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A classic coffee from Shangri-La.

There are eye-opener coffees to get you started first thing in the morning, break coffees to divide up the day, sparky coffees to kick-start the brain, bad burger bar coffees to degrease that side-order of fries, and friendly, laid-back, all-day-every-day coffees. now, as the American specialty coffee trade continues its inexorable progress, there are more and more "sippin' coffees" for the carriage-trade perfectionists.

It's a trend that many coffee growers have been slow to spot, but as high stocks and low prices continue to eat away at those crucial hard currency earnings, some farmers at least have given up trying to compete in the old, bulk-coffee markets and have turned all their attention to producing only the rarer top-grade varieties that can command premium prices.

The formula has often worked very well for the prestige beans like Blue Mountain, Kenya and Ethiopian estate coffees, the smooth Maragogypes and Mandhelings and Colombia's Libanos. Now, one tiny district in a remote area of southern Colombia is making its own bid for inclusion alongside the other "chateau" classics. In October, the first Haylli coffees, produced to tight client specifications, will go on offer in the United States.

There will not be a lot of it, however, because the farmers still cling to the traditional methods, and the traditional Arabicas rather than the higher yielding but much less subtle Bourbons. Even more to the point, there are not that many farmers involved in the scheme.

Haylli is, in fact, a small district in Huila province. There are only 28,000 coffee farms in the entire province, producing a yearly average of around 40 bags each from 6-acre holdings, so the output from Haylli alone is minimal. However, the district does have a lot going for it.

To begin with, it is perfectly positioned geographically to grow fine coffee. The province lies in an Andean valley between the 15,500 ft high Huila Mountain and the 10,500 ft Leiva peak, just two degrees north of the Equator. At the bottom of the valley, the Rio Magdalena runs down to the Atlantic, near Barranquilla.

What makes it even more special is that the climate is straight out of Shangri-La, varying by an average of only about 3 degrees throughout the seasons, with regular but moderate rainfall and a good sunshine record. The soil is volcanic, and rich.

So far, so good. The snag about this idyllic place is that all the farms are perched on steep mountain slopes that take a lot of working, at altitudes of between 3,340 ft in the La Plata parish to just around cloud level at 6,560 ft in Santa Maria. Moreover, although the Colombian Coffee Federation (FNC) has brought power supplies and new roads to the region, as well as agricultural improvement schemes which introduced the Bourbons, Haylli's farmers are committed to the old ways and the old varieties.

Picking the year around, farmers depulp, ferment, dry and mill the beans on their own premises, and because output is low, they do not need elaborate facilities, so that fermentation tanks and drying platforms are small and milling machinery simple. The coffee, still in pergamino, is taken to towns where local buyers combine parcels into lots from other centers for forward sale to middle-men in the local capital, Neiva, who arrange for the final cleaning and separation. Only 18+ screens are used, to eliminate inferior beans.

The whole system is geared to ensuring that quality is consistently reliable from consignment to consignment, and that no more than six months elapses between picking and outward shipment. Coffee production accounts for some 90% of Haylli's income, so there is a lot riding on this scheme.

Haylli coffee is being imported by Alessie & Co. in Belgium, and Knutsen Coffees of San Francisco have sole distribution rights in the US. "The main thing about these Haylli Supreme Estate coffees is that they are scrupulously processed to guarantee to guarantee absolute consistency, with no drop-off in standards," reports Erna Knutsen. "It's a dense bean with nice acidity, and it leaves a nutty flavor on the palate. It makes me think that if the winegrowers can capitalize on their great chateau-bottled vintages, it's about time coffee growers did the same, so maybe that's what we're seeing here."

And a final note.

In the days of the Incas, working in the fields was regarded as a joy rather than a grim duty, and folk dressed in their Sunday-go-to-Meeting clothes to bring in the harvests. It was a communal effort, and a feast in honor of the victory of nature over the evil spirits of hunger and death.

This special victory was known as "Haylli".

Richard Clark is a freelance consultant to the coffee industry. He has written books on coffee, coordinated exhibitions and was the founding editor of another coffee trade magazine.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Lockwood Trade Journal Co., Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Haylli Supremo Estate coffee from southern Colombia
Author:Clark, Richard
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Date:Oct 1, 1991
Words:807
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