Bolivia is world-renowned for the quality of its micro-lots. Most farms in the country are run as family businesses, and are just a few hectares in size. The small scale producers are devoted to producing top quality coffee, and since the first Cup of Excellence event took place in the country in 2004 Bolivia has earned a great reputation in the international market, and producers from the Sud-Yungas, Coroico and Caranavi regions have become incredibly popular with coffee connoisseurs.
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Popular Coffee From Bolivia
The most popular coffees grown in Bolivia are the Criollo, Catimor, Tipica and Caturra varieties. Most coffee growers in the country use a wet processing method, and then dry the cherries on African beds. Depending on the area where the coffee is being grown, the cherries may be delivered for processing immediately, or go through the pulping and drying process at the farm before being delivered in parchment.
The best specialty coffees are grown at high altitudes – between 1,200 and 2,000 metres above sea level. The Caranavi province is where most of the specialty growers are based, while commodity-grade coffees tend to be grown in Santa Cruz, at lower altitudes.
The Coffee Industry in Bolivia
There are several coffee growing regions in Bolivia. The country is landlocked, and most of the time exports are shipped via Peru. The country’s “Death Road” connects the coffee growing region of the Yungas with the country’s capital. The road takes its name from the fact that for 30 years it was a narrow, difficult route that was heavily congested with trade and agricultural traffic, causing a huge number of accidents. It took 30 years, and ten changes of government, before a new highway was built. The new highway bypasses the most dangerous parts of the old road, making coffee transportation much safer.
The Bolivian coffee harvest is done between March and October, with crops reaching UK importers in February.
Bolivia is just starting to develop its specialty coffee industry, and to shake off its reputation as a country whose coffee is suited only for blended roasts. It has benefited greatly from investment in organic coffee growing techniques, and from the Fair Trade initiative. It has also received help from economic development projects.
There are 28 privately owned firms that control around 70 percent of Bolivia’s coffee exports, with the remainder of the exports being managed by the 17 main coffee cooperatives. These companies are all members of Cobolca, the Bolivian Coffee Committee. The biggest buyers of Bolivia’s green coffee beans are the United States and Germany, although exports are also sent to Russia, western Europe and Japan.
The coffee crisis of the late 90s, which saw prices falling to just $0.40 in the early 2000s, was a serious issue for Bolivia’s rural coffee farmers, and it took many years for the industry, and the economy of the country as a whole, to recover. It was this coffee crisis, in part, that prompted smaller growers to move away from the commodity industry and focus on the more stable, high end specialty market.