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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.

Introducing Mark Mann, Metric's Director of Operations.

To help introduce our newest Metric family member, we sat down with Mark and asked him a series of hard-hitting questions about Chicago, his love for coffee, and Malort:

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What are you most excited about living in Chicago?

Just about everything. I'm originally from Wheaton, IL and even though I've spent nearly half my life in Denver, this move feels like coming home. All of my family is from this area since way back in the late 1800s when they immigrated here from Germany. There's a tradition that I'm excited to discover and explore. As far as actually being in Chicago, I'm very looking forward to the food, the beer, the culture, the diversity, the actual seasons, the abundance of classic dive bars, lakes, music, and so much more!

What's your favorite thing about coffee?

Coffee has the unique ability to bring people together much like other hospitality establishments (like a bar or restaurant). The direction that the industry is heading is exciting and innovative, and it's a fun time to be involved!

What’s your go-to coffee drink?

Usually, drip coffee, but my old-school go-to is an iced Americano in a cortado glass.

Outside of coffee, what gets you excited?

Music, eating, biking, walking, cooking, animals, writing, crosswords, and dreaming of solutions to everyday problems.

I hear you have "cat children"… Can you elaborate on the species of your offspring?

Evelyn is a cross-eyed sassy lady. She's a mutt of probably a Siamese and a Calico, but she rules the roost and isn't afraid to tell you! Charlie is our spirited little fella. He's an orange tabby, and we think he's majority Maine Coon. He is a tender soul but sometimes plays just a little too hard. I have cat pictures... SO MANY CAT PICTURES... want to see them? :)

Lastly... Malort?

I love Malort. In the world of being a conscious taster, it's one of the unique taste experiences. So seldom do we as Americans get to taste something one-note bitter. Other cultures use tamarind or some other more bitter ingredients to cook with, and I think everyone should spend more time with the bitter portion of their palette. It's a nice break from sweet bourbons and salty french fries!

Colombia 2016

This past week, i traveled down to Bogota, Colombia to visit and travel with my good bud Brandon Thiessen from Olam and met up with Mr. Tyler Youngblood from Azahar coffee. For me, this is first visit to this amazing country. Upon arriving, i instantly fell in love with the people, the colors and sounds of this country. Colombia worldwide is know as the third largest exporter of coffee in the world and with an exceptional amount of quality coffees that can vastly differ in profile from region to region. In my visit, i traveled first to Armenia to cup at Azahar's cupping lab and met up with Azahar's founder, Tyler Youngblood & his Director of Quality Control, Jayson Galvis and ran through several tables of Microlots selected exclusively for us to cup.

 

On the table, we cupped coffees from Nariño, Huila & Tolima regions among others, all with their own unique flavor profiles but at the same time, all yielding very clean and fruit forward flavors. After several tables and hundreds of cups later, i narrowed down the selection to three fantastic microlots from Nariño: 

Producers

 

Nelson Chavez
Farm: La Esperanza
Altitude :2200 MASL
Municipality: Yaquanquer
Variety: Caturra 
 Altitude: 2200 MASL

 

Moises Enriques 
Farm: El Guiaco 
Municipality: Sandana 
Varietal: Colombia
Altitude: 1850 MASL 

 

Luis Benavides 
Farm: El Cucho
Municipality: Sandona 
Varietal: Caturra
Altitude: 1,850 MASL 

 

These 3 producers mark our very first relationship coffees through our new friends and origin partners in Colombia Azahar Coffee. We are exited to begin these new relationships here in Chicago and our hope is to develop these relationships that will sustain for years to come. Tasting coffees, specifically these Narino microltos, i am encouraged by the quality, consistency of work and dedication to producing some of the cleanest, most balanced coffees i've tasted from this part of the world.

In particular, tasting Nelson Chavez's La Esperanza micolot from Yanquanquer, which was my personal bell ringer, inspired me to coin the term "Afri-lombia" because of its clean, lively, africanesque flavors while still maintaining it's own unique character. Mr. Chavez's farm, while beautiful, was extremely steep and a tough mother to climb. Seeing Nelson climb as if he was taking a stroll in the park inspired me to bill "El Spiderman" or more aptly "El Hombre Arana". 

Pictured above L to R: Sara Velasquez @azaharcoffee, Brandon Thiessen @olamspecialty, Laure Perry @49th parallel Josh Hockin @transcendcoffee

 

While sitting at the top of La Esperanza, a little rain came down on the group which was extremely refreshing for having to profusely sweat out 6 gallons of water on our way up. There, the group got to touch base with Mr. Chavez and connect with him on a personal level which was both rewarding and an honor for me. Meeting producers on the farm level is not only an important part of the supply chain but also a way to communicate back to the producers on the coffees performance which in turn allows them to receive the necessary information to continue the best coffee processing husbandry. 

Lastly, i want to thank my good friend Brandon Thiessen for asking me to tag along & Tyler Youngblood for being such a great host or this visit and going above and beyond to sharing his lab, time and knowledge. 

 

Xavier