Pitalito lies in the southernmost part of Huila. Producers are focused almost exclusively on producing specialty coffee. While the majority of trees are either Castillo or Caturra, farmers in Pitalito also cultivate more ‘exotic’ varieties than any other region in Colombia. The high altitude of 1,400 to 1,900 meters above sea level is made even more farmable by the amiable geography. Thanks to gentle, rolling hills, Pitalito is much easier to farm than the steep cliffs that are common in many other regions in Colombia. Most farms sit on a large plateau that looks over the Valley of Laboyos.
Farmers here are mainly smallholders. In fact, 80% of coffee farms are smaller than 3 hectares. On smaller farms, nearly all labor is done by the family. Very few farms hire farmhands. As a result, quality can be carefully controlled and families can focus more energy on intensive farming practices that result in high quality coffee. Families take great pride in their coffee production. Sugarcane decaffeination utilizes a naturally occurring compound, ethyl acetate (EA) to decaffeinate coffee. The EA used in this process is derived from molasses (a byproduct of sugar production). Since EA is naturally occurring, the process is labelled as “naturally decaffeinated.”
The EA process is relatively simple. The coffee beans are moistened with water and EA is circulated throughout. The EA binds with the caffeine in the bean and extracts the caffeine while leaving most of the other flavor compounds. After the desired caffeine level is reached, the EA residue on the beans is removed by steaming them. Screen sizes remain fairly uniform across countries but grade names are often unique to the country of origin. In the Colombian grading system, Supremo is the largest size bean.
The process of separating beans by size is a crucial stage of the dry milling process. A screen grading machine has a series of screens stacked on top of each other. Green coffee is fed into the machine, and as the screens are shaken, beans that are smaller than holes on a specific screen will fall through to a lower screen until they reach a screen with holes too small for them to fit. Supremo is typically screen sizes 18 to 20. In a Supremo blend, beans are between 7 and 8 millimeters in size.