About 45 minutes drive southeast of Caranavi is the Taypiplaya district. Rolando Martines, who previously worked as a technical instructor for coffee plantations in the eastern major city of Santa Cruz, runs his coffee farm there. We listened to Rolando’s story about his move to Taypiplaya district in the year 2000, at the age of 32, and his journey of producing coffee 2 years later.
“Good quality coffee has a fruity or a cacao flavor, while bad coffee can have a fermented odor and taste so bad that it doesn’t make you want to drink any. I think good coffee can be highly addictive, almost like cola,” he says laughingly.
Having learned at a technical school and experienced working as a technical instructor for coffee plantations, Rolando has a different perspective on coffee compared to other producers.
“Picking ripe coffee cherries and drying them right are the most important things in making good coffee. Another important thing is to take good care of the plants – in other words, pruning coffee trees, removing weeds and maintaining a well-groomed farm.”
Rolando has an outstanding achievement of placing 4th place in the Cup of Excellence, but his coffee production wasn’t always a success. In 2015, Rolando’s coffee farm was completely devastated from coffee leaf rust that was spread from the coffee imported from Brazil.
As coffee was the only crop he was producing, his entire income had vanished and so he made his living by helping his family’s restaurant in the city. After 1 year of no harvest, he spent around 3 years replanting coffee trees.
“It certainly made me sad, but I learned a lot from this experience. Before, I used to leave my farm alone and would only go when there were cherries to pick from the trees. After experiencing coffee leaf rust, I realized that I needed to take care of the plants better. As a result, my workload increased, but my coffee quality also increased drastically.”
It’s been 18 years since he transitioned from being a green coffee bean buyer to being a producer. Despite its challenges, he’s able to maintain his passion for coffee because he learned that in the world of specialty coffee, efforts will be rewarded.
“The quality of Bolivian coffee has improved significantly and I feel incredibly proud that the world is beginning to acknowledge this. My dream has always been to make coffee and I’ll continue this job until I die.”
For Rolando, the opportunity to practice direct trade may have been the coffee god’s intention.
“I had never imagined that the coffee we make could be directly delivered to the roasters across the ocean. All the hardships that we endured seems worth it when I hear that our coffee is enjoyed by those who received the coffee. I hope that we can maintain a relationship where we can keep satisfying each other and continue building relationships.”