There are nearly 17,000 kilometres between Hong Kong and Colombia, but chef Vicky Cheng seemed to feel right at home. While such a distance brought into sharp relief the dramatic contrast between the two regions, over four days the chef ambassador of Nespresso Hong Kong and co-founder of VEA was able to find the familiar in the unfamiliar—and a renewed sense of appreciation for a simple cup of coffee. Connecting with local coffee farmers in the Andean town of Jardín in northwest Colombia, located about a five hour drive from the cosmopolitan centre of Medellín, Cheng quickly saw that a growing dedication to quality is the backbone of this formidable coffee producing country.
It hasn’t always been easy. The average size of a coffee farm in Jardín is just 2 hectares (in Brazil, the average is between 5 and 7.5 hectares), but many farmers take on the responsibility of doing their own milling and drying of the coffee cherries. This crucial step before the beans are roasted is labor intensive and challenging—and not every farm is able to maintain the consistency and efficiency required to produce quality beans, which then impacts upon the environment as well as farmers’ livelihoods if they do not have enough high quality yield.
To address this issue, as part of the Nespresso AAA Sustainability Quality programme, the brand committed to build a community coffee processing centre in Jardín in 2010—a central mill that has enabled more than 200 farmers to improve the consistency and quality of their coffee while doubling their yield, increasing their profits and reducing the environmental impact of growing and processing in Colombia by reducing water consumption. By centralising the process, farmers are now saving up to five hours a day compared to when they had to mill and dry the beans themselves—precious time that they can put back into their personal lives and community.