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El Paraíso-92 Spotlight: An Interview With Wilton Benitez

Updated: Jun 23

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).