Last year, David and Santiago from Macarena Cafe sent us a set of samples, and they absolutely blew our mind! These coffees had flavours and aromas we had never experienced before in coffee with incredible clarity. In the past, if a coffee had intense fruity aroma, it was often accompanied by strong winey, fermented notes and tart acidity. The samples from Macarena Cafe were smooth, clean, and balanced, but also intense, perfumy, and juicy. Floral, tropical, candy-like flavours were common in the samples, and we knew we had found something special.
These samples were the work of Wilton Benitez and his team at Granja Paraiso 92 in Cauca, Colombia. Wilton is a producer with over 25 years of experience growing and processing coffee and is responsible for numerous coffees that have set records in auctions, won awards, and been used in barista competitions both locally and internationally, most recently when a member from this team, Edwin Tascon, competed in the World Barista Championships in Greece.
Following our cupping, we ordered three coffees from Macarena Cafe, which were featured as last year’s special release coffees. The more we drank these coffees, the more our admiration for the team behind these coffees grew. It became an obsession, until one day, when chatting with David about plans for the upcoming year we asked whether or not it would be possible for us to ever join them on a trip to visit Wilton, to meet the mastermind himself and learn more about their operation. To our surprise (and delight!), we were informed that David discussed the request with Wilton, and not long afterwards, we were on a Zoom call discussing the details with Wilton.
Our admiration only grew, following our conversation, in which Wilton (in fluent self-taught English) explained his passion for coffee and his excitement to share that passion with others. He commented “Life is too short, not to do things we are passionate about.” He went on to explain his love for coffee, for constantly experimenting, with anything and everything to push the limits of what coffee could be. He encouraged us to visit the farm and learn more, and in January, we found ourselves at Granja Paraiso 92.
To say that Wilton’s farm is impressive is a severe understatement. From the main buildings, which included the processing plant and microbiology and quality lab, Granja Paraiso 92 extended beyond what the eyes could see. We toured the farm over the span of a day on foot and by truck, passing by exotic varieties of Gesha, SL28, Pink Bourbon, Laurina, and more. Compared with other farms we’ve visited in the past, we were impressed at how organized the trees were, and upon commenting on the orderliness, were told that the spacing of each tree is measured based on the expected span of their branches, and that this distance is adjusted as each new lot is planted. The spacing is intended to provide the right amount of sunlight to all of the branches and to provide sufficient space for workers to pass by each tree and hand pick the ripest, sweetest cherries.
Following a thorough seminar, in which Wilton went over how their processing techniques differ from other farms, we were provided with an unexpected surprise: an opportunity to process two coffees ourselves, so we could get hands-on experience with their innovative techniques! We were provided with the opportunity to process two coffee varieties: Pacamara and Castillo. The first step was a thermal shock, in which hot water was poured over the cherries to release more of the sugars, and begin the sterilization process. The cherries were than treated with ozone to further eliminate the risk of contamination, after which point we depulped the cherries and put the beans into sterile containers filled with a fluid containing a specific microculture, designed to highlight floral and fruity notes in the coffee. Throughout the process, the sugar content was measured regularly to monitor the activity of the yeast, and samples were taken to ensure there was no contamination and only the selected microculture was performing its magic on the coffee. Once the fermentation was complete and the coffees dried, a small sample was roasted and we were shocked at the difference. Though we have had both of these varieties in the past, the Castillo had intense juicy notes of green apple and floral sweet notes of honey, while the Pacamara had perfumy floral and tropical notes and the sweetness of Hawaiian punch. It proved to us how controlled fermentation could transform already high quality beans into a completely new experience.
When visiting other farms, it’s not uncommon for producers to bring their coffees to regional or cooperative mills to help facilitate the grading, sorting, milling, and distribution of their coffee. Granja Paraiso 92 on the other hand, has this down to an art. In their warehouse, they have a range of equipment that performs all of this work automatically. In touring the space, we were shown how at four different points, coffee of lesser quality was removed based on things such as density and visual defects. One such machine scanned hundreds of beans that would constantly fly past the machine and upon detecting beans with visual defects such as chips, would trigger a precise shot of air that would remove the defective bean and separate it from the others. In this way, Granja Paraiso 92 ensures that only the best coffee is packed, vacuum sealed, and shipped all over the world.
I think the thing that stuck out to us the most was how Wilton and his team just seemed to enjoy every moment they were together. It never occurred to me that the same people who were meticulously growing unique coffee varieties, isolating and experimenting with new yeasts, and engineering everything from bioreactors to custom dryers, could also be constantly joking and laughing together. In the main house, there is a kitchen and open dining area facing the farm, and each day we would share meals together and talk about coffee. Wilton and his team were always excited to talk about coffee, despite their mastery, they were extremely humble, always saying they were learning, and that there was so much they wanted to do. They never hesitated to answer any question we had, were attentive and listened to our every word, and were extremely generous and kind. These are the people behind Granja Paraiso 92, and why we are so proud to support them.
During our stay, we had the opportunity to cup many of Granja Paraiso 92’s coffees, and selected four that we will be releasing at different times over the coming year. In the Spring, we released the first two of these coffees, which include the Tabi and the Sugar Cane Decaf. Later this year, we have another two releases, including one that was used in preparation for the World Barista Championships in Greece! We are extremely excited for you to try these coffees, and will provide more details as they become available. We are also committed to maintaining our relationship with Granja Paraiso 92 and the fantastic team at Macarena Cafe to bring you new and exciting coffees from Wilton and his team each year. Cheers!