Finca El Ocaso is located just outside the historic town of Salento, in the Quindío department of West-Central Colombia. The estate, owned and operated by Gustavo Patino, rests on a lush Andes mountainside at 1900 meters above sea level - perfect conditions for high quality coffee production. Gustavo and his wife, Gloria are avid naturalists who take pride in the biodiversity of El Ocaso. Gloria loves flowers and keeps the 19th century farmhouse and surrounding grounds awash in blooms. This benefits Gustavo, who is an amateur birder and photographer, and can often be found pointing out toucans and hummingbirds to the travelers who stop by the farm on their way in and out of Salento. In addition to coffee cultivation and harvest, the Patino family takes advantage of El Ocaso’s close proximity to the town of Salento, offering farm tours, coffee education, lodging in the historic farmhouse, and a cafe and roastery looking out over the beautiful Andes mountains.
Blanchard’s Coffee Roasting Co. began its relationship with Finca El Ocaso in early 2015. A young Colombian-American entrepreneur named Daniel Velasquez had recently started an import/export company called Campesino Specialty Coffee; he was approaching roasters throughout the mid-Atlantic to pitch the single coffee in his portfolio: Finca El Ocaso Classico — a harvest blend of Castillo and Red Tabi varietals blended at the Patino’s farm in Salento, Colombia. Daniel came to us at a time when we were seeking partners to cultivate more direct relationships with specific coffee farms. We immediately built a great rapport, but more importantly, we fell in love with the coffee from El Ocaso. The El Ocaso Classico had the brown sugar sweetness typical of quality Colombian coffees, but above that foundational flavor was an intense malic acidity that made our mouths water like biting into a super-sweet Fuji apple. We couldn’t get enough, so we immediately agreed to purchase as much as possible to offer to our customers.
Throughout the next few harvest cycles, Finca El Ocaso remained a seasonal favorite at Blanchard’s, while Daniel diligently worked to expand Campesino Specialty Coffee to include representation of farms throughout Colombia and neighboring countries. During this time, in an effort to deepen the relationship between Blanchard’s, Finca El Ocaso, and Campesino Specialty Coffees, members of the Blanchard’s team visited the farm to learn more about its operation, potential, and the people who own and operate it. During this first visit, the Blanchard’s team was able to cup different variations of the El Ocaso harvest, including isolated Castillo and Red Tabi varietals. We found that many of the interesting floral and juicy apple characteristics that made El Ocaso’s coffee stand out among so many other great Colombian coffees came from the Red Tabi, while the Castillo varietal provided the sturdy brown sugar foundation. Knowing customers back in the United States would be excited by the delicate complexity of the Red Tabi, the Blanchard’s team worked with farm owner, Gustavo Patino, to isolate a small production of the Red Tabi to be included with the next harvest’s shipment exclusively for Blanchard’s Coffee Roasting Co.
Once in the US, the Finca El Ocaso Red Tabi Single Varietal release was a huge success, allowing Blanchard’s to tell a compelling story of the benefits of close connection and collaboration with farmers and producers, illustrated by a unique and exceptional coffee. The success of the project also opened the door for further experimentation and innovation; however, the challenge at the farm level was executing experimental processing without disrupting the standard production necessary to keep the farm running and financially sound. El Ocaso is unique in that it has a thriving domestic market, and export of green coffee to the US makes up only a small portion of its seasonal production. Adding new processing methods and procedures would mean adding additional labor and potentially creating a bottleneck in some of the crucial areas of harvest processing, putting the farm’s regular production at risk. The message from Mr. Patino was clear - he wanted to work with us to produce interesting, innovative coffees for our customers, but not at the expense of his regular production, so we worked together to identify specific bottlenecks to be addressed. In order to facilitate the experimentation Blanchard’s hoped to run, the farm would need additional coffee drying houses and dedicated labor to manage experiments and manage production. To address these needs, Blanchard’s agreed to fund the construction of two new drying bed houses on the farm, and hired Santiago Patino, Gustavo’s son, to run the experimental processing program.
In June of 2017, the Blanchard’s team returned to El Ocaso to inspect the newly built drying bed houses and to evaluate the first run of Santiago’s experimental processing. The results were overwhelmingly positive! We cupped a wide variety of experiments—from the original Classico blend, to isolated varietals, honey process, to full naturals.
The stand out coffees were a full natural process of the Classico blend, executed with the aid of mechanical driers, and an unexpected experimental fermentation of the isolated Red Tabi varietal where traditional washed process and raised bed drying were preceded by 18 hours of dry fermentation in cherries, and 18 hours of wet fermentation. We agreed to contract these two coffees, in addition to the Classico blend, and put Santiago’s processing techniques into practice immediately. When these coffees landed at Blanchard’s Coffee Roasting Co., the Full Natural El Ocaso was an immediate hit with our customers, and it sold out quickly. The 18/18 was a staff favorite and became one of our favorite stories to tell. The coffee was delicate and complex, requiring a bit of patience and contemplation to fully appreciate, which paired nicely with our desire to communicate the amount of work and the level of trust involved in making it possible.
El Ocaso 18/18 became an illustration of the importance of communication, relationship building, and trust between roasters and farmers. Over the course of the first several harvest cycles, we proved to the Patino family that we were committed to building a growing, sustainable relationship by increasing our purchase volume each season—beginning with only a few hundred pounds and growing to the single largest export customer for the farm. This allowed us to build a foundation of trust so when we came to Gustavo with production and processing ideas outside of the normal operation of the farm, he knew we would hold up our end of the deal, accepting the risk that experimentation may not produce positive results, and committing to be a continuing buying partner no matter what the outcome.
The results of our continuing partnership with Finca El Ocaso and Campesino Specialty Coffee are highlighted by bringing these unique coffee experiences, all from the same farm, to our customers. Tasting each of these coffees, all harvested from the same hills outside of Salento, Colombia, side by side, illustrates the diversity of aroma, flavor, acidity, and body that can be achieved by manipulating the post-harvest processing techniques. Each step in coffee processing represents a lever that can be pulled to make changes in the coffee we roast for you. More importantly, these coffees highlight the importance of trust between farm producers and roasters, and ultimately between roasters and customers. With close, trusting partnerships like these, we can shorten the distance between the coffee farm and your cup, working together to pull the right levers to bring you exciting coffees, sustainably, year after year. Each harvest season we look forward to new and interesting coffee experiences, and sharing those experiences, as well as the stories of the farmers who created them.