El Fénix : A look back at 2017
Welcome to the 2017 round up from El Fénix, to bring you, dear reader, right up to speed as we move into the new year. Over the past few months we have seen buildings built anew and plants grown a'bloom. We won't delay you at the introduction, but rather let you ease in like a warm bath. However, instead of bubbles and temperate water, its contents is soil, concrete and budding flora.
And as always, have fun.
The Raw Material Team
TREES AND PONDS
Any hefty construction work means changing layouts and perhaps a dash of landscaping. That kind of foliage finesse-ing comes with its casualties and for those of you who have visited the Fénix, you would know of our Richard's favourite tree. The tree sat at the approach of the slope that leads down to the main building, which had to be removed to make way for construction materials. The plus was that this left us with the challenge of finding a useful home for all of the leftover wood. Logs became legs and the cupping tables were born. Nothing left to scrap. Pictured below is the first fish pond on the farm, which will keep a supply of edible protein for future visitors.
WET MILL CONSTRUCTION UPDATE
Miguel has been our paparazzi on the ground during the wet mill’s construction, documenting how the building work has been progressing. It was decided by the team that the cupping lab and wet mill would be constructed at the same time, due to the temperamental nature of the climate and sporadic rains. To make sure that the heavens wouldn't impinge too heavily on the timeline of the planned work, the land was swiftly cleared for building and the slope dug for the terraced structure.
When complete, the mill's structure will stagger down the hillside. The natural slope will be used to move coffee through floating channels, sorting screens and tables, the pulpers and into the fermentation tanks. Underneath this structure will be space for the temperature controlled fermentation room to sit, insulated by the heat-conserving earth surrounding it. Though the slope is steep, we've designed a graduated snaking path from the top to the bottom of the wet mill, such that everything will be wheelchair accessible.
Note here the soil variance the further the team dug down the hillside. Farmers in mountainous regions face high runoff rates from steep slopes and in turn soil erosion. Altitude creates highly varied climatic conditions, including vast fluctuations in temperature both daily and seasonally. Climate change is felt prominently in these regions, notably in rainfall and as you will read, sometimes hail. Crop growth rates are also typically slower due to the lower temperatures, meaning that a crop holds even more monetary importance due to its slowed rate of replacement.
Both of our current projects El Fénix and Red Associations were born out of environmental necessity, wherein it is not always possible for local producers to process their harvests at farm due to climate change. By having to sell wet cherry on an already fluctuating market, the potential return is diminished due the risk of lessening quality as time passes. Nearby wet-mills drastically reduce this time difference, preserving cup potential and providing fixed price payments, with a second potential payment based on quality available.
Once the wet mill's bare bones became realised, like a ship through fog, the structure started to take form. The temperature at the farm began to drop, so it was necessary for us to speed up the completion of the terracing. To do so, we needed to hire out some equipment to accelerate the work. A building on this kind of gradient needs considerably strong supporting walls. And as the old saying goes, "The thicker the wall, the longer it takes to build, because it is more thick than a thin wall". Continued rains set back pouring the cement, but they eventually cleared leaving us with the foundation to our community mill, or if left in the below form, a respectable allusion to brutalist design.
AN UNEXPECTED TURN OF ICE BALL SHAPED EVENTS
A couple of months ago we were launched a reminder of the temperamental nature of the skies above, having been pelted by some intense and freak hail. According to the elders, this is the first occurrence of hail at the farm as far as any remembers. These videos were shot from the space which once held the old mill, before it became the new cupping lab.
The video above shows some of the team currently tending to the drying coffee, the hail pelting down onto the structure above them. We have been incredibly lucky with the timing, weather like this in the middle of a harvest would have completely wiped us out.
Several unexpected shifts in weather throughout Colombia over the past two years saw droughts rolling into rains, completely destroying harvest potential and income for producing families around the country. The Red Associations project exists to facilitate the funding and construction of infrastructure, so that affected farmers can recapture the recently lost value-adding steps of production, and in turn, command a sustainable guaranteed price for the coffee they produce. As this video in some ways demonstrates, prolonged rainfalls have the potential to render a farmer’s own drying facilities unsuitable for the work needed.
It made sense that the old structure on the farm remain and be reconsidered for the evolution of the project. You can see where this original structure and other non-wet-mill aspects now sit in the floor plans below. Part of the El Fénix development is restructuring the farmhouse, old wet mill and drying beds to become support buildings to the new community wet mill and drying facilities. We are using all the original structures, building only a few walls and knocking others down to create:
Sleeping quarters for short-term guests on the old drying patio, and a bedroom underneath for long-term interns staying at the farm.
Living spaces for guests and workers to mingle and relax where in the past the drying bed roof rolled.
Many new showers, open to the rain above, and open on one side to the valley below if desired.
A cupping lab with a view where the old wet mill stood blocking the view previously.
Double the kitchen space to cater to guests and employees, now with sunlight! (It was a windowless cave)
Wheelchair access everywhere possible.
Here is a fadey gif below so you can visualise these community wet mill support buildings.
DEVELOPMENTS IN THE CUPPING ROOM
The QC Lab and cupping room were completed by the end of the year and we are very happy about that. The room now has three large window cutouts, framing a view of the furthest reaches of Quindío. The work was overseen by Luis Alberto and Brayan Estiven, who are the head builders (Maestro de Obra) of the lab and who oversaw the excavation of the terracing.
After the site was cleared of building materials, the interiors team went in to turn it into a working space. The coffee equipment was shipped in and our old friend and business partner Jade Gosling from Helena Adentro came to the farm to help breathe life into the space. Once it was ready, the lab was inaugurated as part of the November buyers and customer trip to the farm.
Our merry band for this harvest included roastery friends from across the world, who were able to spend time at El Fénix and visit other producers that we work with across the country. At the farm, our visitors tasted the latest crop from El Fénix, as well as local micro lots and the Red Associations project.
COFFEE ON ITS WAY TO YOU
As part of the Kickstarter campaign, our backers had the option to plant a tree in their name on the farm, as well as to receive coffees from the most recent harvest, which was roasted up on our behalf by roasters around the world. Thanks to the teams at Wrecking Ball, Grace & Taylor, Flight Coffee, Good Karma Coffee and Caravan Coffee Roasters for being involved and getting the coffees to you all. Those of you who chose the roasted coffee reward have received Castillo beans, which are in the fact the very last specimens of Castillo to be grown at the Fénix. Spare one of the beans for your archives, put it in a little frame, a relic of Fénix past. Once the harvest was complete, we admired your tree names, immortalised them on wood, stripped the land and gradually replanted the Pink Bourbons, Tabis, Geshas, Mokas and Wush Wush, many of which bear your often imaginative namesakes around their stalks. I could put in a phoenix analogy here about rebirth and starting anew, it is of course incredibly apt, but much too obvious. That said, now I've referred to it, you have it anyway.
We have enjoyed seeing El Fénix coffees in the hands of the project supporters, so please get involved in our Facebook group to share their arrivals. Happy beverage enjoyment to you all and thank you again for your support.
Photo credits to Alan Clelland, Luke Vlaisch, Meddi Pinguiao and Simon Segieth!
WHEN BACKERS COLLABORATE
Last month in the UK saw the annual Cup North event take place, the home of the Manchester Coffee Festival. Here we spent time with the El Fénix backers Ancoats Coffee, who, following the Kickstarter campaign, teamed up with two other supporters, Jack Walshe and Genni Feliciotto.
The group met at a cupping event earlier this year and found out they each had contributed to the project. Jack and Genni got involved by backing one of the farm's Pink Bourbon lots and were looking for someone to roast their eventual return. Ancoats, Jack and Genni decided to work together, so that in a few years time, when the Pink Bourbons are producing cherries, the coffee will pass directly through the supply chain from origin, to roastery, to cup. Ancoats will release 50 boxes each year until 2020, to be presented annually at the Manchester Coffee Festival. We are very grateful to all of our backers and chuffed that the project can be furthered through the work of individual backers, who can take El Fénix coffees onto their next step in the value chain. For more information from the team themselves, head this way.
MEANWHILE IN THE RM COFFEE-VERSE
Whilst the work has progressed over at the farm, in other areas of Colombia and further afield, the RM team have been putting together and launching the second of our current projects in Colombia, Red Associations. This is a supply chain which will see almost 300 coffee farming families in Colombia who are currently unable to dry their coffee due to climate change, double their income in 2018.
The Red Associations project is aimed directly at reworking the current market. This is made possible by creating a stable and sustainable value chain, through infrastructure and direct connection to the roasters who will one day roast the coffees produced. If you would like more information on the project, please email firstname.lastname@example.org .
To launch the project, we held an event at Assembly Coffee on Friday 20th October, alongside a cupping of our most recent El Fénix coffee. To round off the evening, Matt presented the concept of a sustainable and stable value chain to the attendees, which the Red Associations project strives to embody.
Thank you to all of those who came.
THE BLOSSOMS HATH BEGUNETH
A lot of our posting over at the El Fenix blog has recently focussed on the building work at the farm. However, whilst the team was hard at work on the construction, the plants were growing humbly in the background. Over at La Sensitiva, the seeds for the lots have been placed in the germinator, to be planted at the beginning of this coming year. Pictured below is Eduardo the farm manager, who is training his son José on how to take care of the plants, in this case, the Pink Bourbons.
Those trees which have already been planted are growing with vigour ever upwards. Weather-wise, aside from the heavy rains, the farm was also treated to some happy chunks of good sunlight. This even meant that some of the Tree in Your Name trees started to initiate node development. All things crossed, this could mean that we see the first flowers blossoming in the new year.
The blossoms have begun to appear across the farm throughout the Moka lots, and the Tabis are soon to join them in this flowering stage. Since our last update, we can see significant changes in the plants' development, as they are becoming wider and fuller the higher they grow.
THAT'S ALL FOR NOW
We hope that this has been an informative update for you to peruse; maybe on the train, maybe with a cup of El Fénix hot beverage in hand. As we continue on with our projects, don't forget to take your digital surfboard over to instagram.com/rawmaterial.coffee for regular visual updates.
The Raw Material Team