Changing a century-old culture one cup of coffee at a time

Elisa and Felipe are not your typical coffee farmers. Young, educated, and with a business acumen for the global value chain of the crop, they are the champions of a movement called “Nueva Colombia” (New Colombia), which aims at revitalizing coffee production in the country.

At first glance, one would think that our increasing fascination with fancy and costly coffee drinks should have resulted in an economic boom for coffee growers in Colombia. After all, this is the home of Juan Valdés, the international spokesman for coffee, and the world’s third largest producer of the crop. But when you visit small coffee farmers, such perceptions couldn’t be farther from truth. In the region surrounding Elisa and Felipe’s farm, the average age of a coffee grower is between 58 and 62 years. Farmers’ children are leaving the countryside in search of an easier and better life in the large cities. Lack of access to formal credit means that farmers either have to cough up the cash for supplies at the beginning of the season from their own pocket, or fall prey to usurious loan sharks. Often, they accept an unfair price for their product because they lack access to buyers and market information.

The entrance to La Palma y el Tucán from the dirt road, 30 minutes outside of a town called Zipacón blends with the surroundings in an unassuming manner. But once you venture in, you realize that there is something unique and different about this place. For starters, we were greeted by Felipe, a former lawyer educated in New York who holds the enviable title of “Director of Coffee Experience.” As he shows us the property, we realize that this is much more than a farm. The full time staff include a world-class taster and an in-house chef. The surrounding hillsides are dotted with eco-cabins for guests. There is also a roasting area, a coffee lab and a modern wet mill in the premises.

But from day one Elisa and Felipe knew that they were not doing all of this just for themselves. They visited and spoke with 200 coffee growing families in the region, to understand what makes them want to grow coffee, what are their main pain points, and what they would like to spend most of their time doing.

 Elisa Madriñán and Felipe Sardi have championed the revitalization of coffee production and the switch to organic, specialty coffee through a business model that was born out of empathy for small coffee growers, their passion and their pain points.

Elisa Madriñán and Felipe Sardi have championed the revitalization of coffee production and the switch to organic, specialty coffee through a business model that was born out of empathy for small coffee growers, their passion and their pain points.

 Felipe Pinzón left his career as an international trade lawyer in New York to become “Coffee Experience Director” at La Palma y el Tucán.

Felipe Pinzón left his career as an international trade lawyer in New York to become “Coffee Experience Director” at La Palma y el Tucán.

With this insight they launched a program called “Neighbors and Crops” as a way of partnering with local growers and helping them become more sustainable both financially and environmentally.

For example, farmers love tending to their coffee bushes and cherries but they don’t care much for drying, roasting and bagging. So La Palma y El Tucán offered to buy the ripe coffee cherries and take care of the rest. Another pain point is access to financing at the beginning of the season. Normally, farmers have to use their own money or borrow from ‘informal’ lenders at the start of the season to buy the necessary supplies. Then, they have to wait 7 to 8 months until harvest to recover their investment and make a profit. Under “Neighbors and Crops,” La Palma y el Tucán offers financing to farmers with very attractive terms.

With this program, they have persuaded farmers to produce 100% organic coffee through financial incentives that are based on quality, certifications and loyalty. On average, farmers are paid 60% more per cherry before incentives, and without having to perform all the unwanted activities following the harvest. In addition, La Palma y el Tucán offers highly valued non-monetary benefits such as training, transportation, compost from the cherry mucilage, and young bushes from their nursery to participating farmers.

To make all of this financially viable, Elisa and Felipe have created a business model that brings the producers as close to the barista as possible. By skipping non-value-generating middle people, integrating the entire value chain, creating win-win partnerships with their suppliers, creating their own coffee label, being obsessive about the quality of their coffee, and sharing their story directly with end buyers and consumers, La Palma y el Tucán has become a model to be celebrated, observed and replicated beyond the coffee industry.

 By creating their own coffee label and selling directly to end buyers, La Palma y el Tucán have been able to share more of the value created along the chain with small producers in their region.

By creating their own coffee label and selling directly to end buyers, La Palma y el Tucán have been able to share more of the value created along the chain with small producers in their region.

trans:form:ed participants will have the opportunity to spend one night at La Palma y el Tucán and immerse themselves in conversations about how to change deeply rooted cultures over a fresh cup of coffee in an unmatched setting.