Given its equatorial location, multiple harvests, and ever-changing harvest schedules, there is always a lot of activity on the coffee farms of Colombia, no matter what time of year we visit. Traditionally, Colombia’s coffee producers had two clearly-defined harvest seasons: the primary harvest occurring in the last quarter of the year, from October to December, and a secondary harvest, known as the “fly crop” or “mitaca,” during the spring and early summer (April to June). Traveling in July, a month that doesn’t often appear on the harvest calendars presented on many roasters’ and importers’ websites, I was not sure what to expect, but it became quickly apparent that those calendars don’t tell the whole story. Climate change, paired with often drastic environmental differences from one region to the next, has made the Colombian harvest nearly impossible to predict, and speaking with producers from different areas of the country revealed both the challenges and benefits of farming on the equator.
In Antioquia and Risaralda, two departments in the central part of the country, for example, producers were harvesting the final pickings of the mitaca and were already gearing up for the first pickings of the next harvest, due to peak in September-October of this year. Most producers I spoke with said they may have slow months with low yields between harvest peaks, but there is rarely a day with no fruit to pick. As we traveled south to Huila, the harvest was in full swing. Most producers we spoke with were hesitant to call the current harvest “mitaca” as the term implies a lower-yielding season with lower quality coffees. As they explained to me, the line between harvests has become quite blurred and they are essentially harvesting high-quality coffees year-round in the southern departments.
Understanding Colombia’s nuanced weather patterns, diverse environmental conditions, and changing regional harvest schedules is clearly a complex topic and perhaps better suited for a future post. I wanted to use the topic as an introduction to these photos, however, because I’ve noticed in my travels to Colombia that it feels like everything is happening all at once in an organized chaos. Harvesting, processing, drying, transport, milling, roasting, retail, export—all happening in concert, all the time. The entire chain operates 365 days a year. There is always fresh coffee coming down the pipeline, and despite its unpredictable nature, the wheels must keep turning. Perhaps their ability to constantly adapt and improve in the face of uncertainty is one of the reasons that Colombia is producing some of the best coffees in the world right now.