The 860 acre Santa Barbara Estate is located in the southwest section of the Department of Antioquia. The estate was established over three decades ago by Don Pedro Echavarria, with the vision of producing and offering to the world a superior Colombian coffee. Echavarria had the benefit of generations of coffee craftsmanship and experience, continuing a coffee dynasty established in the early 20th century by his great great grandfather-in-law Don Alejandro Angel. Angel was credited with being the first great Colombian coffee exporter, and was partly responsible for the renewed reputation for quality that Colombian coffees hold today. Echavarria has used the knowledge and understanding passed down through his family to build an environmentally sustainable, integrated estate from the ground up, paying special attention to altitude, soil quality and local ecosystems when choosing the location for his farm.
When an estate is described as integrated it means that all stages of the production happen there and are carefully tracked by the farmers and workers, from producing seedlings through to harvesting and processing. Santa Barbara has expanded gradually to incorporate an industrial and logistical infrastructure to increase efficiency without compromising on quality, establishing a healthy and sustainable balance between sophisticated production and artisanal integrity. The near-constant temperature in the region (generally around 75-80 degrees F all year), high altitude (5,280 feet above sea level) and the nutrient- rich volcanic soil are ideal for growing the Castillo varietal of Arabica coffee, a flavorful hybrid of the Caturra and Timor trees, also known as Colombian 7.
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. Santa Barbara has a great mix of volcanic soils, high altitude and an incredible microclimate. 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 coffee from the cold Andean nights, permitting coffee growth at higher altitudes.
During the harvest the farms hire more than a 1000 workers to pick 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. Santa Barbara Estate has decided to change this philosophy through a mix of education and economic incentives. They 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. This yields great results, and the mentality of the pickers has changed drastically.
The development of highly efficient technology at the estate has allowed for a number of experiments in fermentation processes. After researching potassium levels in the estate’s soils, it was discovered that potassium directly affected the development of sugars in the mucilage of a ripened bean – sugars which are key to fermentation. As a result of their investigations, the estate now allows for a period of fermentation both before and after the cherry is de-pulped, carefully monitoring PH and temperature levels in the tanks in order to better control the process, and producing a sweeter, more balanced flavor.
Santa Barbara has a stringent water management scheme and recycles all its solid waste as compost to enrich soils in its seed beds. The estate’s full-time staff are supported with education, health and pension programs, and seasonal staff are paid well above minimum wage and provided with food and accommodation. This, along with a land- ownership program and funding for local primary schools, is an example of Santa Barbara’s acknowledgement of its social responsibility in a region gravely marked by violence and poverty.