming less skeptical and more optimistic all the while breaking side smiles as one does when surrounded by people he truly cares about. This to me, this development, is the meaning of the honest, equitable relationship coffee." -X

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Enjoy the following photo-essay and commentary for a visual of Yacunquer's majesty:

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Farm Gate! Literally, we pull up, and it was as if the gate opened to another dimension, nirvana, a place where peace and beauty both live in perfect harmony. Wish you were here! -X

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In Yacuanquer, there aren't too many places where most folks can stay. Lucky for us, we connected with some of the most hospitable farmers that let us stay in these sweet little cabins where the background noises are composed of birds, dogs, and a waterfall. -X

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Farm pups! -X

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Heaven is a place on Earth! -X

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These clay objects were found on site, which is possible to be an ancient tomb. Yacuanquer stands for “land of the tomb and sepulcher” in Quechua (the language of the Inca empire) which makes sense why they find clay pottery and bones in these parts. -X

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Wherever the home is that you're headed this season, all the Metric humans wish you happy holidays. May your travels be as beautiful of an experience as X's in Yacuanquer.

 

Part of a Process, Chapter I: Coffee Cherry Anatomy

 

Here’s a fun fact: coffee starts out as a cherry! 

If you already knew that, this post might not have a lot of new information for you. If your mind is warped over that zinger of a fact, buckle up! We’re talking about the very basics of what coffee is. This is an introductory, brief, yet accurate article about the coffee cherry. Hopefully this basic knowledge can serve as a starting point for new coffee nerds, or will prove to be a little light information to put in your pocket for some oddly specific trivia night.

Let’s start with the fact that coffee begins life as a cherry. They grow on shrubs in groups right off the stem of the branch, are round or elliptoid, and are typically a kelly green at first, soften to a yellow-orange hue as they mature, and deepen to a bright red when ripe. The coffee shrubs and cherries are different depending on the varietal of the plant itself, and harvest seasons vary based on the hemisphere, country and micro-climate of each coffee farm. Things like precipitation, temperature, qualities of the soil, and altitude are all extremely important factors when it comes to how that cherry ripens and what flavors are present when all is said in done.

So now that we have the cherry, when does the coffee bean make an appearance? The cherry itself has several layers, the center of which are two coffee beans. These two beans mirror each other, like a sphere that has been cut down the middle. Moving from the inside out, it goes as follows: bean, silverskin, parchment, pectin layer, pulp, and the outside layer of the cherry.

Image sourced from Wikimedia Commons

The cherry undergoes an intense process of soaking, de-pulping, fermenting, many other micro-steps. It is then dried, hulled, and sorted until we are left with a flaxen, hint-of-green bean that is not a far cry from what our finished product.

From this point, producers export bags of what is known as “green coffee,” roasters load it by the scoop into their respective roasting mechanisms (Metric uses a vintage cast iron Probat roaster from the 1960s), and 9-15 minutes later a chocolaty brown coffee bean emerges. 

We grind it, steep it in hot water, and enjoy a nice simple cup of coffee. 

At each step, there is opportunity for mistakes to occur, for something to compromise the quality of the final product. These are not simple processes, in case that hasn’t been made clear. In abbreviating these steps, we must add the note that there are hundreds of people working incredibly hard to make this nice and simple cup of coffee happen. Your cup of coffee is really and truly made by humans, made possible by their substantial efforts. To honor these people, keep supporting local roasteries that support and act upon direct trade ideals. Keep asking where your commodities are coming from, and keep enjoying what is good.