The Birmingham News JO ELLEN O'HARA News staff writer
Coffee beans will never be the same to Mary and Randy Adamy.
When the couple decided to tour the coffee-growing regions of Colombia earlier this year, they knew it would broaden their knowledge of the product. After all, it provides their livelihood as owners of O'Henry's Coffees and Red Mountain Coffee Roasters.
What they discovered was behind the business of coffee beans are farmers who toil in the picturesque landscape of Colombia to provide what often becomes steaming cups of java for people around the world. And unlike most coffee lovers, the Adamys got to know one farm family so well that they, along with another specialty coffee company owner, got together and successfully bid on the farmer's entire crop for the year.
While there was a language barrier, through an interpreter, the Adamys got to know Don Jorge Garces, 53, and his wife, Silvia, who work the farm, which includes coffee trees, chickens, a few head of cattle, and fruit trees.
The size of the farm, about 15 acres, is average in the region, but the determination of the family to successfully grow their crops has made them role models for others in the area around the Valle del Cauca.
The coffee growing season is from October until March. The Garces family, assisted by migrant workers, pick the coffee fruit from the trees. To a novice in coffee growing, it is interesting to learn that coffee beans are actually the seeds of a fruit, often called coffee cherries. When ripe, the fruit is picked, then pulped, with the fruit removed from the seeds. The seeds are washed, sorted and dried before more processing.
Randy Adamy says he tasted the fruit and it is "semi-sweet." The fruit is used for mulch, rather than being thrown away.
The visitors also watched workers pick from the coffee trees. Their hands seem to be in endless motion. As the visitors learned, workers are paid by the amount they pick, so they work very fast.
Both Jorge and Silvia were born into the coffee business. While her father was a coffee farmer, Jorge's father was an administrator for a coffee-growing farm, but never an owner. As a boy, he stretched out grade school by two years because he knew that he would have to head to the fields as a farm worker after that.
By age 18, he was working in the fields, but took an extra job as a hair stylist to make a little more money. He also needed money as he had married Silvia by that time. Though they married very young, the couple now have been together 34 years and have two sons.
The family has met with many adversities but has managed to keep their farm together. Like many farmers, they have been in debt over the years.
One year, with debts piling up, Don Jorge purchased a winning lottery ticket. At first, he thought of paying off his debts; then he and Silvia talked it over and decided to invest in an aviculture project, which provided a resting space for migratory birds, as well as giving shade to the coffee trees on the farm.
The Garces live on the farm in an open-air house, with views of their farm and mountains and valleys around them. They, along with a son, work the farm every day.
When the Adamys were approached about making the tour by Felipe Sardi, who heads Andeano, a specialty coffee importing company in Miami, they were apprehensive at first, but "testimonials" from others who had taken the trip made them realize that this was a great opportunity to go to an origin country, one of at least 25 countries where the Adamys buy coffee beans.
Colombia and Brazil are the largest exporters, and the Adamys say Juan Valdez, who became a symbol of coffee in that country through a huge marketing promotion that has continued for years, is one of the main reasons Colombia has achieved such success in the coffee business.
The tour, with several other specialty coffee people, included trips to coffee processing plants, co-ops and farms.
The group flew to Armenia, a larger town in Colombia, then drove to Caicedonia, which served as home base for the travelers. From there they visited farms, and in that area in the Valle Del Cauca, is where they met Jorge and Silvia Garces.
The Garces farm is in the process of being certified an organic farm. and currently the farm is in the third year of the three-year process.
The farmers also showed the different varieties of coffee trees, which often grow under banana trees, with the banana tree leaves often providing a canopy to give the coffee trees shade.
Transportation from farm to distribution area is often by old-style Jeeps, but it is not unusual to see a mule hauling bags of coffee.
The Garces' farm coffee bean crop for the year totaled 16 half-bags, which is how the beans are weighed. A half-bag weighs 70 pounds of green coffee beans. When roasted, there will be about 55 pounds of beans ready for consumption.
The Adamys got together with a specialty coffee company owner from Columbus, Ohio, and decided to sample the Garces coffee. If they all liked the coffee after it had been roasted, they would bid on the Garces' crop.
The Adamys roasted the sample of beans they had, then tasted it against their regular Colombian blend. They both wanted the coffee to be what they were looking for as "we were taken by them (the Garces family) as people. You could not help but like them," Randy says.
"Before we ever tasted the coffee, we hoped thhat it would stand up to what we thought of them."
The coffee did meet their expectations, and the Adamys joined the Ohio business in bidding for the Garces crop.
Their bid at the auction this summer won, and this week the beans are arriving in Alabama and Ohio.
The coffee beans from the Garces farm will be the first time the beans have come from one farm.
As the Adamys explain it, most farmers belong to co-ops, and the beans are mixed with those of others. Farmers never know where the beans end up, and usually the buyers only know the region and country of origin.
The case of buying a farmer's entire crop is unusual.
Because the Adamys and the Ohio buyer won the bid for the Garces coffee, this means that there will be only two shops in the United States where it will be sold: At Cafe Brioso in Columbus, Ohio, and at O'Henry's locations in the Birmingham area.
"We are calling the coffee El Crucerito Private Estate. The bean itself is Colombian Supremo." Randy says.
The roasted beans should be available by Friday at O'Henry's locations.
The El Crucerito Private Estate coffee will be sold in 12-ounce bags, and Randy Adamy has set the price at $13.99 a bag, a bit more than a 12-ounce bag at O'Henry's that begins at about $10 a bag.
When Felipe Sardi of Andeano specialty coffee importers goes to Colombia for Thanksgiving, he will make a trip to see Jorge and Silvia Garces and take them packages of roasted El Crucerito Private Estate from O'Henry's as well as pictures of their coffee being enjoyed by customers there.