A short story, more or less, about traveling in Colombia, failing to get to Bucaramanga, and judging in the Cup of Excellence more or less uninvited.
(Note from 2020: I can’t explain what possessed me to write all this, and where this energy came from. Gee guess I’m just old and tired now. But 15 years ago I was a young whippersnapper with a sense of humor. Or something like humor, I don’t know. But here it is, all of it, published to the world wide web back in 2005.)
Forget the Alpaca … Beware the Sheep.…and other things I learned in Colombian coffee is highly marketed and widely available in the US. They have been largely successful at equating the name Colombian Coffee with "Good" Coffee. This is half-true. Colombian can be very balanced, with good More this year
Welcome my friend. Please come on in. Sit down. No! Not on the sofa! Over there… that’s better
I see you too are looking for a rich, smooth cup of coffee. Perhaps you have heard of the loco vato Juan Valdez(TM), and his satisfying, mountain-grown coffee, the richest in the world. Grab life by the beans™, my friend, go grope some Colombian coffee!
Unfortunately I cannot offer you any at this time … but I can ramble on and on about my trip to Colombia in February 2005, to travel to the Region denotes a coffee-producing area, a more specific zone within the country.: Region is a more specific area within the country. Arabica coffee grows roughly between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn. More of Bucaramanga, and my unexpected viaje a Manizales for the Taza de Excelencia.
But a warning to you, my gringo compadre. Colombia is a dangerous place, brimming with kidnappers, thieves, drug lords, and Americans who prattle about nothing … nothing at all! Beware the Gringo Prattler! I am one of them, as you will see quite soon. The text below is my travelogue, more rambling than usual. Read it if you want, ignore it otherwise. You can also simply check out the pictures and captions. They don’t correspond to the travelogue. It’s up to you what you want to do … but hark, I hear the wild chango calls, so let us depart now, on our adventure to enchanting, mystical Colombia!!!
OK, wait, back up a bit.
A trip to coffee lands starts four days before the plane departs the gate. It is preceded by tremors of fear, not about missing flights, stomach flu, language gaps, or pickpockets. No, it is a vague and general fear of being swept off my path, like a hamster running his little habit trail, by an avalanche of unfinished tasks that clutter the already-messy brain of the guy-who-went-to-art-school-but-ended-up-running-a-coffee-business. That’s me, Thompson Owen, coffee doofus of Sweet Maria’s. If you see an email from George, that’s me too, my alias that protects me like a cardboard box against that overwhelming avalanche. I am used to it, it has been avalanching for 5 years.
One response to these pangs of fear is to do as much work as possible in those 4 days, find a home for orphaned ideas, color in the sketches, turn note cards into essays. If I forget the thesis, it will return 6 months later, transformed, monstrous, having been ignored for so long. To-do lists are simply the surface of a deeply repressed undercurrent. It’s like mice: if you see one, it’s just the stand in for 10 hiding behind the wall. Yes, I am neurotic.
So I write a coffee review for that indescribable, soft Hawaiian offering, I upload those pictures I took of the The Technivorm is a Dutch-made electric drip brewer for the home that is known for it's good design, and good results. You can find them for sale on our site, the only standard electric drip More and flush out the generic corporate ones, I write the FAQ to fix the loose iRoast Chaff is paper-like skin that comes off the coffee in the roasting process. Chaff from roasting is part of the innermost skin (the silverskin) of the coffee fruit that still cling to the beans after More collector lid and photoshop some arrows in the pictures to point out the offending clips. These are my little monsters, my mundane little monsters. I am sure you, dear reader, have yours too.
Each little task adds up, minutes into hours. Lists get re-made, I get testy from too much work, too many lists. While I knock things off the list, a forgotten task pops up from the repressed; remember all those readings I took of the moisture content of every coffee in the shop? Now I lost the paper, and it is out of date anyway. I start a new list.
After all this, there is the last list, the final one. It’s the list you make at 10 pm the night before the 6 am flight. It’s the list that really gnaws at your sensibility, the list of everything you are leaving undone, the list for when you return. I HATE that list.
Now it is time to clean up. I clean the Cupping is a method of tasting coffee by steeping grounds in separate cups for discrete amounts of ground coffee, to reveal good flavors and defects to their fullest. It has formal elements and methodology in More room, vacuum the chaff, organize the tested and untested samples, put the spoons away, pile the dirty cups for washing, and then empty the spittoon (ugh). I clean my desktop. I groom my pile of papers into a more stable, pyramidal form so there is less risk of them falling over on Maria when she uses my computer while I am gone. Finally, I clean myself. Yes, I admit it; since working for myself, my appearance has really tanked due to neglect. I am a bit of a scumbag, not morally but literally. And I’m not dirty, just not well groomed. This is what happens when you live in a warehouse, have no heat, and don’t bother to put a mirror in the bathroom. You’re almost 40, you have a lot fewer “good looks” to be proud of, your wife loves you no matter what, so what’s the point of shaving every morning? And my hair feels the same combed or uncombed … it’s clean after all.
Well, all this changes when I go out there into the vast expanse. Out there, people don’t “get” the amusement and irony of thrift store t-shirts, and ratty Dickies. You just look dumpy, unsuccessful, and half-assed. Well, I meet them half way. I won’t give up the t-shirts and Dickies, but I will attempt to select ones without tears or stains. (For the most part, these are the result of our weekend work on our new building in West Oakland, which has made our wardrobe, Maria and I both, below thrift store spec.) Anyway, I keep a couple Old Navy sweaters on a dusty shelf for such occasions, because you can cover the most thread-bare t-shirt with a v-neck and actually look respectable. I also try to get all the Teflon out of my fingernails from the gas plumbing I was doing the night before, and my Adidas sambas will have to do. I have my limits; I refuse to pack more than 1 pair of shoes. Do you know how many Green coffee refers to the processed seed of the coffee tree fruit. Coffee is a flowering shrub that produces fruit. The seeds of the fruit are processed, roasted, ground and prepared as an infusion.: Coffee More samples and Latin American knic-knacs you can fit in the space of 1 pair of shoes?
Now you can imagine why settling down in the seat of a plane is a relief. And this is not the Mt. Everest of coffee trips. In fact, it is to be the shortest one I have ever taken. Plus, I am going with people of the lowest key; down-dressing, humble, suit-free. I am but a flea on the hairy Associated with and sensed by mouthfeel, body is sense of weight and thickness of the brew, caused by the percentage of soluble solids in the cup, including all organic compounds that are extracted from brewing More of the coffee world and my travel companions are at least ticks, if not leeches (um, maybe this is not the best analogy). It will be myself, Bob Fulmer from Royal, Richard from Royal NY to do cupping in Bogota, then Geoff from Intelligentsia will join us to head off to Bucaramanga in the North of Colombia, a visit to Mesa de Los Santos A "coffee estate" is used to imply a farm that has its own processing facility, a wet-mill. In Spanish this is called an Hacienda. A Finca (farm) does not necessarily have a mill. (And Finca More with the owner, Osvaldo Acevedo. It seems so inverted that these unassuming gringos buy more coffee than an unsuspecting, primly dressed Latin businessman would ever suspect. Me, I look my part, like a teenager with more wrinkles, a middle-aged-mod. But when you buy thousands of bags as Bob and Richard do, don’t you have to wear a tie, or a bow tie, or a bolo tie … something around the neck, anything? Alas, we are the later day Californios for whom inversion and paradox is par; the land where peace-luvin’ Volvo drivers do 85 on the Bay Bridge, where agro-hippies will knock you over to get to the Grown without the use of artificial fertilizers, herbicides, etc.: Organic coffee has been grown according to organic farming techniques, typically without the use of artificial fertilizers. Some farms have more local Organic Certification than the More peaches at the Berkeley Bowl, then ask you about the Hemp Festival in the checkout line. Yes, we are clichés, some are just a bit more stale than others.
Where am I? Oh, on the plane to Bogota. Should I be scared? No, my daily work/life is much more frightening. Teenager police with semi-automatics on every corner, that’s nothing. In fact, the poor people of Bogota and Bucaramanga should be shaking in their shoes! They are the ones who live in the crossfire of the leftists, the paramilitary right, the drug lords and the anti-drug lords. They are the ones run off their own lands to live on the fringes of Bogota; I am just a visitor. And if in a moment of greed and desperation one of them should get the better of me, the outsider, and they steal my fancy oversized 8 megapixel camera, it is they who will have to figure out the maddeningly unintuitive interface, the endless combination of control functions, the senseless scrolling menus, just to make the simplest adjustment. So curses to you, street thug, you deserve to suffer like I have! Know the pain of the Olympus curse, then come, cup 30 Kenyas until the Acidity is a positive flavor attribute in coffee, also referred to as brightness or liveliness. It adds a brilliance to the cup, whereas low acid coffees can seem flat. Acidity can sound unattractive. People may More starts to chrome the roof of your mouth, sucking the silver off your ancient fillings. Then try to right-click the combined macro-timer toggle, holding the zoom toward telephoto and press the OK button to reset the ASA back to 200 on this, your freshly stolen Olympus 8080, you dirtball! Feel my pain!
In reality most coffee producers who host traveling gringos do way too much to buffer and protect us from their own people. I will be picked up at the airport by Osvaldo’s right hand man and shuttled to a hotel. Maybe that’s okay. There’s rumors that some taxis take their friends from the North to kidnapping depots where in an interesting post-Colonial scene, you get distributed to the highest bidder. You or a loved one visit the ATM, and you are conveniently dropped off a few blocks from a landmark, or from your hotel. You could also get re-kidnapped though, so Osvaldo’s ride sounds good. We also won’t be staying in a pensione or hostel … nope, it’s gotta be an expensive hotel. Why complain about that? They all look the same. You could be in Boston, or Bogota, or Baltimore.
The first night of a coffee trip … it’s a total write off. Forget about it. The first night is offered up to the time zone shift, to the too-soft mattress, to the sound of air conditioning in the middle of winter, to the unidentifiable foodstuffs served on the plane. And there’s that compulsion to go once around the TV channels, then once again.
Worry is pre-ordained; you must worry. Will you wake up on time, will you get a ride, will you need a cab, do you have the address, will there be breakfast? Bogota looks unremarkable from the vantage point of a downtown hotel. I have a beer with Richard and Bob, we talk coffee but all I am thinking about are the … the bottle caps. Yes, bottle caps. I collect them (again), don’t laugh. We were the only people at the hotel bar and the inattentive barkeep had put the recent beer caps on the counter so tantalizingly close. Should I just reach over and take them? I really wanted all the day’s bottle caps but could I get them? How would I ask? Are they called crowns or tops or caps?. Tapas de botellas … that should work. Capas, or tapas? Capas de metal? De la botella de cerveza? I can always lie, although I don’t want to… but I could say they are for my nephew, my nino, my imaginary hijo, a son of convenience. Is this why people invented the “inner child,” to make convenient lies? What the hell, my inner child wants the damn caps for his collection. Oh crap, he dumped them all in the trash, he’s walking off with the trash can,I can hear the bottle caps jingling in there, falling down to the very bottom. Crap, now he dumped that into a big trash can. Now it’s worse … can I go over and put my arm in up to the pit to get those caps out (of course, I would if nobody was around but …) . No, I can’t. I am a wuss.
So I give up. On the way to the elevators I confess my bottle cap addiction to the others, and how getting Colombian caps will be a huge deal to me. I explain how I just missed out on a day’s worth of caps, as the elevator door closes. Bob reaches his hand out to block the doors from shutting, “I’ll get them all for you right now,” he says … like it’s so simple, like it’s nothing at all. “I can get you every bottle cap right now.” That just blows my mind.
Now, I am not saying everything is so impossibly unattainable for me. I am, after all Mr. Sweet Maria’s, and I can manage to get a few things done. And I know full well that confessing the bottle cap thing to them was just an introduction, so next time when I muster the courage to get them, they won’t laugh too much at me. I was just setting the stage. I am not stupid though; I am not going to tell them that a week ago I did some dumpster diving in Emeryville and pulled caps out that were mixed with mussel shells and cream sauce. That is totally disgusting, and even I know it.
My first night resolution; I am going to act casual, as we said in the ‘70s “be cazsh”, listen, relax, be quiet, observe, and have the courage to collect bottle caps.
Another thing; not 5 minutes after walking into the hotel in Bogota I received a call at the front desk from Susie who runs the The Cup of Excellence is a competition held yearly in many coffee-producing countries, designed to highlight the very best coffees from each origin.: The Cup of Excellence (COE) is a competition held more-or-less yearly in More program. It turns out that George Howell, who basically helped start the CoE program, could not make the event (hope all is well, George) and they needed one more judge. This was the one and only CoE I wanted to attend this year but since it is the first Colombia competition, everyone wanted to go. I was slotted to do the August event. And I packed for a quick 5 day trip, and we’re in the middle of working on the new building, and … well, I need to talk to Maria. There will be no roasting on Monday (maybe I can get someone to step in for me, Scott perhaps?), and what about the flights, and .., be casual, be casual … get some help, borrow an international cell phone, be casual.
Manizales, 100,000, coffee town, part of the M-A-M triangle (Medellin-Armenia-Manizales). It is built on a ridge, running like a crooked finger with valleys on either side. It’s a crinkled landscape. Coffee was grown on the slopes and in neighboring valleys, so they had an amazing suspended freight system, like a gondola for cargo or a ski lift, stringing 100’ towers together to haul the Originally coffee literature referred to the fruit of the tree as a "berry" but in time it became a cherry. It is of course neither. Nor is the seed of the coffee a bean. All More up and down the steep slopes.
Old Manizales centers on a poured-concrete cathedral, started around 1900 and still yet to be finished. There is a beautiful vaulted graveyard, peaceful, and sadly cared for (a grave spilling over with flowers next to one caved-in and neglected. Manizales in cleaner than Bogota, and there aren’t many of the teenage-police-with-submachinegun types that liter every corner of the capital city. But this is a rural center, so it is expected. It also lacks Bogota’s advantages: I find the same grocery store chain here, Carulla, but they don’t have the 100% Colombian Santander Varietal A general flavor or aroma term reminiscent of chocolate. But what type? Usually described with more specifics.: Chocolate is a broad, general flavor or aroma term reminiscent of chocolate. But what type? There are so More Bars, or the really nice beer (the only nice beer) called Ancla. Okay, Club Colombia is good too, but Poker really stinks. You can’t say that in Manizales, since Poker sponsors the local soccer team, Once Caldas, who just happens to be the champions of the South American Cup, Copa Libertadores 2004. And you don’t want to say anything bad about Once Caldas or you might not make it out of Manizales in one piece.
Everything always works out. I won’t even bother with the details. Yes, I woke up, there was a ride, we went to the exporter, we cupped some very nice lots of coffee in their lab. I saw the Cupping Monkey diorama and wondered what mad genius could be behind this? The master of the lab is Hector, a slight man with a certain quiet We have a simple scale to rate intensity in our coffee reviews, from Mild to Bold. Low intensity does not mean low quality!: We have a simple scale to rate intensity, from Mild to Bold. More. But then again, he must like the cupping monkeys too, so he has a lighter side. We look over their new “mobile cupping kit” featuring an electric roaster and all the tools for “catacion” in a hard-case suitcase. And they have some very nice coffees on the table for us … not phony-baloney “type samples,” (which is not really an existing lot of coffee, but a possibly existing lot … i.e. it means nothing). No, these are real lots that are in Green coffee still in its outer shell, before dry-milling, is called Parchment coffee (pergamino). In the wet process, coffee is peeled, fermented, washed and then ready for drying on the patio, bed, or a mechanical More at the warehouse, ready to mill and ship. It’s impressive. They are a very straightforward bunch. They have been doing this since before I was born. The only barb is their warehouse; it’s nice, but it is set up for very large lots, for bulk coffee. This is the typical Colombia problem at this point … they sold pooled coffee that was screened by bean size to A Colombian coffee grade referring to screen size of 17-18 screen. In the traditional bulk Arabica business, Supremo was the top grade Colombia, with Excelso one step below at 15-16 screen. Neither of these refer More and A Colombian coffee grade referring to screen size of 15-16. In the traditional bulk Arabica business, Excelso is a step below the large bean Supremo grade, which indicates screen size 17-18. More grades. What does bean size have to do with cup quality? Not a whole lot, brother. It’s a system that made no sense for the way Specialty coffee was a term devised to mean higher levels of green coffee quality than average "industrial coffee" or "commercial coffee". At this point, the term is of limited use, since every multi-national coffee broker More has evolved, and Colombia is changing the way they do things too, identifying microregional coffees and offering small lots. But you can’t mill a small 10 bag lot on giant equipment like this; it’s like brewing a single cup of coffee in a 6 gallon urn. So they need to re-tool with the new downsized equipment available from A Brazilian coffee equipment manufacturer, that produces a wide range of equipment for wet-mills and dry-mills, coffee hullers, density sorters, graders, screening machines, roasters, dryers etc. They also make some coffee lab equipment including a More and others, equipment that can run micro-lots all day long and keep every tiny grain separate.
So I came to Colombia to go to Bucaramanga in the northeast, more specifically to visit Mesa de los Santos. The weather was not agreeable. It was thundering all day, but when we arrived at the Punto Aereo airport in Bogota to head north, things looked okay. The delay was half an hour, then another half, then another hour, then it’s getting dark. The rains are worse in the north. They say there is flooding. Finally we get the go ahead to board and depart 3 hours late. The ride is bumpy as we pass through whited-out blots of storm clouds, ready to swallow up and erase us puny humans at any moment. The short 1 hour flight takes forever, I think we are just circling, then we decend. It was to be our first pass at the airport, but just as we near the ground it’s white-out again and the pilot jerks up the nose. Then co-pilot announces we have 20 minutes of gas left to try again, or we need to head back to Bogota. And that’s what happens. We check back into the Hotel Rosales in Bogota. The next day we head to the airport early to try to get on the already full flight of frustrated Bucaramangans, but this time we don’t even make it to the gate. Nobody is manning the control tower in Bucaramanga. They can’t even get to the airport. A mudslide has taken out the road. There is widespread flooding, 3,000 homes lost, 17 dead! So getting to the farm is small potatoes in the larger scheme of things.
Lucky for me, I have friends in Bogota. This never happens, I never know anyone outside of the coffee world on these trips. But I know Maria Margarita from graduate school in Chicago; to keep from being confused she was often known as “the other Maria.” Not a great nickname, especially in a supposedly creative mileau. So basically I get to spend the next 2 days with Maria and her husband Roberto, shopping for vinyl records at flea markets (literally mercado de las pulgas), eating falafel and French and Chinese food a la Bogota, and of course, looking for bottle caps. Maria and Roberto are also anti-bullfighting activists. They are against the cruelty, believing this should be relegated to the past much as fox hunting has been in Britain. So they spend some of the late night putting up their posters “Servicia” (extreme cruelty) and “Complicidad” (complicity) around the city. I stay in bed and go to sleep, in the belief that being a political activist in another person’s country has the taint of bad faith, and is a bit unwise in case you get caught! I don’t want to call Maria, my Maria that is, from a Colombian jail. She would have a seizure.
Violence in Colombia? Paramilitaries vs. Leftists vs. the Government? It all seems remote from Bogota, and maybe that’s why it has continued for so long. The only sign of it is the government hospital, with fresh arrivals weekly from the remote areas in the South East and North, and a very unusual little house that was by the Falafel Restaurant we ate at (where falafel is served in a flour tortilla). It looks like any other place, but for a small group of teens hanging outside, passing time. Maria told me it was habitation for paramilitary fighters who sought clemency under a new program. It was a bit eerie. Here were these innocuous kids, waiting to find work, a bit awkward, hanging out, hands stuffed in pant pockets, looking at girls, laughing, chatting. Were they talking about teenage things, or how to dismember a person with a machete, or both? I am just an out-of-towner and I really don’t know…
Come Monday morning, the fun is over. It’s time to fly to Manizales and to the Cup of Excellence competition. Manzales is east, and was not too badly affected by the rains. (I read that across Venezuela there was a lot of damage, and the death toll is up to 45).
You might think tasting coffee at a nature retreat in a verdant countryside setting, amid butterfly gardens, orchid blooms and pine forests is ideal. An inspirational environment, serene beauty, dewy mornings, fine coffee. So why does this place feel like a white collar prison? Well, let’s see … when you drive in you pass through 2 separate manned security stations. That’s sorta prison-like. In the evenings there is a black-booted kid with a machine gun in the lobby. The food is of that universally non-specific “institutional” Hibrido de Timor abbreviated HdT is the interspecies hybrid of C. Arabica and C. Canephora (Robusta) that was found in Timor Leste in the 1940s. It has been the bases of plant breeding for disease More. It reeks of quantity, belonging to the “Food for 50+” family of cuisine. And there’s this sense in the evening that you are just trying to kill time, playing cards, chatting, until you are tired enough to sleep.
It’s a place called Recinto de Pensamiento (Retreat for Thinking?), and ecological outpost, an orchid path, interpretive trails, a pasture with sheep and alpaca, a micro coffee farm of about 200 trees. Surprisingly, the high fences are only in the front. It backs up to a hillside and there’s only cattle fencing there. You can pick up the caritera and hike up until it ends in myriad footpaths, eventually opening up into hilltop cattle pasture. Thank god this Thinking Box is just 3 sided.
I wake up early to walk each morning. Cupping starts at 8:30 Colombian time, which is 5:30 Emeryville time. Somehow I have adjusted though. The first 2 days are easy: 3 flights of 10 coffees, 30 coffees, scoring 120 cups (4 cup samples per coffee), all before lunch. This way, eating lunch doesn’t throw off your ability to taste, which happens quite often. Lunch is a real gamble; it can have no impact or devastate you. 10 am is really the best cupping time, an hour or two after breakfast.
We Similar to aftertaste, but it refers to the impression as the coffee leaves the palate. Aftertaste is the sensations gathered after the coffee has left the mouth. We combine these to form the "final flavor More the 3 flights at about 2 pm, and by that time you badly need a meal in your system, some relief from the slurping, sucking and spitting (sounds appetizing, eh?)
In between flights we discuss each coffees and categorize the scores, people who feel like advocates for a particular lot speak their mind, and those who hate it (the Matadors de Café ) speak their peace. There’s some bread, water, maybe fruit to help keep the stomachs in line, but nothing with strong flavors that will affect the ability to taste.
On the third day we do 45 coffees, 9 per table, 3 flights before lunch and 2 after. I have done 60 coffees in a day, but that is inhumane. Well, to be more specific, you can do 60 or a lot more if you are just cupping for defects. But this type of cupping, with very competitive top lots, where you are not only scoring numbers but describing the cup character to yourself … this is much more ponderous and more difficult. And there is a particularly tragic problem here in Colombia: phenol. Even coffees that scored very well in the first rounds are showing up with a phenolic cup later on. Phenolic taint is said to be caused in the drying of the coffee, and drying is more difficult at higher altitudes where the good coffees are found. So it a way, phenol almost seems to be seeking out the best coffee in the competition and destroying them. You can have 39 cups on the tables and just 1 with phenolic taint. It’s out of the running. Brutal! And you can’t see a phenolic bean in the green or roasted form, it’s a covert killer. You can have 1 phenloic seed in a kilo of coffee and not know it. You’ll brew 200 great cups, and 1 will stink with a hard, almost sulpherous odor and flavor. The rules of this competition are tough, but clear. In the top 10 round, 3 coffees were removed, lots that had been cupped and approved by tens of coffee experts, re-cupped at least 6 times, brewed to make 100 individual cups, and that 1 bad one is enough to toss it out.
The main problem in Colombia is the Broca, the coffee boring insect. They imported a wasp from Africa that attacks the Broca to great effect. The problem wasn’t some kind of environmental contamination with the wasp … no, it was keeping the wasp fed! What were they to do, create Broca to sustain the wasp population? There is a common-sense solution to Broca and everyone is aware of it. Pick the ripe Either a flavor in the coffee, or referring to the fruit of the coffee tree, which somewhat resembles a red cherry.: Either a flavor in the coffee, or referring to the fruit of the coffee More. Broca only thrives in red, ripe coffee cherry, so you keep your trees well picked, as you should anyway, and the Broca population is kept in check. You also need to dispose of any ripe cherry that falls to the ground. The problem is that labor costs are the difficult to meet in a low coffee market, and picking coffee is the majority of cost on a coffee farm.
We discussed the wasp, the broca, the phenol, and other things on our visit to Cenicafe is the Colombia research organization, and promotes research in coffee to aid Colombia coffee farmers, as part of the FNC More. It is by far the largest The study of the agronomy of coffee, its chemistry, or other improvements: The study of the agronomy of coffee, its chemistry, or other improvements. There are coffee research organizations throughout the world. In Central America, More center I have ever seen, truly an amazing facility. The labs are countless, and the specific research they are conducting now I could not say. I saw their gas spectrometry lab. Someone pointed out the room with the new “electronic nose,” a quantifiable aromatic compound detector. But basically the group of international cuppers were kept at a distance from the researchers … sadly. I was waiting to see the trees. I am mildly obsessed with the unusual, non-commercial, rare coffee varietals. I am a bit of a covert seed collector too, since I cultivate my own coffee plants. I was not disappointed and added 8 new cultivars and crosses to my collection (well, if they germinate I did).
One thing about traveling in coffee areas (and a real misconception); you do not go to a coffee-producing country to get the best cup the region produces. You invariably get the mediocre-to-terrible coffee. Think about it. Coffee is a cash crop, you export the good stuff. Even on a great farm, at least 50% of the crop is sub-par and cannot be exported as Specialty grade coffee. The actual percentage is much lower. The result is around 65% of the coffee from good high-altitude farms and more from the lower-grown farms that is suitable only for bulk exports as generic commercial coffee, or for non-exported coffee. Universally, this is called “internal market” coffee or “for local consumption,” but it always means the same thing: the worst, low-grown, broken beans, broca-eaten, with a handful of twigs and rocks to boot (Several years ago an analysis of coffee sold in rural Brazil is a coffee giant . As Frank Sinatra sang, "they grow an awful lot of coffee in Brazil".: Brazil is a coffee giant . As Frank Sinatra sang, "they grow an awful lot of More was 35% coffee 65% foreign matter: dirt, sticks, rocks!) The coffee sold locally in Brazil is a weak brew called Tinto, and you drink it with lots of sugar. I had some at the flea market in Bogota, made in the traditional urn, the Greca (which are often quite old and beautiful). The coffee is also quite old, but not so beautiful. In Colombia the The FNC is the Federación Nacional de Cafeteros de Colombia, the coffee association of Colombia. They fund CENICAFE research institute, which has an extensive cultivar collection. More has launched the Juan Valdez(TM) chain of stores to try to get local markets to consume better coffee. I had about 6 espressos at various Juan Valdez(TM) stores, mainly in the airports, and my advice to them is you need to have someone who actually knows what a good A small coffee beverage, about 20 ml, prepared on an espresso machine where pressurized hot water extracted through compressed coffee.: In its most stripped-down, basic form, this is a working definition for espresso: A small More is, or even a passable espresso, before you can serve them. They were uniformly bad, watery, thin, with mediocre flavor. They certainly were not made well, but I don’t think they are using the quality of coffee that they claim to be. My other .02 cents: the Juan Valdez(TM) thing is tired. Make a new start of it. We don’t need caricatures any more.
Actually, I would accept Juan Valdez(TM) if he was reinvented as a crusader against phenol. Frankly, when we posed the question to the director of Cenicafe, he was dismissive. They seem to think phenol is a simple problem … but how come it is turning up in these great coffees that have received the best treatment from their respective farms? Ceniface and the FNC need to take this seriously because it hobbles the push to redefine Colombian coffee, to leave behind the antiquated notion of Excelso and Supremo grades, and move to micro-regional and Estate grade coffees. There is admittedly a lot of expectation placed on Colombian coffee, and in the cupping too. I wanted to see what the truly best coffees available were. I was not disappointed at all, but I did learn to change my expectations.
Firstly, Colombia has 2 crops, and this cupping was mostly Huila coffees, ones from the north (Sierra and Bucaramanga), some Cauca coffees, but it did not include Southern coffees like Narino. There will be a second competition in August to focus on these regions. Secondly, we found out that the FNC did not give farmers time to adequately prepare for the competition. Farmers found out in mid December, so the pool of entrants was smaller than expected (a bit over 200 farms). Finally, phenolic (and to some degree As an aroma or flavor in coffee, ferment is a defect taste, resulting from bad processing or other factors. Ferment is the sour, often vinegar-like, that results from several possible problems. It might be the More) needs to be eradicated. It’s up to Cenicafe to train farmers of the causes, and to consult them on changes to drying techniques, equipment and milling operations. Cenicafe is there to serve the farmers. They need to help the farms, not blame them. On a positive note, I have never seen a competition more expertly run, more technically perfect, than this one. The support workers, some 20 women who pour the coffee at the perfect temperature, at the exact same time on all tables, were fantastic. The roasting, done on a Probatino roaster, was nearly flawless … the best competition roasting I have ever seen. And despite the white-collar prison feel, the “compound” was a very nice place to be. After all, being sequestered among butterflies, orchids, and coffee can’t be all that bad. Next time, I will bring the Ancla, the Santander chocolate, and some fresh yucca arepas from Bogota. That is, if the FNC doesn’t send a hit man to Emeryville for my anti-Juan Valdez(TM) remarks. In truth, everyone who spends the time to praise or critique these great coffees, and the Colombian tradition, cares enough about it to make the effort, to want a change of direction, and to see it succeed. I believe in the future of micro-regional Colombian coffees. I get excited about them, I buy them, I praise them, I love them, I would marry them if I could (and I don’t want to get whacked by the FNC).
|2005 Colombia Cup of Excellence||Winning Lots|
|Rank||Score||Farm’s name||Warehouse||State of precedence||Association name|
|1||91.91||Ricaurte Hernandez||Neiva||Huila||Los Nogales|
|2||91.25||Jose Eivar Munoz||Bogota||Huila||Buena Vista|
|3||89.84||Neftal’ Fajardo Salazar||Popayan||Cauca||La Estrella|
|4||89.64||Jose Ramon Collazos||Neiva||Huila||Diamante – Buenos Aires|
|6||88.75||Luis Carlos Torres Casanova||Neiva||Huila||La Carol|
|7||87.95||Abel Bermeo||Neiva||Huila||Pradera – Esperanza|
|8||86.39||Adriano Delgado Angarita||Coecuta||Norte Stder||Spanish 101: Finca is the Spanish word for farm. Sometimes the term Hacienda is used to imply an Estate, which would mean the farm has its own wet-mill. A Finca does not necessarily have a More La Ceiba|
|9||86.07||Edilma Piedrahita||Neiva||Huila||El Carrizo|
|10||85.93||Jesoes Antonio Apache||Neiva||Huila||Diamante|
|11||85.89||Luis Andres Giraldo Mar’n||Medellin||Antioquia||El Clavel|
|12||85.68||Ferney Macias Joven||Neiva||Huila||El Progreso|
|13||85.25||Dubier Castaneda||Ibague||Tolima||Dos Climas|
|14||85.25||Edgar Dar’o Toban Toban||Medellin||Antioquia||El Saladero|
|15||84.86||Jesoes Elias Rodriguez||Neiva||Huila||Charperon|
|16||84.77||Daniel Torres||Neiva||Huila||El Altico|
|17||84.77||Laureano Carlosama Mamian||Neiva||Huila||Esperanza|
|18||84.75||Fredy Valencia||Neiva||Huila||Villa Catalina|
|19||84.75||Henry Cuellar Rojas||Neiva||Huila||El Diviso|
|20||84.73||Reinaldo Ulcue||Bogota||Meta||Betania 2|
|21||84.48||Fabio Sanchez||Bogota||Meta||El Paraiso|
|22||84.30||Calixto Martinez Hurtado||Bucaramanga||Santander||El Naranjito|
|23||84.18||Jorge Antonio Falla Puentes||Neiva||Huila||Candela|
|24||84.16||Alexander Torres||Neiva||Huila||San Jose|
|25||84.05||Gilberto Rojas Mosquera||Neiva||Huila||La Florida|
International jury members for the
2005 Colombia Cup of Excellence
Silvio Leite Brazil AgriBahia
AJ Kinnel UK Monmouth Coffee
Flori Marin UK Mercanta Coffee Hunters
Dick de Kock Netherlands The Coffee Company
Morten Wennersgaard Norway Solberg & Hansen
Giles Hilton UK Whittard Coffee & Tea
Robert Thoreson Norway Mocca Kaffebar & Brenner
Kentaro Maruyama Japan Maruyama Coffee
Hidetaka Hayashi Japan Hayashi Coffee Institute
Yoshi Kato Japan Bontain Coffee
Keizo Sato Japan Wataru & Co. Ltd
Shinji Sekine Japan Caravan Coffee
Erna is known as the first dedicated "Specialty Coffee" importers/brokers in the US ... in fact she coined the term Specialty Coffee! Here bio reads, "After several years in the bay area Erna took a More USA Knutsen Coffees
Tom Owen USA Sweet Maris’s
Ian Kluse USA Volcafe Specialty
Geoff Watts USA Intelligentsia
Becky Mc Kinnon USA Timothy’s World Coffee
Danny O’ Neill USA The Roasterie
Richard Borg USA Royal Coffee New York
Bob Fulmer USA Royal Coffee
Duane Sorenson USA Stumptown Coffee
Alejandro Renjifo Fairfield Trading