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Bolivia: Putting the ‘Special’ in Specialty Coffee

Bolivia: Putting the ‘Special’ in Specialty Coffee

We absolutely adore Bolivian Coffees. Simply put, they are spectacular. They’re incredibly sweet, transparent and refined – the kind of coffees you can drink, cup after cup, and keep coming back for more.

It’s always extremely exciting when a new batch of carefully selected Bolivian coffees arrives in Australia. Once it does, it’s our job to carefully roast and taste them, and then share them with our community of customers.

We love the versatility of Bolivian coffees and the diversity of their cup profiles. Some have a sugarcane and toffee sweetness, with a balanced acidity, silky mouthfeel, and a heavy, dark chocolate body. Others are more complex and winey, with lovely notes of berries and butterscotch bursting from the cup. There are also a number of special varieties – such as Gesha and Java – that thrive in the Bolivian soil and climate in a way they don’t elsewhere.

One major reason Bolivian coffees taste so good is the country’s unique climate and elevation. Bolivian coffees are some of the highest altitude and lowest latitude coffees in the world. The microclimates found in the Yungas and Samaipata regions where we buy coffee are well-suited to high quality production, with rich soil, very high elevations and wide daily temperature ranges.

A lot of care and attention goes into the production of coffee in Bolivia. Most producers in Bolivia’s coffee-growing regions descend from the Aymara people, an indigenous nation with tremendous respect for the land, who were committed to organic farming practices long before there was any commercial incentive in it. Coffee farms in Bolivia are typically small and grouped together in a ‘colonia’ or small settlement. The sense of community in these settlements is strong, and neighbouring farmers often collaborate and work on one another’s farms during the harvest period.

The challenges Bolivian coffee faces

Coffee production in Bolivia has always been very small on a global scale but, over the last decade, the Bolivian coffee industry has become somewhat endangered. When we started buying coffee in Bolivia in 2011, annual exports were just over 80,000 bags (versus, for context, ten million bags in Colombia and 28 million in Brazil). In the following years, we witnessed this number steadily decline to just 23,000 bags in 2020.

There are several factors contributing to this decline. One is that, in Bolivia, coffee competes with coca production. Grown for the drug trade, coca harvests all year round, is easier to pick than coffee, and often yields higher profits for farmers. As a result, many small-scale farmers have opted to grow coca instead of coffee.

The lack of a centralised body to support and promote Bolivian coffee production has also threatened the vitality of the country’s coffee trade. Unlike in other coffee-producing countries, such as Guatemala and Brazil, coffee producers in Bolivia receive very little support from the government or national agricultural bodies.

Other significant factors that have led to the worrying decline in Bolivian coffee include poor infrastructure, changing climate conditions, the presence of roya (leaf rust), and the prevalence of more traditional, less scientific farming practices.


There’s hope for the future of Bolivian specialty coffee

There is, however, hope for the future of coffee in Bolivia – and, in particular, really special coffee. In recent years, production has slowly begun to build and domestic Bolivian coffee consumption has grown, as has demand and acclaim from the international specialty coffee community. More and more exceptional coffees are coming out of Bolivia, grown by talented, hard-working and ambitious producers, who are dedicated to excellence.

Since we began buying coffee in Bolivia in 2011, we’ve been fortunate to partner with the Rodriguez family, who have worked tirelessly to build the production of, and market for, Bolivian specialty coffee over the last two decades.

Pedro Rodríguez, alongside his daughter Daniela and his son Pedro Pablo, have built an impressive business called Agricafe, which focuses on building long-term relationships with producers, based on transparency, and mutual benefit and trust. Today, Agricafe represents over 200 small-scale producers; helping them process their coffee, and providing them with skills and knowledge through a training program called Sol de la Mañana.

In recent years, the Rodríguez family has also played a larger role in coffee production in Bolivia. They now own 12 farms that sit under the banner of ‘Fincas Los Rodriguez’. In addition to producing extraordinary coffee, these farms have been a powerful tool in demonstrating to local producers what can be achieved with the application of modern farming techniques. These learnings have been shared with the Sol de La Mañana participants, who are now emulating the Rodríguez family’s approach to farming. The results have been profound, with significant improvements in quality, productivity and profitability.

The family has invested heavily in their team and their infrastructure; they’ve built an impressive wet mill in Caranavi with a state-of the-art lab and processing facilities, and they have a dedicated team of agronomists. Recently, they’ve begun to innovate and experiment with different processing and fermentation methods, in order to produce some truly delicious and exciting microlots, and to add value to their coffees and those of their community of producers. All of this means they’re producing some of the most exquisite coffees in the region, and we feel fortunate to roast and share them every year.


Bolivian coffees at Market Lane 

At Market Lane, we offer a selection of lots from the Los Rodríguez farms annually – including La Llama, Las Alasitas, Floripondio and Waliki – and we offer a year-round Cascara tea and Coffee Flower tea, produced by the family using the fruit skin and flowers of coffee plants. We also offer superb coffees from talented, quality-focused producers who have gone through the Sol de La Mañana program, including the Mamani family, Carmela Aduviri, Julio Palli and Pedro Flores.

Every year when we visit the Rodríguez family, we’re blown away by their determination and commitment to Bolivian specialty coffee. They are passionate about quality, they care deeply about the producers they work with, and they are steadfast in their work to create a sustainable and robust industry.

And we are right there with them! The coffee in Bolivia is way too special, delicious and close to our hearts to let it disappear. We’re committed to continuing our relationships with Bolivian producers, and to spotlighting and celebrating their amazing coffees. By committing to these relationships, paying higher prices and supporting those who bolster the local coffee industry, we hope that a brighter and more sustainable future continues to be built for specialty coffee in Bolivia.


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