COLOMBIA WITH NESPRESSO
I’ve been a Nespresso ambassador for Switzerland for almost two years now, and although I had the impression that the brand had no more secrets from me, I just couldn’t imagine how wrong I was and the quantity of information I would get from a trip to one of the origins of Nespresso’s coffee : Colombia!
Geneva-Medellin was a long ride, we stopped in Paris and Panama and by the time we reached our hotel in Medellin it was 10pm and the only thing we wanted after a 17 hours airplane adventure was sleep. Once landed in Medellin we were pleasantly surprised by receiving an email from our Nespresso team with a carbon insetting compensation’s certificate. Indeed, in cooperation with PUR project, Nespresso compensated the carbon emissions related to our trip, and that for all participants, by planting around 250 trees in coffee-producing regions in Colombia. I did my little research on National Geographic and learned that planting trees offsets harmful carbon emissions and helps coffee farming families build sustainable futures by improving soil quality and ensuring long-term quality coffee production. By 2020, Nespresso plans to have added five million new trees to its coffee-producing regions in Colombia, Guatemala, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Mexico, and Nicaragua.
TRIP TO JARDIN
Waking up in Medellin at the InterContinental hotel, we were greeted with sunshine, 24 degrees and local treats – no words to describe how good it felt after Switzerland’s terrible weather!
After a quick breakfast and just the right amount of caffeine we began our journey to Jardín, which was a 5-hours ride away from Medellin, but that expedition was made easy by the landscape : we rode in the middle of Colombian mountains and the beauty of all the movie-like surroundings took my breath away – we even saw coffee plantations for the first time! The whole trip to Jardín was highly instagrammable: lush vegetation, clean air and colorful little houses with names like Lindaraya, Pomos or Casa de Fernando.
ARRIVAL IN JARDIN
Jardín is a little pueblo, village, in Colombia’s Antioquia department. We arrived there at the beginning of the afternoon and I remember felling under the spell immediately. The main square was buzzing with life, men of all ages wearing cowboy hats were mounting their horses or having coffees on restaurants’ terraces. Every coffee house has its own colorfully hand-painted chairs and tables set outside throughout the plaza. And right there, on this modest-yet-enchanting square, stand the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, a neo-gothic style church. Impressive.
Although the scene was busy with life and music and colors, there were a sort of peace there that I couldn’t even describe with words, it was as if time stopped somehow and we arrived in a sort of eden untouched by mass tourism.
On a following day Charles and I took time to explore a bit of Jardín and this impression intensified, we wandered colorful colonial streets, stopped here and there to take pictures and wherever we stopped we were greeted with holàs and smiles.
Our hotel, the Casa Passiflora, was a charming 9-rooms boutique hotel with the loveliest staff I ever met – we quickly made ourselves at home and after a well-deserved shower, all our Nespresso Switzerland team headed to Café Macanas on the main square, for a sensorial workshop and briefing on Nespresso’s AAA program.
THE Nespresso AAA Sustainable Quality™ PROGRAM
I mentioned Nespresso’s AAA program several times these past two years in my articles, but to me it always seemed like a complex and abstract concept. Those days are over, because after witnessing the program in action, I feel like I can finally share it fully with you, in my own words.
Coffee farmers are vulnerable to unpredictable weather conditions, a rather volatile market and often difficult political environment, and that not only in Colombia. Moreover, with these uncertainties and the need to plan their futures, many young people leave their farms for the city, renouncing to their coffee growing family affair.
Nespresso initiated its Nespresso AAA Sustainable Quality™ Program in 2003 in order to create a sustainable supply of the highest quality green coffee, while improving the situation for coffee farmers and their communities and that, on the long-term.
For the farmers joining the program has many advantages: they get paid around 30-40% above the standard market price for their high-quality green coffee, they are protected from a volatile market, they get an insurance system based on climatic variations as well as a retirement plan, and they get help from Nespresso in order to improve their businesses.
To be able to join the program, coffee farms must comply to specific quality, productivity, social and environmental criteria. Some criteria are very strict, for example no child is allowed to work on the farm, while others are a matter of technical improvements – Nespresso don’t turn away farms that don’t comply to their criteria, instead they help them reach their goals; for example, during our visit to La Finca Los Pinos, the farmer’s wife proudly showed us the wastewater treatment system furnished by Nespresso – the water used to wash coffee cherries is not lost or thrown away in nature which would pollute neighbors’ farms, but treated and reused.
I’m really grateful for having had the opportunity to see the AAA program’s benefits with my own eyes and now I totally understand the importance of Nespresso’s mission. Today about 90% of Nespresso’s coffee is sourced through the AAA program, the goal is of course to be it 100% – and I’m pretty confident the company will manage that in the next couple of years.
LA FINCA LOS PINOS
To me, the highlight of our trip to Colombia certainly was our stay at La Finca Los Pinos, an AAA coffee farm located 20 minutes from our hotel in Jardin. We rode there like locals, at the back of willys which was a very fun thing to do – if you ever have this opportunity, don’t be afraid of trying, you’ll enjoy the mesmerizing landscapes even more from there!
Upon our arrival Don Hector Rendon and his wife Dona Nancy Zappata invited us into their propriety and greeted us with their own coffee – a very sweet brew as it was made on boiled sugarcane water. La Finca Los Pinos has been in the AAA program since 2007, so almost from the beginning of the program, and it is often showed as an example of the program’s positive effects of coffee production and environment – and indeed, in comparison with another farm we visited earlier that day, one that just joined the program, La Finca Los Pinos had a better infrastructure, a more organized work space and a more confident approach to the program’s ways.
We began our immersion into the fascinating coffee universe by the possibility of planting a tree, for this we dove into a deeper part of Don Rendon’s plantations – I quickly noticed two things : firstly that with the slopping ground, harvesting during rain season must be the hardest thing ever, and secondly that I definitely took the wrong shoes for the task. Nevertheless we reached the right spot and Don Rendon explained us how to choose the appropriate location and how to work the soil before planting. So guys, think of me when you drink your Nespresso Master Origin Colombia coffee in 12-15 months : maybe a part of it would come from the tree I planted that day!
After the emotion, a potion : we headed back to the farm’s house, where Dona Zappata had set the table, she treated us with blackberry juice (delicious!) and homemade Colombian dishes (very yummy!) – I think I’ll always remember this experience, who else can say that they enjoyed a dish with locals at their own home?
In the afternoon we headed back to the plantations but this time it was to harvest! That was probably the part I was the most excited for, because – as I learned by doing this year’s trade harvesting – getting to the origin of a product and doing the work with your own hands really makes you realize the value of that product. I was not disappointed. The work is hard, you have to pick red coffee cherries very fast (a professional picker can harvest up to 250kg per day) without dropping a single one because fallen cherries can be bitten by insects which would infect the entire plantation zone. The reason why Colombian coffee cherries are handpicked is that only red beans have to be collected : beans that are still green or those that are overripe can affect the flavour. I tried my best to keep up Don Rendon’s rhythm, but after a couple of minutes I couldn’t compete – he was harvesting fast and meticulously, and while I was still checking my first tree, he was already moving to his fifth.
When waving good-byes from the back of our willys, Charles and I nearly shed a tear, this experience was not only very educational, but it marked us on a personal and emotional level – we were touched by our hosts’ kindness, and by the way we bonded despite the language barrier.
THE QUALITY CONTROLS
Throughout our immersion, we witnessed several parts of the rigorous quality control performed on coffee beans before its shipment to Switzerland. The first one is done manually by coffee farmers while they wash their freshly harvested cherries – Don Rendon showed us how while we were at his farm : his put a handful of beans in water and explained us that the ones that don’t sink are empty beans, and he can remove them from his selection himself before bringing his crop to the procurement station.
We visited Jardín’s procurement station on our last active day in Colombia; this place is where the coffee farmers bring their coffee to sell. It was interesting to notice that price for coffee changes every day, and if the price does not satisfy them, farmers can leave their coffee at the procurement station and come back to sell it when the price increases. In order to define the price of a farmer’s coffee, a sample is taken and a quality control step is made on it. Some of the checks include precise measurement of the beans’s weight and humidity, while others depend of the specialist’s know-how of coffee as he proceeds to a visual control of the beans to ensure their conformity.
While we were there we had to opportunity to chat with a farmer from the AAA program, his crop had just been sampled and paid for (with a good margin as he is part of the AAA program), and he told us that the price was fair and he was satisfied.
The next and last step of our journey was Jardín’s Community Mill, where coffee beans are brought to be processed. There, after being stripped from its remaining layers – called parchment – the green coffee beans are being checked and divided by size, color, density and weight. This rigorous quality control being made, only the very best green coffee beans are then packed and sent to Switzerland for roasting.
Now, imagine that this is only the beginning of the various quality controls that will be performed on the coffee that might end up in your capsule, as upon arrival in Switzerland the grains are cupped and tested all over again – so what you get when you press the on button of your Nespresso machine is the creme de la creme of the coffee produced.
I’m not very good with conclusions, especially as it isn’t really one: this experience that Nespresso made us live was a beginning truly – the beginning of my better understanding of the drink I was taking for granted for years and the beginning of my interest for the thrilling humanitarian work undertaken in the brand’s coffee origins.
In collaboration with NESPRESSO