For many of us, coffee is an essential part of our morning routine. It's the first thing we reach for after hitting snooze on our alarm clock for the fifth time. But have you ever stopped to think about where that coffee comes from?
Coffee is grown in countries all around the world, but a large majority of it comes from countries like Colombia. In fact, Colombia is the 3rd largest coffee producer in the world. But what about the people who grow and harvest our coffee? What's their story? While exploring the beautiful Ciudad Bolívar during our recent coffee trek through Colombia, we ran across a man who isn’t just passionate about coffee - he's quite mad for it.
South east of Medellín, nestled in the hills of the Antioquia department of Colombia is a small town of about 30,000 people - Ciudad Bolívar. This town is nothing short of charming, with cobblestone streets, friends relaxed and visiting in outdoor cafes, sprawling trees, and beautiful architecture. You could say that this town is truly a coffee town as most of its residents actually make their living through coffee. And high in the hills overlooking this coffee town is the man behind the magic of it all. The madman. The professor. But, to most, he simply goes by Sammy.
We knew that we needed to meet with Sammy on this most recent coffee sourcing trip because he’s entered territory successfully where many have failed. Tucked away in these hills of Bolívar, Sammy and his team have combined traditional old world Colombian coffee growing methods with new world science and knowledge to create nothing short of the perfect cup.
Sammy, an orthodontist by trade but coffee aficionado by passion, fills the hills with row upon row of carefully cultivated coffee, designed to deliver that truly perfect sip. Kirk and the Where Coffee Takes You Crew were invited by Sammy to take a trip through the dense orchards of coffee trees with cherries that have just ripened for harvesting.
As Kirk samples a ripened cherry, he notes that you can already taste the coffee profile, to which Sammy agrees, saying, “Yes, and then we do the chemical analysis and we search among the varietals of what we have here (pointing above to the rows of saplings he has) so that when we pick our trees and we’re planting them, we’re replacing them with those.” This ensures that the coffee on Sammy’s farm is constantly improving.
Sammy continues explaining the process, “We get the coffee to the house and we sample it. We taste it. And that’s how we find our best trees. We’ve been searching for years. Something that we did genetically here, we've spent ten years searching our seeds. We get the best from the best.”
While we’ve just explored some of the new ways Sammy and his finca are changing the world of coffee, he’s not quick to bypass the old ways too. The mules so often associated with Colombian coffee following the introduction of fictional character Juan Valdez, are used in several different ways on Sammy’s farm. First and foremost, the mules are used to transport coffee all over the coffee farm. Secondly, the manure is used within a bio-refinery to produce a type of biofuel to power their home, their cooking, and various processes within the farm. And third? The mules are simply a pleasure to ride around the hills of Ciudad Bolívar.
But coffee processing isn’t the only special and unique work that Sammy is doing with his coffee. “We based our philosophy and triple sustainability on the social component of our operation. We are trying to hire as many women as we can because here in these little villages, women don’t have a lot of opportunities.” With that said, Sammy introduces Andrea, Operations Director, who is in charge of all the specialty coffee operations. Andrea goes on to explain that her father originally introduced her to coffee and that it and the work she does on Sammy’s farm have changed her life 100%.
While Sammy’s coffee is delicious and unique on its own, learning about all that Sammy has been through places a special importance on where he, his family, and his coffee farm are today, “My oldest daughter was born, she was three years [old]. Then Susana was born second and was a month old.” Sammy goes on to explain that they were hiding while the local drug war raged all around them and that the explosions hit all the areas surrounding where he and his family were, but that they were spared. As a result of the danger, many of Sammy’s friends and family left the area - but Sammy states that he will stay to the end. “If this country fails, I will be the last to leave. I will close the door and turn off the light.”
“If this country fails, I will be the last to leave. I will close the door and turn off the light.”
As Kirk explains to Sammy what an incredible experience it’s been meeting Sammy and hearing his story and trying his coffee, everyone cheers and Sammy sums up the coffee trek and amazing journey in one sentence “We’re trying to push to have not only a cup of our coffee, but a cup of our country.”