Santa Barbara Estate is composed of 5 sister farms that lie across three neighbouring,geographical regions - Santa Barbara, Fredonia and Amagá. Established in the 1980s, from the beginning Sr. Pedro Echavarria knew that location was crucial. Attracted by diverse microclimates, singular volcanic soils, perfect altitude and a tradition of excellence in coffee production, he established a small farm in the high Andes of Antioquia. By marrying these perfect natural conditions with hard work and efficiency, he quickly grew both the area under cultivation and the farm’s reputation.
In the last five years, Pedro’s son – also Pedro – has become more deeply involved in the workings of the farm, taking the already high quality of the coffee to new heights through experimentation in processing and increased monitoring and control of every stage of production. Pedro Jr. and Santa Barbara’s Coffee Director, Leonardo Henao Triana, manage their wet mill with a blend of art, industrial rigor and scientific curiosity. They are committed to further developing the Estate’s capacity for the highest quality coffee possible and have even brought their offerings to Medellin, Colombia through their flagship coffee shop. The Veracruz lots come from one of the Estate’s smaller farms, composed of 16 hectares of coffee and a small mill.
Each Veracruz lot is comprised of between 3 to 5 days’ picking. Each day, pulped beans are added to a fermentation tank with the previous days’ pickings. In this method of ‘extended’ fermentation, each consecutive batch raises the ph level (i.e. makes more alkaline) of the fermentation tank, permitting longer fermentation times that will produce a fruit-forward cup but without the acetic acid produced by bacteria at a low ph. In this way, the producer is able to maintain the correct ph level and avoid very low ph levels during processing that can lead to over-fermentation and vinegary qualities. In addition to giving more control over ph levels also gives more control over yeast and bacteria activity. Interestingly, the inspiration for the process was taken from small farmers throughout Antioquia and Huila, who often have two or three day fermentation as their farms are so small that one day’s picking is often not sufficient to make up an entire lot. Pedro and Leo have worked to perfect the process and adapt it for larger-scale production. In this cool, high climate, sun-drying for larger producers is challenging due, in part, to space requirements.
Small producers with low volumes of coffee to dry often sun drying, but larger scale producers, such as Santa Barbara Estate, must find other methods. Santa Barbara has traditionally used silo drying as a reliable drying method. Parchment coffee is loaded into drying silos, which are then operated at around 60% of their heat capacity in order to slowly dry and better preserve the coffee. In silo drying, the temperature never reaches beyond 40-45 degrees, and the farms have always had an excellent result from the process.
However, as part of their experimental ethos, Pedro and Leo have selected some of the Estate’s smaller farms for experimental new methods of drying out of pure curiosity for what results will be produced.
At Finca Veracruz this year, the team is employing three different methods and will draw conclusions hopefully by next year.
• Drying beds made of wood and fabric under parabolic plastic. This is the traditional beds used by small farmers across Colombia.
• Drying beds made of wood and mesh under parabolic plastic. This is to improve ventilation beneath the bed of coffee and so far they have seen good results in temperature and drying times.
• Drying beds made of wood and mesh under a full roof, for shade drying. Pedro and Leo will have the results on impact of drying, and we are looking forward to hearing what they come up with!
Santa Bárbara Estate employs 60 people all year round, who on average earn 30% above the minimum wage. Half of these also receive free housing within the farm for themselves and their families. A further 1,200 pickers are hired during the main harvest, comprised mainly of farmers from around the Santa Bárbara Estate who pick coffee to supplement their income. Workers are generally long-term employees and have been with the company for more than 10 years.
The Santa Bárbara Estate also runs an extensive scholarship and financial aid program for worker’s children as well as helping long-standing employees to acquire their own piece of land upon retirement.