Sometimes, coffee farmers are not even aware of the quality they produce. The Argote family was introduced to the world of specialty coffee just three years ago. Now, Juan Pablo is fully engaged in the specialty scene, doing experiments and finding every opportunity to improve his coffee. This is also how he inspires the community around him, bringing the entire Nariño region up the quality ladder.

This way of working inspired us to work together with Juan Pablo and his father Efrain, who owns the central piece of land and processing equipment. Working closely together has already resulted in beautiful experiments and quality improvements. These led to such a demand, that now Shokunin is the exclusive roaster to work with Efrain and Juan Pablo’s coffee. This leads to even more direct feedback, more control and more room for innovation and premiums.

The value chain

The infographic below shows what the monetary value chain with this producer roughly looks like. This changes slightly per year based on volume and quality but is usually reliable over the years.

Key achievements

June: Dutch coffee specialists visited the Argote farm through the Field Barista Project by This Side Up to get to know each other and exchange knowledge. One of these was Aukje van Rossum, sister of Shokunin’s founder Jelle. Started working on cascara as a viable export product.

December: Juan Pablo Argote visited the Netherlands to experience his coffee as an end product and to meet roasters and baristas.

June: Second Field Barista Project. First organic fertilizer trials.

June: Fermentation experiment with Shokunin, to analyse the effect of fermentation times on the flavour of this coffee. We did two 18 hour lots (dried on patio and beds, respectively), 42 hours and 66 hours.

August: Cupped coffees from Argote’s pickers’ own productions; rewarded best (Iveth Muñoz) with $1/kg premium.

June: Third Field Barista Project. I went to Colombia to work on the new harvest. New experiments, the Cherry Fermentation and the Kenyan Wash, were discussed and executed with Juan Pablo. Organized meetings and cuppings to extend the specialty network in Nariño and Cauca.

June: reserved the entire La Vega lot for Shokunin with a $1/kg quality premium for the quality of the picked cherries after looking at this with the pickers. This premium was divided: 35cts went to the pickers, resulting in a 40% pay increase. The other 65cts went to Efrain, owner of the farm, who used it to increase his drying beds’ capacity.

July: met Juan Pablo at World of Coffee in Amsterdam and served his coffee at the Colombian Coffee Federation booth. Gave him seeds of two new varieties (Red Bourbon from Rwanda and SL28/34 from Kenya) to plant on a new piece of land.

October: paid the total quality premium of $1.5/kg in advance (shipment ETA december) to fund current projects. Built a nursery for new, exotic varieties. Reserved rest of Efrain Argote’s harvest, meaning all of Efrain and Juan Pablo’s coffee will be Shokunin’s, allowing for more quality control and future projects.

May: Made the entire investment for new drying beds on which their entire production could be dried. Previous comparisons showed us this dramatically increases shelf life. With This Side Up’s quality premium, they also built a second tank above the depulper, to be used for sorting out floaters or fermenting larger batches of the Cherry Ferment microlot.
June: Paid another visit to the farm to check on last year’s improvements and to make plans for the new harvest. Developed six different microlots for this crop.

March: Juan Pablo visited the Netherlands to go on a European producer-to-roaster sales tour. We met up and tastes his microlots together, but then the trip had to be canceled short due to the Corona outbreak.

June: Juan Pablo did his own experiments with extended anaerobic fermentation, based on pH measurements. This led to the first Juan Pablo Super Special which was fermented for 23 days in total. All the experiments and investments into fermentation and processing came to fruitition in these microlots!

We found the Alcoholic Anaerobic microlot to be a little too high in body and too low in acidity last year, so we asked Juan Pablo to ferment it a little longer for this harvest. He fermented it to a pH value 0.1 lower than before, and this harvest was exactly the way we want it!

Juan Pablo came to visit us in the Netherlands. We tasted all his processing methods together to decide on how to continue. The Lactic Anaerobic turned out a lot better than the previous years; JP explained that he used 3% salt instead of 2%. We decided to make the next harvests with 3% as well.

The microlots

During our visits to the Argote farm over the years, we have had the opportunity to plan new projects together. This allowed us to make experimental microlots and different quality selections on one single farm.

The history

The Argote family (in fact, the grandfather (Raimundo) of Juan Pablo’s grandfather (Lucho)) brought the first coffee seeds to Nariño. Over the years, this family got deeply embedded in the local culture, along with its cousins, the Muñoz family. Lucho Lasso Argote started the finca they still operate today. Nowadays, it is run by Efrain, Juan Pablo’s father, but also connects with other local families to collectively produce better coffee every year. Since the income of over 90% of the local population depends on coffee production, this family’s history is still of great importance.

Through a mutual friend, Lennart Clerkx from This Side Up got in contact with the Argote family in 2014. Upon his first visit, he found their coffee to taste wonderful and immediately got to work. First things on the list were to obtain hulling equipment so that the Argote family could fully process and export their coffee on their own, safeguarding the extreme quality protocols they follow. After that, they started working on refining the taste of the coffee with the use of new drying beds, fermentation tanks and sustainable feedback loops. Juan Pablo and his father Efrain were very open to feedback from exporters and roasters and combined it with their own experience to take huge steps towards sustainable quality.

Nowadays, the Argote family is quite famous in the region for inspiring other farmers to work on their quality. More and more people want to join the Argote collective and collaborate with them, so that by now there is actually already a queue. By using this coffee, we increase the demand for the coffee, and therefore allow more farmers to join the collective, work on quality and get paid more fairly.

In memoriam

In February 2021, Efrain Argote passed away after a short but intense struggle with Covid-19. His passion inspired the community in Genova, Nariño to work more sustainably and more as a community. Every time I visited him, he was extremely friendly, hospitable and also healthy, practically outrunning us on a 3-hour mountain hike. I will be forever grateful for the big part he played in building Shokunin and for the trust and warmth he showed me as a customer, but also as a friend.