Transitioning from local sales to the international market can seem impossible to small and medium producers, yet they are the best partners for roasters of a similar size. Learn how farmer Esteban Uribe is driving change within his family to embrace the global arena.
In June 2021, Esteban Uribe was selected to join our online cupping (remember lockdown?) with ProColombia, the national agency to promote Colombian exports. It was his first time in one of such events and he was proud to have Algrano scoring his sample above 85 points. Having sold coffee only to local cooperatives, Esteban was and continues to be set on the dream of selling to the international market. He’s been labouring for years against the odds, in an industry that makes it hard for farmers like himself to reach better markets.
Making a leap towards direct trade
At age 36, Esteban is the oldest of two sons born in a traditional coffee-producing family in Antioquia, Colombia, North of Caldas and Risaralda. His father Daniel, now 70, started producing coffee in the 1980s at La Casiana, a 64 hectares farm (56 has of plantation) in the town of El Jardín. Despite the care in which the Uribes grow and process coffee - all cherries brought by pickers are checked using a cherry classification chart and no more than two green fruits are tolerated - they have only managed to sell locally at the day’s market price.
Left to right: Esteban's father Mario; Jorge, operations manager, working at La Casiana for almost 15 years; Esteban (Photo: La Casiana)
With all the ups and downs of the market, Esteban doesn’t believe that selling locally is a sustainable business model and he is eager for change. La Casiana has been visited by the teams of some big importers and trade houses but they always opt to buy via the cooperative to get more volume, so the farm’s situation remains the same. When Algrano contacted Esteban about joining the platform, he was happy to make the leap - and so were we.
According to Esteban, the mountains of Antioquia are filled with coffee breaks (Photo: La Casiana)
A cyclist in love with Antioquia’s mountains (and coffee breaks)
La Casiana produces around six containers of coffee every year and harvests pretty much all year round, making the farm a great partner for medium roasters. They have been part of a Rainforest Alliance group certification for more than 10 years and grow Castillo, Colombia and Cenicafe 1, all rust-resistant. As these varieties are genetically immune to the fungus, the coffee trees don’t need large amounts of fungicide, benefiting the environment in the surroundings.
The farm is circled by numerous waterfalls and conservation areas. One of them is the mountain chain Farallones de Citará, a large nature reserve with 45 thousand virgin forests which are protected against deforestation. When he is not working at the farm, Esteban and a group of friends put on their cycling gear and bike around the mountains. “I love to challenge myself, the health benefits and the social component, not to mention the coffee breaks on the way,” he says.
La Casiana is circled by waterfalls and close to the nature reserve Farallones de Citará (Photo: La Casiana)
Leaving the family’s comfort zone
Throughout his life, Esteban’s father has been on the “cautious” side, growing resistant varieties, focusing on established processing methods and selling to the coops that he knows and trusts. Esteban, who studied Economy in the United States and got involved with the farm in 2014, is slowly changing things. “We want to change the business model to add value to our coffee. And we speak English and a bit of French, tools we didn’t use to have.”
Left to right: Jorge, Mario and Yan Carlos, Jorge's son, Business Management undergrad at a college in Medellín who helps La Casiana with administrative matters (Photo: La Casiana)
Esteban has also done courses in roasting and cupping, including Pre Q Grader, and has a better overview of his own quality than ever before in the family. “My father has, I must say, never really drank our coffee, same as most farmers in Colombia. It’s a great coffee but cupping, sending samples, negotiating… This is something totally different [to what they did in the past].” He says his family doesn’t get involved but they fully support his novel initiatives. “My brother was very happy when we were selected for the Algrano event with such a good cupping result,” he starts. “My father has my back but he also said ‘If you want this, you do it. I can’t cup.’ His focus is more on quantity.”
Minimising risk through relationships
For Esteban, having a “direct connection” with roasters is the way to get stability for the farm. “Some years it’s profitable, other years it ain’t. Everything that goes up goes down,” he says about the commodities market. “I want to minimize our risk factor. How can I do it? Through long-term relationships. I want to know what buyers think of the coffee, how we can improve, how they perceive the market, what we can offer… I want to do it together.”
Having a background in Economy means Esteban is very aware that current prices in Colombia might not stay this high for long. “The price we have today hasn’t been like this for years. Having long-term relationships with buyers that recognise our quality and know our coffee is good is the goal.” As an antioqueño, he also wishes to showcase the best of his department to the world. “We want to offer people something that represents us, something that makes us proud. We want to be part of the global arena with that which we can produce.”
(Photo: La Casiana)
La Casiana’s Fully Washed blend is already available to sample and order on Algrano. There are currently only 11 bags available. It’s an exclusive coffee with a profile that is both bold and delicate, combining alcoholic and floral notes. If you want to go beyond cooperatives when sourcing from Colombia, why not give this a try and tell Esteban what you think?