Farm Tour: Hacienda El Obraje

Photos credit Elena Lokteva, Jose Gomez, Rachel Northrop, and Hacienda El Obraje.

The History

Hacienda El Obraje is located in Tangua, outside of Nariño’s main city of Pasto. Owner Pablo Guerrero, a Pasto native, began growing coffee in 2000. Obraje is situated in a fertile valley but the area surrounding Pasto is generally considered too high for coffee but perfect for potatoes. Pablo, who also works as an architect, originally planted the farm with wheat, but imports ruined domestic the market. He then tried growing apples and tree fruit, but post harvest preservation and transport proved too difficult.

Pablo Andres Guerrero, owner of Hacienda El Obraje

When Obraje first started producing coffee, Pablo treated the crop as though it were wheat, picking and selling everything without any attention to quality. Seven years ago, he began focusing on fermentation time, washing techniques, and transitioned to producing specialty coffees, with all the required attention to detail. Obraje is planted with Caturra, Geisha, and assorted varieties remaining from the first planted coffee seed stock.

Caturra cherries ripen.

Because Pablo transitioned the farm from apples to coffee, some lots are oddly spaced, as the young coffee was first planted under the apple trees. After the apple trees were removed as coffee matured, more coffee was planted, meaning the same plot has interspersed trees of different ages. All fertilizers and disease/weed control is applied from the top of the farm down to avoid hauling heavy inputs uphill, an example of the way Pablo strategically approaches all aspects of farm management. Coffee harvesting, conversely, starts at the lower elevations at the bottom of the farm and works its way up. Obraje’s small mill includes an oven-style dryer for finishing lots started on the raised beds.

Due to its evolution from wheat to apples to coffee, Obraje has trees of varying ages planted in many layouts across the farm. El Obraje employs four styles of pruning to keep trees growing new branches to encourage new production, since each node on a branch only produces a cluster of coffee cherries one time: bottom branches (ramas abjajo), crown (descopo), all side branches (lateral), and stumping (zoca).

The Cafetales

The cafetales are the plots on a farm where coffee trees are planted. On the one hundred-acre Haceinda El Obraje, the cafetales make up the majority of the property. Pablo manages El Obraje carefully, planning which lots to renovate — either by replanting or pruning — in order to produce the most and the best harvest each year.

Citrus planted with coffee.

Older plots have fruit trees growing in and around the coffee, whereas more recently planted portions of the farm have solely coffee. Like all coffee in Colombia, El Obraje’s trees are planted on sloping hillsides, but the farm’s location in a valley basin means the gradient is much less steep than on many farms deeper in the mountains, so coffee here can be moved by truck on the farm’s roads.

The Wet Mill

Obraje’s wet mill is located at the top of the farm. Coffee destined to be washed is deupulped after the day’s harvest on equipment that Pablo’s team maintains in top condition. Cherries are dropped into the hopper, separated bean from pulp in a calibrated disk depulper, and dropped into washing and fermentation tanks. Fully washed beans are then transferred to the drying beds or to the ovens.

Depulping coffee in the wet mill at Hacienda El Obraje

Floaters are sorted out and one of the most laudable attributes of coffee from El Obraje is its consistency, in bean size and density, which leads to uniform, clean flavors in the cup. This consistency begins with sorting in the wet mill and continues as coffees are classified and cupped in preparation for export.

The Drying Beds

Hacienda El Obraje has several areas for drying coffee. The metal multi-level drying beds are housed under shade in a building designed for optimal air flow. Single-level African style drying beds in a separate building are used for drying microlot and Geisha coffees. Finally, a covered patio space is used to dry Naturals on clean concrete under the shade.

Raised beds for drying coffee under roof of solar dryer. — Pablo with microlots drying on raised beds.
Natural coffee drying on covered patio .

The temperature in Tangua is cool, but the midday sun hits hard, so drying coffee under shade is the best way to keep temperatures even during the drying process.

Sustainable Planning

El Obraje is managed for the long term, with the health of plants, soil, and people integrated into the farm’s management design. Pablo looks at the big picture and is an expert at delegating, managing his team to accomplish all the maintenance of land and infrastructure that keeps a coffee growing estate fortified and ready to weather changes in climate and epidemic pest and plague threats that result from disruptions in climate patterns.

Coffee from Haceinda El Obraje is exceptionally delicious, and Pablo runs his farm as a professional, with sights set on future innovations while continuing to observe best practices at every step. Most of coffee growing is unglamorous, and the consistent quality of coffee from Obraje is thanks to the equal attention the team on the farm pays to the tedious daily tasks and to exciting experiments.

Fresh crop coming in ripe!