Monserrate straddles a ridge in the beautiful Cordillera Central mountain range in the southwestern departamento (state) of Huila. At the top of the road is a large, brick church that houses a shrine to the Virgen de Monserrate, a statue of a black Virgin Mary that’s become a regional tourist attraction.
Most residents of Monserrate and surrounding communities are small-scale farmers who grow coffee as a cash crop, and several years ago some of them formed an organization called Grupo Asociativo Productores del Nuevo Milenio (“Associative Group of Producers of the New Millennium,” or PROAGROMIL) in an effort to sell their coffee at a higher price.
As the contractor for the five-year, USAID-funded Colombian Specialty Coffee Program, ACDI/VOCA introduced Atlas Coffee Importers to PROAGROMIL in 2005. Craig Holt, Atlas’ founder and managing partner, initially traveled to Monserrate as an ACDI/VOCA volunteer and worked with the growers to assess the quality of their coffees, review their harvesting and processing techniques, and offer suggestions on how to position themselves in the specialty coffee market.
Impressed with the possibility for truly exceptional coffee production in the community, Craig returned the following year with several roaster clients and solidified a commercial relationship.
He also had face-to-face meetings with the growers and the exporter to set the price, which has ensured that all parties are comfortable with the transaction. The result is that Atlas purchases all of Monserrate’s coffee at a premium over the internal price and markets and sells the coffee under the community’s name. Atlas has also worked with ACDI/VOCA to send technical experts as well as its in-country agent, Nicolás Rodríguez, to analyze each grower’s farm and make recommendations for improved growing, milling, and drying practices.
Due to the success of this relationship, PROAGROMIL took on new members, increased its production, and built a cupping laboratory with funds from Atlas, ACDI/VOCA, and C.I. Racafé, a Bogotá-based exporter. Currently 42 producers belong to the organization with an annual yield of three containers of green coffee (825 total bags, each weighing 70 kilograms).
Atlas is proud to work with the Monserrate farmers and be the exclusive importer of their coffee.
Welcome to my Table, here in the corner of this cafe. Today we’re sipping a cup of Colombia Huila Monserrate, from Bluebeard Coffee Roasters in Tacoma, Washington. Feel free to pull up a chair.
region: Monserrate, Huila, Colombia
farm: Gruppo Asociativo Productores del Nuevo Melenio (PROAGROMIL)
producer: smallholder farmers
elevation: 1650 – 1800 meters above sea level
cultivars: Caturra, Typica
process: fully washed, patio dried
The aroma of the Colombia Huila Monserrate presents itself as soft and subtle, but complex. Milk chocolate and honey both present themselves, while notes of citrus, nuts, soft wood spiciness, and night-blooming flowers brighten the aroma a bit.
The first few sips of this coffee present my palate with a delectable salted caramel, can sugar, and toasted malt flavor that spreads itself over my tongue like a creamy blanket. Pushing in behind is a big swelling of concord grape juiciness.
As it begins to cool, the cup much more… purple. Lush violet floral aromatics bloom in the bottom of the cup, while very vivid fruit juices flood the palate. Absolutely gorgeous flavors of grapes, apple, pear, root beer, honey-soaked cocoa, plum, raisin, cranberry, tangerine, star fruit, aromatic spiced wood, and just the slightest hint of lemon.
Medium body; juicy mouthfeel; grape acidity; dry finish.
the bottom line:
The three coffees that Bluebeard sent me—the Abakundakawa, the Mtaro, and this, the Colombia—are all perfectly complementary to each other, and I had a great time sampling them; so my many thanks to Kevin and his crew.
The Colombia Huila Monserrate, from Bluebeard Coffee Roasters, is magical—in that it practices the art of the slow reveal; it has perfected the art of the slow reveal. The aroma is soft and subtle, the first few sips are mellow and creamy, and then, once it cools off a bit, all sorts of flavors present themselves and the coffee becomes a veritable free-for-all.
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Andrew is a husband, father, dog lover, craft beverage enthusiast, content creator, and niche market Internet celebrity. Formerly of A Table in the Corner of the Cafe and The Pulitzer Project and contributor to Barista Magazine and Mental Floss, he’s been writing on the Internet for years.