Just The Right Altitude: The Jaya Family Farm
As we always do, we get out of the truck and begin following Diego and his brother through the plantation. I see the beautifully oriented crops - the wonderful shade created by the orange trees - the steep slope - the healthy, ripe coffee cherries. In the process, I forget all about the altitude. I take it all in and appreciate the hard work that the Jaya family has put into this...
My phone rings. It's a Facebook instant message.
It's a man by the name of Diego Jaya.
His message talks about his plantation in Las Lajas, Ecuador, in a small town named Puyango. He mentions that he has washed and natural coffee available and that he'd love for us to come and check out his plantation when we return to Ecuador.
I respond, letting him know that we are interested in trying his product.
After a few back and forth messages, I ask for Diego's WhatsApp number so we can connect directly over the phone.
We exchange numbers, and I create a group message with Diego and Arturo.
With every new farmer, Arturo and I follow the same routine. We ask the farmer to send samples of their washed, natural, or honey processed coffees to Arturo's house. From there, Arturo will analyze the bean in parchment then peel it down. Once peeled, Arturo will inspect once again, ensuring little to no defects. Lastly, Arturo will roast and drink to fully understand the characteristics and quality of the coffee.
I introduce Arturo to Diego, and the two connect. Arturo asks for his sample, and Diego happily agrees.
A month later, a week before Carter and I head to Zaruma, Ecuador, I receive a photo from Arturo. It's the sample of beans from Diego. On the sample, I notice Diego has written the altitude of his plantation - 1200m.
In the coffee world, 1200m or 4000ft is the magic number. The Specialty Coffee Association only considers coffee grown above 1200m to be specialty coffee. Basically, no matter how great your coffee is if it is not grown above 4000ft you cannot claim to have 'specialty coffee.'
Seeing the altitude on the bag, I decide to check. I've never been one to care about the altitude levels, as good coffee is good coffee. But, it peaked my interest.
I go to Google Earth, I type in Puyango, Las Lajas, Ecuador, and I search. Utilizing the altitude tool at the bottom of the screen, I see that the main city is around 500m.
This doesn't scare me as this is very normal. Most of the time, the coffee plantations are high up in the mountains anyways, so a city at 500m can still mean a plantation at 1200m.
However, I search all throughout Puyango, and I cannot find any elevation above 800m. But, I don't worry about it. Carter and I will be in Zaruma in less than a week, so I know we will be able to tell whether it is good coffee or not.
A week later, Carter and I are at Arturo's house. I pick up the bag labeled, "Jaya - Las Lajas - 1200m" and I take it over to Arturo's hand cranked coffee peeler. We peel it and inspect. Every bean is clean - defect free.
We take the green coffee beans over to the original coffee roaster - Arturo's gas stove. We whip out a pan, heat it up, then throw the beans in it. 15 minutes later, we have our roasted coffee beans.
We take the beans, grind them up, then brew up the very first batch of coffee from The Jaya Family Farm. We pour three cups: one for Carter, one for Arturo, and one for me.
As we always do, we sit at the table with our black cup of coffee, while waiting on Arturo to put in his 5 scoops of sugar. We give a good 'Salud' and indulge.
Immediately, the chocolate notes came out. Las Lajas is known for its Cacao production, so this makes sense. On the back end, there is a citrus hint - perhaps, his plantation also has some grapefruit, oranges, or mandarins. Overall, it's phenomenal. It's clear that Diego and his family take their time with the harvesting and processing processes.
After each of us take the last sip, I send Diego a WhatsApp message, letting him know that we will be coming to his plantation to visit and learn more. He is excited to have us and says that he and his family will be awaiting our arrival.
Two days later, we make the 4 hour trip to Las Lajas. Diego and his brother wait for us at the park in the middle of the city. From there, we follow the two brothers to their family's house about 10 miles away.
When we arrive, we greet the family, and we stand around the table and introduce ourselves. The family welcomes us with open arms while telling us all about their own personal brand.
From there, we head to their processing and drying facility. It's incredible to see.
After 30 minutes, we leave from the processing facility. We are headed to the coffee plantation...
As we start the ascend, the 1200m figure crosses my mind once again. We haven't climbed much since the 500m mark that we hit when meeting Diego and his brother at the park. So, I'm anticipating quite the ascension.
As we begin climbing, I realize something. I've been here before - I've visited this town.
It was the summer of 2016 with the Mercer On Mission trip. We took one long trip - a trip to see a small group of farmers in a region further south-east, but on our way back, we made a quick pitstop here. A quick pitstop by the same exact processing facility we had just visited...
Twenty minutes into our climb, we turn right off the beaten path, and immediately, there it is. Directly off of the road - the plantation - the plantation of The Jaya Family.
As we get out of the truck, I pull out my phone once more. I click on my compass app, and there it is - 800m. 400 meters less than the 1200m the bag claimed.
Was this all a stunt to just get us out here?
Why was the bag labeled 1200m?
Initially, I catch myself feeling deceived. The coffee farmers know just how sensitive a topic altitude is. Why would they do this?
I don't say a word. As we always do, we get out of the truck and begin following Diego and his brother through the plantation. I see the beautifully oriented crops - the wonderful shade created by the orange trees - the steep slope - the healthy, ripe coffee cherries. In the process, I forget all about the altitude. I take it all in and appreciate the hard work that the Jaya family has put into this.
Upon returning to the entry point, we all stop - Arturo, Carter, Fabricio, Diego, his brother, his father, and me. Diego talks - Arturo talks - Fabricio talks. I stand awaiting my turn, thinking.
After everyone stops talking and before leaving, I ask to say a few words. I ask for everyone to let me speak - to not interrupt.
Diego, thank you for sending us the sample of your coffee and thank you for welcoming us to your city - your plantation. I truly enjoyed the sample of your coffee, and I know everyone in The States will as well. But, I ask you one thing. I ask you to always be honest with me. Your entire plantation is not at 1200m in altitude. I understand how important this number is to you and to other buyers across the world. But, Z Beans is not just another buyer. These labels and metrics that everyone swears by is not the premise of our business. We are committed to you and will always be fair to you. We will buy your product because it is great. It's great because you and your family put all you have into this. This is why - it's not because of the altitude level. It's because of you, your brother, and your father. I want to have a long-term partnership with you, and I want that partnership to be built off trust.
Diego apologizes. He explains that MAGAP, the leading agricultural institution and resource in Ecuador, gave him the number as the peak of his plantation does come very close to the magic number.
Afterwards, we agree to form a partnership based off honesty and integrity. Together, we agree to do right by each other moving forward. Together, we agree to be completely forthcoming, as those who have nothing to hide, hide nothing.
A week later, Diego and his family deliver the first batch of The Jaya Family honey processed and washed coffee to the processing facility in Pinas, Ecuador. Over 3,500lbs of coffee at a price point of $2.05 per pound - a price point higher than fair trade and organic certified coffees - yet for coffee without either of those certifications. A price point predicated around the concept of doing right by each other, directly. No middle men to take a cut - solely a business doing the right thing and a family of farmers doing the same.
At Z Beans, we are excited to work with Diego Jaya and his family for years to come. As you will see, their honey processed and washed coffees are incredible. With intense chocolatey flavors and an ending note of citrus, the coffee will never disappoint. However, for us, as always is the case, it'll never be about the coffee. It's about pushing the industry forward to create sustainable solutions for The Jaya Family - it's about rewarding their hard work - it's about friendships.
Here's to many more years of hard work, honesty, and friendship!