Partner Content for

Aguadas farmers grow coffee to high standards at high elevation

Photography by Rena Effendi

In life or coffee, standards are everything

Don Lionel grew up around coffee and, ultimately, his life has led him back to it. Having spent a large portion of his adult years in the city, something about urban living left him unfulfilled. Feeling suffocated, he returned to his family farm, where he lives with his mother, Donna Faviol. Caring deeply about the artisanal processes needed to develop his beans, Don Lionel joined the Nespresso AAA Sustainable Quality™ Program, which supports him in ensuring every harvest meets his exacting standards.

Photography by Rena Effendi

Quality coffee takes its time

A worker at Don Lionel's farm picks coffee cherries from the trees during harvest. Sitting so high, at 6,474 feet above sea level, cherries take much longer to ripen, but it’s this longer maturation process of the fruit that makes the beans so deeply delicious. Cherries also reach that perfectly ripe dark red at slightly different times; a single tree branch can have batches of green and red cherries next to one another. If even a few unripe green cherries find their way into a batch of red, the final flavor of the coffee can be noticeably altered. Hence why coffee picking here is a highly labor-intensive process, and must be done manually by trained workers.

Photography by Rena Effendi

Every stage adds flavor

Don Lionel’s discerning eye oversees every stage of the preparation process. Here he is using a machine to remove the skin and flesh of the coffee cherries (a process called pulping) before they land in a fermentation tank, where they will remain overnight for about 15 hours. This allows enough time for natural yeasts in the air to eat away the remaining mucilage and develop the flavors further before the beans move on to drying. While this is a meticulous process, Nespresso has been teaching Don Lionel new methods, like how to carefully calculate fermentation and drying times, to make it easier to maintain his high standards.

Photography by Rena Effendi

Beans bathed in the sun

After their 15-hour stint in the fermentation tank, beans are poured out onto specially designed flatbeds to dry naturally in the sun. Again a lengthy process, sun drying draws out moisture slowly, maturing and deepening the flavor profiles begun by yeast cultures that exist only in this region.

Photography by Rena Effendi

Perfectly dried coffee is music to your ears

“Once the beans are completely dry, they will make a sound like the malaka,” says Don Lionel, referring to a traditional Colombian instrument. Before they’re ready to make music, beans have to spend weeks drying on the beds, with routine rakings throughout to make sure they dry evenly. The clouds and humidity here mean there’s a lot of moisture hanging in the air and in the ground, which can make drying tricky. There are ways around it though, like raised beds to keep coffee from being contaminated, and covers that easily pull over when it rains.

Photography by Rena Effendi

Banding together for a better future

Farmers unload sacks of coffee at the Aguadas cooperative, a group of farmers who pool their resources together to get better access to the global coffee market. Like Don Lionel, some of them work with the Nespresso AAA Sustainable Quality Program. Along with offering support in maintaining quality, the program also provides long-term benefits like crop insurance and pension plans to provide farmers with financial security throughout their lives.

Photography by Rena Effendi

Standards are forever

A coffee expert at the Aguadas cooperative inspects green beans for quality before they are roasted and packaged. Just like the exacting standards on farms like Don Lionel’s, the pursuit of quality never diminishes, and it’s what allows Nespresso to purchase Aguadas beans for a premium price. By ensuring that farmers can consistently cultivate coffee to the standards they’ve grown up with, and remain supported should the unforeseen happen, Nespresso can help keep their coffee coming.

More coffee stories here.

Photography by Rena Effendi