Our Coffee


Estate Coffee

estate coffeeLet us explain what "estate coffee" means to us and how we are absolutely obsessed with quality.

Before we start to tell you how we are absolutely obsessed about quality, we want to make sure to paint a clear picture of what “estate coffee” means to us. The bottom line is that which all of you already know: traceability. By offering estate coffee our buyers know exactly where their coffee was grown, not only the country or region but precisely which estate produced that coffee. However, at Santa Barbara we believe that estate coffee means much more than location. We want our buyers not only to know where the coffee was grown but also the people that grew it, and what type of social, environmental and agricultural practices where used to grow it. We also want them to know that we, as a company, have complete control of every process, from the tree to the port, passing through the wet and dry milling process, and that this permit us to take quality control to a whole new level.   This is very important to us because we believe knowledge results in TRUST.  And because we are in this for the long run, and because we concentrate uniquely on direct relationships (we export our coffee ourselves) our business runs on that simple but profound word.
So now we will explain to you what exactly it means to us to be obsessed with quality. For us this is not just a poetic expression of our dedication to our craft, but a premise on which our organization runs day in and day out. Every step of production is monitored, measured and controlled, always having the final cup in mind. Here are the steps we follow to produce for you the very best coffee that can be grown at our farms.

First step: The land and the trees

There are many things you can do to enhance the intrinsic quality of a bean just picked from a tree, but if that bean does not have the potential to produce a great cup, then it doesn’t matter how hard you try. Let me explain where that potential comes from.
The first thing that starts to influence the quality of coffee is the environment where you grow it.  Altitude, soil and climate all mix up to create the basic conditions to grow a good cup of coffee. At Santa Barbara we have a great mix of volcanic soils, high altitude and an incredible microclimate.  Our coffee is grown at an average altitude of approximately 1650 meters, with a range from 1400 to 2000 meters. This high altitude means that our coffee takes longer to mature, and therefore produce denser and richer beans. This altitude is enhanced by a specific microclimate created by the Cauca River valley, where we are located.  The warmth of the valley protects our coffee from the cold Andean nights, permitting us to grow coffee at higher altitudes.
And then comes the tree. We take pain in having very young, well-fertilized, healthy trees. For example, our trees are only pruned once (at age 6) and then replaced at the next cycle. The grounds are also monitored constantly to identify missing minerals that the tree might need before or after a harvest. We do this taking into consideration not only productivity but also cup quality. For example we are constantly measuring the potassium in the ground, which we have seen can affect the development of sugars in the mucilage of a ripened bean. We will see later why these sugars in the mucilage are so important for the final cup quality. To conclude, we take incredible care of our trees and our math is simple: you can only expect healthy beans from healthy trees.

Step 2: The picking

This is probably the most complex part of the process to produce a high quality cup of coffee. During the harvest our farms hire more than a 1000 workers to pick our coffee. These workers have accustomed themselves to worry only about volume, and farm owners usually only demand from the pickers that they pick as few GREEN beans as possible, but they do not worry about those beans that are not green but not fully ripened either. These unripen beans are the ones responsible for the dry, astringent or veggie notes of some coffees.
At Santa Barbara Estate we have decided to change this philosophy through a mix of education and economic incentives. We are working with our pickers to teach them why it is so important that they pick the fully ripened beans, as most of them have no idea of the effects of their job on the final product. We also complement this with a set of collective incentives. Throughout the day, we are taking constant measures of the quality of the picking, measuring what percentage of unripen beans we have. When this percentage reaches a certain point a bonus kicks in, and then next day picking will be paid with a bonus. So far we have seen great results, and the mentality of the pickers has changed drastically.

Step 3: The wet mill

The wet mill has to be managed in the same way a premium roaster manages its facility: with a specific mixture of art, industrial rigor and scientific curiosity.
Until recently we had very simple, yet strict rules to process our cherry. The coffee arrived in the afternoon and it was immediately de-pulped, washed and dried. This turned out a good, clean cup with no defects and some distinct attributes. However we realize that we could do much better, and started to carry out some experiments. In total we carried our more than 40 experiments with different fermentation technics (this is where the sugars in the mucilage kick into action), eventually finding a process that not only improved considerably our quality but was also manageable with the volumes we produce at our farm. As a result from the new techniques, which combine fermentation processes both before and after the cherry is depulped, what we are seeing is an explosion in sweetness and in attributes.
Since we made these changes we have been very careful monitoring these processes. For example, we are constantly measuring PH and temperature levels in our tanks in order to better control our fermentations and guarantee a consistent quality, and we are very strict with the amount of time we ferment our coffee.

Step 4: Storage, info management and dry mill

This is the final stage of the production process before we hand our precious coffee to you.
Every two days the dried coffee (still in parchment) is transported to our warehouse, which is 20 miles away from our estate. Once it arrived, the coffee is analyzed, cupped and recorded.  For every lot of coffee that enters our warehouse we keep extensive records, which include information about where that coffee was picked, at what altitude, ph and temperature levels during fermentation, brix measurements from the mucilage, etc. All this info is linked to a physical and cupping analysis that our lab does (we have two certified Q cuppers), and when we find lots that are either above or under our quality average we can look back into our records and try to find out why we got those results. This also permit us to give our clients more information about the coffee they are buying that anybody else in the coffee world. This gives the concept of traceability a whole new meaning!
Once we have analyzed and recorded a lot of coffee, it is stored depending on its quality. Although all of the export-grade coffee we produce is well above the UGQ (Colombian USUAL GOOD QUALITY denomination), we have two main quality groups. The first group is what we consider our Santa Barbara Estate quality, which can have different cup profiles but always scores between 80 and 85 points on the SCAA scale. The second group is what we call Santa Barbara Reserve quality. This is a considerably small part of our crop (10% max) and consists of coffee we consider truly special and unique, scoring above 86 points.
The next step is our dry mill. We have to admit that we are particularly proud of our mill. Not only is it state of the art machinery, but it was the final step we had to take to be completely integrated. There are very few completely integrated farms in Colombia and in Central America, as it does entail an extra layer of complexity to the production business, but we considered it crucial in order to accomplish complete control of our quality. If we outsourced our dry milling we could probably save costs and a couple of headaches, but we would be putting our quality at risk, as large dry mills are usually hectic and a bit chaotic, for they mill an assorted number of origins and qualities in the same day. Furthermore our mill is designed for specialty coffees, and permits us to play around with preparations that ordinary mill would go crazy trying to accomplish.

So this is it, this is the a complete description of almost everything we have to do day in and day out to guarantee that the coffee you receive is the very best our land can produce!