The Villa Esperanza Association was established in July 2003 when four small-holder coffee growers met to discuss an idea that would bring about better quality coffee with the aim of achieving better prices whilst protecting their land and those who worked it. These forward thinking farmers worked with the local environmental agency and received guidance on tree planting schemes to help protect the biological corridors of the municipality of Guadalupe in Huila. At this time they also put together a programme called ‘Proyecto Tierra’ which brought about the construction of water treatment facilities and the development of in-depth training programmes for good agricultural practices. Such considerate planning brought about Rainforest Alliance Certification in 2005 for 22 members of the 100 member association. Further incentives and ideas were introduced to benefit the participating community such as micro-credit schemes for the provision of loans to its members for fertilizer and other agricultural essentials. In a bid to further improve their expertise the group invested in a cupping lab in 2008 to allow farmers to understand the impact that good (and poor) processing practises will have on a coffee’s flavour profile. Villa Esperanza’s president is Javier Joven Penagos, one of the four original founders.
The average smallholding within the Villa Esperanza group is approximately 3 hectares in size and the coffee grown is predominantly Caturra. The red cherry is carefully hand-picked before being immediately pulped and washed at each smallholding’s own micro wet-mill. The coffee is then dried using one of two fairly unique systems, both of which have been designed to work against the region’s frequent rainfall. It is either dried on patios located on the farmer’s roofs with sliding covers that can be pushed into place when the clouds open – or in parabolic solar dryer, which is essentially a raised bed that sits within a polyethylene ‘green house’. When the sun shines the sides are opened to improve airflow. Once the coffee is dry the farmer delivers it to the association’s warehouse in Guadalupe, where a Virmax quality control analyst will cup the coffee before purchase to make sure it meets or exceeds the quality standards. After purchase, the parchment coffee is sent to a dry mill to first rest and then milled to remove the parchment before being graded and packed into GrainPro bags.