Rigoberte and Marcela Franco share a rewarding, though uncommon, father-daughter bond. Their personal and business relationship is characterized by the fact that, every year, they export millions of cups of coffee to the world. Much alike and similarly stubborn about business practices, they’ll often butt heads. But when asked, Marcela says it’s always amicable.
“He still spoils me a little!” she laughs.
“I buy the orders,” he says with a wink and a shrug.
As a longstanding delegate of the De Los Andes Coffee Cooperative, a farm collective spanning Colombia with over 3,600 producers, Franco is personally responsible for the export product of over 3 million coffee trees across his 500 hectares of land. The Franco family cultivation is located in the southern Antiochian state of Choco, a gorgeous three-hour drive from Medellin proper, in the heart of a high-mountain rainforest and a UNESCO world heritage site.
Supporting his family at age 20 with a series of real estate ventures and automobile dealerships, control of the multi-generational coffee estate fell at Rigoberte’s busy feet following the death of his father about three decades ago.
Then 35, Rigoberte inherited responsibility for his entire extended family, all of whom depended upon the sale of the coffee at market. Now at the age many think about retiring, the elder Franco is more attuned than ever to the fecund potential of his highly-coveted cash crop.
Finishing her studies at Medellin’s prominent EAFIT University with a degree in Business Consultancy, Marcela’s focuses on product development. Following an internship at the National Federation of Coffee Growers (FNC), she returned to her father’s side to lend her fresh education and contemporary outlook to the family’s enterprise. Together, they’re paving the way towards new and exciting ventures in coffee futures.
Perched atop verdant crenellations of the Antiochian mountains, their production within the De Los Andes Cooperative spans the mountain ranges and the various southern states responsible for most of the coffee produced in Colombia.
Today, we’re nestled in the charming town of Andes, a thriving and quaint rural community that reaches hillside to hillside across the mountain valleys. The landscape is dense with lush fruit trees, populated by smiling locals who know and love the lifeblood of coffee.
Touring the sprawling estate and production room is for a coffee lover what taking to Burgundy is for a wine aficionado … an awesome connection to the deep roots of nature’s delicious handiwork and a tangible insight into what precedes the prized finished product.
Both the coffee magnate and his lovely daughter were gracious enough to share a couple of cups and chat about what it’s like growing coffee in Colombia. They spoke candidly about what the future holds for their coffee farm as well as the new products they’re creating to reimagine coffee in healthy, sustainable and delicious ways.
Hi, Rigoberte . So, how did you get your start in coffee?
Coffee is the culture of my ancestors, my grandfather, my father, my mother. Coffee is a business in my family for generations and for myself for over 30 years.
What’s the harvesting process for coffee?
The coffee plant needs 8 months to grow. Afterward, we collect by hand because this secures the benefits of the coffee and reserves the sanctity of the fruit; plus, it ensures a premium product.
We harvest around October or November. We have 500 hectares and there are 3 million trees to collect from, so we have around 500 people who pick for us.
We think that the sources of coffee need to be protected against contamination because they’re beautiful and important to Colombia. Doing this also protects the components in coffee that are important for health, especially antioxidants.
What are the varieties of coffee trees – or origins of the coffee?
We have five different varieties: Castillo Rosario, Caturra, Catimor, Colombia, Trotestiopio. There are also different classes of coffee.
Do various flavors come from different trees?
Of the five different coffee flavors, they come out being very similar because we produce in very large quantities. If you tried to identify a different flavor, the profile would be lost because it all gets mixed before exporting. So, the separate notes become part of the total product.
You export coffee mostly. Do you sell any in Colombia?
We sell our coffee to the De Los Andes Cooperative and we don’t sell any inside Colombia. We export 1,200 tons per year.
What’s your favorite type of coffee to drink?
Caturro. It’s very smooth, but it’s very difficult to cultivate because there are lots of complications and breaks in the beans because it’s very delicate.
It’s also possible to make drinks with the honey from coffee and through the process make a product for the national and international markets that’s healthy and delicious. I’m liking something a little different these days.
How do you like to drink it?
In different ways every day. I like black coffee, cappuccinos, anything to help me work.
I drink 6-7 cups a day because it’s healthy.
And I love the coffee honey because it’s new, delicious and healthy.
Thanks, Rigoberte .
Hi, Marcela. So, what’s your role at the coffee farm?
My dad handles the farm and I handle new products and new business.
I work with the coffee drinks. We are currently looking to new markets and new customers because we want to change directions. We want to introduce a new project and now we’re producing products based on coffee honey. Because the honey from coffee is rich in antioxidants, we know that the honey from coffee can help people fight cancer and other diseases. That’s the future for our family company.
You have a coffee honey beverage in the works?
We have three different flavored coffee drinks. They are lemon and black tea, cranberry tea and the other one is grape. It’s low in caffeine but full of the healthy benefits of coffee. It’s taken from the natural honey of the coffee fruit itself. It’s delicious. We’re the only ones doing this, so far.
Is this the future of coffee? Using coffee fruit for other products?
Yes. It’s fair trade and it’s important to work within the parameters of that and be careful with the production of coffee and using the whole plant.
What’s it like switching gears around your production practices?
Not too different. We’re already part of the Rainforest Certified Alliance. This certification shows that we keep the rainforest clean, the water pure and protect the environment while staying conscious and sustainable in our methods.
What is this new coffee honey product?