Direct trade matters: Vagabond and La Lomita

When Ricardo Canal mentioned that his father was a coffee farmer in Colombia and asked if the Vagabond Coffee Shop was interested in buying his family’s coffee an exciting direct trade partnership was born. Direct trade is the term given to the system whereby a roaster deals directly with a farmer or producer, usually paying considerably over the commodity market price in exchange for a higher quality of coffee product.

In 1979, Ricardo’s father Raúl decided to plant coffee on the farm belonging to his wife’s family as a hobby – La Lomita – meaning little hill. Originally producing coffee for the commodity market the farm hit problems in 2012 when income fell below production cost and the family had to think of a different approach – they decided to emphasise coffee quality and reach out to the developing speciality market.

While studying in London, Ricardo was a customer at Vagabond, the small chain of coffeeshops founded in 2011 in North London. As luck would have it, Vagabond had not long begun roasting at their Holloway Road roastery café after originally roasting their coffee at Campbell and Syme. Head roaster Edgaras Juška, who achieved third place in the inaugural UK Coffee Roasting Championship and also works at Prufrock and fellow roaster Antony Watson, who also works with the SCAE Research Committee and on the launch of the inaugural Sustainability Forum at World of Coffee in Dublin, take charge at the Giesen W6. Edgaras believes an open exchange of ideas between the likes of Matthew Robley-Siemonsma, UK roasting champion and Prufrock manager, Sandows, Dumo Mathema and Joe Syme at Campbell and Syme has helped raise the overall quality of roasting.

The partnership between Edgaras (as roaster) and Ricardo (as the farm’s importer) is leading to an exchange of insights between La Lomita and Vagabond Coffee Roasters. Edgaras is due to visit the 10 hectare farm in May for the primary harvest to experience coffee growing, picking and processing first hand. Experiments are planned in the use of microclimates, processing methods and fine tuning of fermentation time. The farm is planted with the Castillo El Tambo varietal at 1,650 metres above sea level.

Ricardo is delighted to see what Vagabond have done with his family’s coffee. He took a couple of bags home to Cali and Raúl and the family were delighted to have their coffee properly roasted – describing it as far better than they had ever tasted their coffee before. We certainly recommend you drop by Vagabond N7 or N4 and give the La Lomita single origin espresso a try. Last time we tried the espresso it was fruity, creamy and sweet with notes of blood orange and tangerine or mandarin. With milk it was delicious and caramel-like.

Vagabond is a really friendly down to earth neighbourhood cafe, creating space for locals and regulars as almost a second home. Its mainly Lithuanian staff are very friendly. The Holloway Road branch features pop-up supper clubs, and the aforementioned walk-in roastery. Edgaras enjoys customer feedback on the cupping table – there is no physical divide. Well worth a visit!

March 31, 2016 — Best Coffee