El Paraíso-92 Spotlight: An Interview With Wilton Benitez
Updated: Jun 23, 2021
Wilton Benitez of Finca El Paraíso-92 hails from Colombia and has been producing coffee for over 10 years in the Valle de Cauca. He grows batches of amazing specialty coffees using mechanical equipment and systems designed by himself. This time, Wilton brought us three different anaerobically fermented coffees, one of which set a new record for the international auction price of Colombian coffee in 2019 (at $54 dollars per pound at Boston’s Colombia Coffee Auction).
Recently, Colombia has experienced nationwide strikes that have affected many facets of everyday life, and Wilton’s farm unfortunately has been no exception. We sat down with Wilton to talk about his farm, the new season’s harvest, and the secret to growing such great coffee.
CEx: We are really interested your special processing methods. This time you brought us coffees that were processed through anaerobic fermentation and double anaerobic fermentation – how did this technology come about and how did you develop an interest in it?
WB: I personally love innovation very much. When we talk about innovation, we are actually talking about technology, and I want to invest in more tech so I can make more contributions to the transformation of specialty coffee. Artisanal coffee generally relies on many random variables, and the final texture and flavor profiles are hard to predict at the start of production. Therefore, there is a need for controlled fermentation technology. We found the flavor of coffees processed with anaerobic fermentation performed outstandingly in final cupping evaluations.
We started to learn the fermentation technology of wine, beer, cheese, even meat. Once we had an understanding of how other products were processed, we ourselves began to control for certain variables similar to the processes for these other products. These metrics included the sugar content (using the Brix scale), pH level, fermentation duration, season, and so on.
I would say at the beginning, everything was trial and error. I am a professional Q-Grader, but when it comes to the technological development of the processing itself, the foundation is quite weak as there is no way to guarantee a certain action will give a certain result.
So starting from the fruit – we will pick the cherries and then put them in reaction vessels where we carry out the first stage of fermentation. After the first stage, we remove the cherry peel, and the continue the second fermentation process, also in the anaerobic container. This is to remove any oxygen left, and it is fermented for several hours.
To speak on what specifically gives our coffee its unique taste, there are three main factors: the first is the double fermentation method, the second is the microorganisms used at each stage, and the third is the technology we use of soaking the beans with hot then cold water.
There is another important aspect of our operation, which is the drying method. We use a process called controlled drying, which is done with equipment rather than natural drying in the sun. I like this method a lot – I actually developed a special instrument just for it. This is especially unique as unlike many other companies, we have our own R&D.
With this equipment, we are able to control and set programs that adjust temperature and drying speeds, so that the influence of the climate environment can be absorbed by the beans. This helps me guarantee that my products are consistently high quality.
CEx: How long have you been doing this for?
WB: I started experimenting on my own around 16 years ago, but really got started in 2008. That’s when we began using sensors and really controlling for certain variables, but we didn’t see results until 2016.
CEx: Are there any plans to expand the farm, or ideas to further improve the coffee processing?
WB: As far as the size of the farm is concerned, I personally don’t think it will increase very much as Columbia’s labour situation in small individual farms is a bit complicated. However I’m hoping that through some partnerships, I can cooperate with more coffee farmers who already have lots of knowledge and experience. As of now, we have around 4 farms that plan to work together. In terms of varieties, we plan to plant 12 different coffee varieties. Starting this year, we will start planting microlots.
CEx: Not wanting to expand the farm – is that mainly for economic reasons or policy reasons?
WB: The first reason is economic, but the second is because of the current labor supply issue and there is already a shortage. This is just the current thinking – in the future, we will look at how the market performs and this decision may change. We might also build a new farm in accordance with the Coffee Exchange model (laughs).
CEx: How have the recent protests in Colombia affected you?
WB: The biggest difficulty at the moment is the lack of coffee pickers and raw materials. It has already been several days, around 15 now without farm supplies like fertilizer and food. Transportation and shipping has been the biggest issue for rural areas. We currently have two farms in the Cauca district which are only around two kilometers, but for the last few days we haven’t even been able to get from one farm to another as roads are blocked. So now, logistics and transportation have become very difficult, and there hasn’t been support for a long time. This has had a huge impact on our production, because we can’t import or export products.
CEx: Generally speaking, do you like to work with regular customers or also enjoy some self-marketing?
WB: Our main channel is online and using personal marketing on social media platforms. We have no official PR strategy, just social media and word of mouth from customers who have previously bought our coffees before. Other than that, exhibitions and events are also super important.
CEx: Let’s discuss the three coffees of this season – are there any interesting stories?
WB: The three coffees we brought this time are all premium coffees, and have performed really well in the market. The P01 coffee was actually named by Chinese consumers because during the cupping test, people noticed fruit flavors of lychee. You know this fruit better than I do – in fact, I’ve never had a chance to taste it. We sent the P01 bean to China, and into last year it was the best-selling coffee at various exhibitions.
CEx: Why is it named Finca El Paraíso-92?
WB: I bought Paraíso-92 in 2015, so I haven’t been the owner of it for that long yet. This farm had no production at the time, no houses, no coffee trees – it was only registered land. The name comes from our cooperation with the Paraíso farms. We also used “92” to distinguish it from other farms, and it represents our goal that eventually, all coffees produced in our farm can have scores of at least 92.
CEx: What is your experience working with CoffeeExchange?
WB: I’ve been very satisfied so far, and I’m looking forward to further cooperation in the future. It’s not even that I don’t have other options, but I see CoffeeExchange’s sales processes as more transparent.
CEx: Is there anything you’d like to say to Chinese coffee roasters?
WB: Chinese roasters, I invite you to taste our new product, which is a unique type of coffee. We’ve invested many years of work and knowledge, as well as a lot of technology – spending time and effort in the R&D of each processing method. We sincerely invite you to visit our farm and hope that you will be here in the near future. Taste our coffee, see if you like it, invite your customers to taste and experience its unique flavors. I know there are many excellent coffees out there, and ours is among those.
We thank Wilton for taking the time to speak with us about his experience and history of Finca El Paraíso-92, and we're looking forward to continuing this partnership well into the future!