Finca Santa Maria has been growing coffee for about 40 years high in the mountains of the Nariño region of Colombia. The farm benefits from an elevation of almost 1900 meters and rich volcanic soils.
The farm's original owners set goals with clear technical concepts on how to grow their Caturra variety to produce the best results. They took steps to make their farm environmentally sound, incorporating a shade canopy to maintain a natural balance between flora and fauna. Sustainable farming techniques and soil conservation initiatives have produced amazing results for their Caturra variety.
In the early 1990’s, the ownership of the farm changed hands, and is now managed by Armando Benavides Portilla. Armando maintained the sustainable practices that produced such great results over the history of the farm. His first initiative in the 1990s was replanting the trees. Finca Santa Maria is a role model example of sustainable agriculture and regional management practices in Colombia, hosting multiple tours for local farmers, technical institutions and universities.
Since 2020, Armando has shifted processing of Finca Santa Maria’s coffee to his friend Huber Castillo’s wet mill at Finca El Paseo. Since taking over operations at Finca El Paseo in 2015, Huber has spent an enormous amount of time and energy educating himself about coffee processing, diving head first into processing experiments. Over the years, Armando has provided guidance to Huber with respect to improving cup quality. Having observed Huber’s dedication and consistency, Armando felt confident moving Santa Maria’s cherries to the new site.
Cherries are picked and collected at Finca Santa Maria, and moved to El Paseo the following day. There, the cherries are cleaned through recirculation in a salt water solution composed of 4 kilograms of salt to 50 liters of water. This solution inhibits mold or bacteria that might produce off flavors in the coffee, while preserving existing bacteria that might contribute positively. The cleaned cherries are left to continue ripening for an additional 72 hours before being depulped. The depulped coffee seeds are placed in stainless steel tanks and are allowed to ferment until all of the mucilage has been removed.
After being washed, the seeds are then transported to Armando’s home nearby in Buesaco. There, Armando has dedicated half of the home to raised drying beds. While it’s unusual to see coffee dried away from the farm or wet mill, having the coffee dried at Armando’s primary residence means he can keep an ever watchful eye on the coffee's progress, and make adjustments at a moment's notice. If humidity rises dramatically, or an unexpected storm occurs, the drying rooms can be closed to prevent fluctuations in the coffee's drying process.
The Bandit Raid
In the spring of 2013 bandits raided Finca Santa Maria, leaving Armando Benavides, his wife Magaly, and his children Valeria and Juan Pablo with the possibility of losing their entire harvest.
Thanks to you and many of our friends and customers, we endeavored on a successful fundraising effort that helped the family to rebuild their mill and save the harvest. Armando sent us a letter of appreciation to share:
Buesaco, Nariño, Colombia - January 26, 2014
We are still amazed and grateful for the grand gesture you made toward us in times of adversity, not only for our material losses but also because it affected us emotionally. Your help provided support for our desires, our projects, and hopes. This is what gives value to life, and the support you provided us was one of the most important factors that stimulated us to go ahead despite the harsh reality we found ourselves in. The biggest lesson we learned is how to recognize the sensitivity of people who are far away from us and yet so close to our heart.
We are pleased to tell you that your economic support was of great help. Due to the low internal price of coffee and the assault on the farm, we ran out of working capital, but with your help we were able to meet the maintenance needs of the farm such as fertilizers, payments for labor, and purchase of some of the most essential equipment. All of the economic help went into our first priority which was to end the harvest and ensure the next. Thanks to you, this seems to be going well. Most importantly, my wife, children, and I are very encouraged to move on.
We hope that God overflows you with blessings and that you enjoy our coffee and continue to buy it. As you know it is our job and we do it with love for special people like you.
Juan Pablo, Valeria, Magaly, and Armando