Cuppings, Brew Bar featuring your favourite roasters across Europe & more
We will be cupping a curated selection of our coffees: available, soon to be available, along with some stunners that simply need revisiting.
Date: Sunday, April 23, 2017
Time: 10:15 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
Location: The Cupping Exchange, Room 618
From the currently harvesting. Showcasing long-time friends and new acquaintances from Santa Barbara, which produces some of our most interesting Central American offerings coming from some of our longest-standing relationships.
A selection of some of the most versatile coffees we offer. Featuring cups from Antigua & Huehuetenango.
Charles Cardoso from Kenyacof will be on hand to discuss the flight of freshly harvested coffees (on offer), along with the ups and downs of the just completed harvest season.
From mainstays to our first international presentation of newly established relationships with cooperatives in the Agaro region.
Alejandro Renjifo of Fairfield Trading will accompany the presentation of our Acevedo lots, freshly arrived and meticulously curated during the Acevedo Cup Competition from December 2016.
Ben Carlson from Long Miles Coffee joins us as we cup and reflect on how stunning these Burundian coffees have been and what it took to get them there.
Sal, Martell, Robert and David will be on hand to talk about the coffees, the origins, and also CCS, our model and fielding inquiries/interest on working together.
Our session is open to the public. The room is set for 30 people, with 25/30 spots already confirmed.
Get in touch with Sal to secure these last spots. He will also be happy to schedule a meeting with you should you not be able to attend the cupping.
The inaugural Acevedo Cup was one of the most inspired/inspiring events CCS was a part of in 2016. What a motivating way to finish off the year. It’s difficult to imagine just how much preparatory work the Fairfield team had done in advance of the competition but the resulting four days we spent cupping, discussing, scoring and ranking the top 20 lots were an absolute pleasure.
Those of you who’ve cupped at origin know how arduous full cupping days can be, so the fact our group of judges enjoyed cupping and re-cupping these coffees says everything about the standards to which the Fairfield team operates.
This competition was a great way to start our work in the Acevedo municipality of Huila. It gave us the opportunity to taste a wide variety of cup profiles available within this community, while the closing ceremonies, in turn, gave the community the opportunity to learn about CCS’ and Fairfield’s work and ambitions for working in and around Acevedo.
Between 20-30 families came to the closing ceremonies and while many of them weren’t “winners” in the sense of having submitted top-20 coffees, it was fascinating to speak with several of the families afterward and learn about their perceptions not only about the competition, but about how they view working with Fairfield and us in the long-term. Some well-established community leaders were in attendance and they had already decided to organize meetings amongst Acevedo Cup winners and their neighbours to first discuss the winners’ protocol and strategies for the winning lots, and then determine how and what strategies neighbouring farms could implement to improve their own production.
Calibration round + two competition tables. Screened 29 coffees down to 12 which will move on to the next round.
Learned about the National Learning Service (SENA), a government initiative that provides workers, adults and youths with technical training within the areas of industry, trade, agriculture, mining and cattle breeding. Some of volunteers helping with the Acevedo Cup are students of SENA and are currently undergoing training to become professional baristas, cuppers and roasters.
Screened 29 coffees down to 12. Day 3 is the cupping of the top-24 coffees from Days 1 & 2.
First introduced to the winning coffee which I described as one of the best coffees I cupped all year. I gave it a score of 93 points with the following aroma/flavour descriptions: a floral, lemony, jasmine, and bergamot aroma. Cup is complex, juicy, well-structured, citrusy, clean, with a red currant finish. This coffee has all the elegance of great washed Ethiopian coffees, while also maintaining a Kenyan-like acidity.
Top-24 coffees screened down to top-20. Ranks 11-20 determined today; top-10 will be cupped and ranked on Day 4.
Visited Los Angeles farm, owned by Maria Bercelia and her partner, Jose Erazo. We purchased coffee from them for our first ever shipment from Acevedo and are pretty certain at least one of their coffees will be amongst the winning coffees.
Final round/table of top-10 coffees.
Winners, lot sizes (per 70kg bags) and varieties are as follows:
#10: Jhon Wilson Poveda, 11 bags, Colombia & Caturra
#9: María Bercelia, 15 bags, Colombia & Caturra
#8: Otoniel Morales, 7 bags, Castillo
#7: Nicolas Delgado, 18 bags, Colombia & Castillo
#6: Ciro Lugo, 12 bags, Colombia
#5: Elizabeth Abaunza, 5 bags, Caturra
#4: Ciro Lugo, 12 bags, Colombia
#3: Alexander Ordoñez, 12 bags, Colombia & Tabi
#2: Fernando Bustos, 18 bags, Colombia
#1: Jesucita Cuellar, 5 bags, Tabi
Jesucita is a new grower to Fairfield and the Fairfield cupping team hypothesized that this coffee would win the competition during their screening of all the coffees submitted for competition. Must learn more about the Tabi variety!
A big thank you to our three roaster judges:
Ria Neri, Four Letter Word, Chicago, IL
Tali Robbins, Barismo, Cambridge, MA
Dillon Edwards, Parlor Coffee, Brooklyn, NY
The remainder of the judging panel were Ana Beatriz Bahamon, Eduardo Urquina Sanchez, Esnaider Ortega & Alejandro Renjifo, all of Fairfield Trading; along with David Stallings & myself, who represented CCS.
Until next time,
While in Colombia several weeks ago, David and I explored a new microregion that we have high hopes for working extensively with in the future: Acevedo, a municipality located in the southeast corner of the Huila department. When we originally made our travel plans, the idea was to travel when we could cup through the best of the main harvest, which usually takes place between May to July in South Colombia (‘mitaca’/fly is usually in November). But given the many and devastating effects of El Niño this year, the peak of harvest had not yet occurred. In many cases, farmers experienced little to no harvest at all during the main harvest period and were only starting to see mature cherries by the time we arrived in late August. We were presented with some excellent lots anyway, which are now making their way to our East Coast US warehouse in NJ, and this speaks to the quality of the producers we met throughout the week we spent in Acevedo.
We’ve met great people who have provided us with good to great coffees from various departments in Colombia throughout the years, but for one reason or another, we’ve had difficulty finding partners that are just the right fit for us. Colombia was a bit of an elusive origin for us until we started the wonderful partnership we’ve been developing with the always innovative and exceptional team at La Palma & El Túcan over the last two years. But given the boutique nature of their projects, we wanted to find an supplier/exporter who could provide us access to a larger group of small producers growing exceptional coffee with goal of working on a long-term basis.
New partnerships for us, while not always entered into slowly (though they sometimes are) are always very thoughtfully considered. We are not only looking for the best cups from one harvest; we are looking to invest our time and energy (and business) into teams who share our value of building long-term relationships based on mutually beneficial goals, such as understanding what quality is and all that it requires. Put in a different way: there’s a big difference between working with a supplier that will try to do whatever you ask in order to get your business, and one who has confidence, their own ambitions, and the knowledge they’re providing you with their very best efforts and coffee.
The Unsung Work of the Exporter
The work of the coffee grower is the focal point in almost all discussions about origin and coffee production. There are good and very obvious reasons for this. Some of our strongest partnerships are with the people who own/manage coffee plantations and we both love to highlight and want to share their work with as many roasters as we can reach.
In some cases, the most important partnership at an origin is with the exporter. Even in instances where the farm(er) is the basis for a relationship, the coffee simply wouldn’t reach us in the shape we expect if not for the work of a dedicated exporter. Sometimes the farmer and the exporter are one and the same but very often, they are separate. Just as we provide more than logistical services to roasters, exporters provide a vital and wide array of services both to us, as well as to the farmers we buy coffee from.
At its most basic, the work of the exporters we buy coffee from include quality control, packaging, and the organizing and handling of the export process. In several cases they do and have to be involved with much more, bringing me to the introduction to our new export partner in Acevedo.
Alejandro Renjifo, Fairfield’s founder and president, has a background one might not expect from the person that led us along bumpy dirt roads for four hours every day during the week we toured in and around Acevedo meeting with potential (and in some cases now, actual) farmer partners. In his former career as a coffee economist, Alejandro held long stints at both the International Coffee Organization (ICO) and the Federación Nacionale de Cafeteros de Colombia (FNC). One highlight from this past experience is that during his time with the FNC, he was the one to launch its specialty division for North America (!).
This background alone, while impressive, isn’t what inspires our confidence as a coffee importer. What has mostly struck us about the Fairfield team is that they value and have cultivated excellent palates as well as possess a keen sense for how to forge good and personal relations with each and every smallholder with which they work. Spending the first half of each day cupping the farmers’ coffees that we later visited, it was easy to see how much thought and planning had gone into each table and subsequent visit. It wasn’t just that the coffees presented matched the farmers we later visited; it was specifically that the coffees were so obviously targeted toward what the Fairfield team thought we’d be interested in both from a cup perspective, as well as the people who made the coffees likely being good matches for us on interpersonal levels.
Understanding and finding the balance between these two elements requires great skill.
Some of you reading this know that we are proud of the partnerships we’ve forged throughout the years with the farmers we work with in Santa Barbara, Honduras. All the coffees we buy from this microregion are consistently good to excellent and the transformations we see each year not only on the farms, but in the wider communities as a result of the investments our partners are able to make from the premiums we (you) pay, brings us and our partnering farmers endless pride and further drive to work even better.
The reason I bring up Santa Barbara here is because David had noted similarities with the people he met in Acevedo during his first visit in May, in terms of the atmosphere of the community and the people’s ambitions, to our partners in Santa Barbara. The idea that we could be at the beginning of this caliber of partnership in Acevedo is as exciting as it is motivating.
The CCS Acevedo Cup can’t come soon enough.
Acevedo x Fairfield & CCS
Partly in celebration of our new partnership with Fairfield Trading and mostly in celebration of the fantastic work of the ambitious and skilled coffee producers in the Acevedo microregion of Huila, Colombia, we're excited and proud to announce the Acevedo Cup competition!
What it is
A regional coffee quality competition. The Fairfield team has put out a call to Acevedo coffee farmers for submissions of their best coffees. They will spend the next weeks busily collecting, organizing and cupping/screening samples in preparation for the main event: a ranking of the top-20 coffees that we are now inviting you to take part in.
Who this is open to and How you can join
Participation is open to CCS clients and will be determined on a first-come-first served basis. We will take the first six roasters who confirm their attendance.
You will get yourselves to Bogota and we'll take things from there.
When: 16-21 December 2016
You'll arrive in Bogotá no later than the 15th of December and we'll all depart for Pitalito on the 16th of December.
The program in brief:
17 & 18 December: Preliminary Rounds 1 & 2
19 December: Top 20 cupping & ranking
20 December: Visits to top 3 farms and celebration party
21 December: Morning hike and travel back to Bogotá
Climate Change & Its Impacts on Coffee Production
Most of us are well aware that coffee is highly susceptible to climate change. During visits to pretty well all coffee producing countries, the evidence - signs and stories - are there for all of us to see and hear.During our recent travels to both Colombia and Brazil, the impacts of climate change were all around us. From Colombian producer stories of little to no (yes, zero) production during peak harvest, to decreased sugar content in cherries due to plants being impacted by severe rains in Brazil, it becomes increasingly obvious that in addition to having strong agronomic practices and great cup profiles, being a great coffee producer now also means being adaptable to climate change.
El Niño vs. La Niña
First a brief background to the two weather phenomena we observed the effects of during our recent trip.
Whereas El Niño is referring to the warming of tropical Pacific surface waters from near the International Date Line to the west coast of South America from November to March once every 3 to 7 years, La Niña is the cooling of sea surface temperatures and takes place roughly half as often as El Niño.
(For an in-depth intro to the connections between climate change and these two weather phenomena, please see the links (below) under "Further Reading".)
El Niño & Colombia's Coffee Harvest
While travelling throughout the countryside in Huila, Colombia our team learned that while there was a net increase in coffee production between July 2015 to July 2016, this figure says nothing of the devastation El Niño wreaked earlier this year. Many of the country's departments, in particular Huila, experienced both the worst drought conditions and some of the highest recorded temperatures in over 130 years.
As described earlier, many farmers suffered through zero production moving into the peak of harvest. The lack of a harvest was caused by cherries not producing seeds due to the lack of rain and lead to a further serious consequence that many cherry picking labourers, who are paid by weight, simply refused to pick whatever was produced on the trees. For affected coffee farmers, the lack of picking causes even more future harm because the trees are then not prepared for the next harvest cycle.
La Niña & Brazil
While El Niño causes dry and even drought like conditions, like the ones our Colombian partners faced, La Niña produces the opposite: excessively rainy/wet conditions. In the case of our partners in the Carmo de Minas region of Brazil, La Niña brought three times the amount of rain at the beginning of the season than normal and this caused not only damage to many of the cherries, but also a disproportionate number of defects due to the increased opportunities for bacteria to infect drying cherries on the branches of coffee trees. In Brazil, the heat is often so intense during the dry season, when coffee is harvested, that fruit begins to parch while its still on the branches.
The results of all of this is evident in the cup, as many of the coffees we tasted had less sweetness and complexity than in previous years. The good news is that we were able to find and pick out the best of what was on offer. It just took more concentration during our screening and more samples to find these gems. From a farm perspective, our partners are fortunately well organized and have great practices and infrastructure in place. They can rely on some of their other farm activities to make up for coffee deficits from this harvest and are able to plan, adapt to and mitigate possible long-term effects from the weather conditions this year.
It wasn't all bad news during the course of this trip. We are delighted to report that in Colombia, production has picked up due to increased and steady rain over the past couple of months. We have begun working with a new partner in the Acevedo, Huila region in Colombia that we will elaborate further on in the near future.
In Brazil, our partners at Carmo Coffees are working on some incredibly interesting and potentially ground-breaking work on varieties and processing. We hope to offer some early showcases from this work in the coming arrivals and will keep you posted on how the coffees cup when we receive samples.
Location: La Veta, Colombia
Region: San Juan de La China
Average Annual Rainfall(mm): 940
Drying Method: Sun
Harvest Season: May- July
Variety: Mixed, Castillo, Caturra
Before 1999, La Esperanza was run by his mother where she planted beans and green peas. However, she was recommended by the Coffee Committee that she should switch to coffee. Today, Jhon and his wife Ana Rosa are responsible for the farm and the crop and have been producing coffee for the past 15 years.
The type of “beneficio” used for his coffee is humid, meaning the water used comes from their own aqueduct. Within the farm, a water creek is born and that ́s where the water for irrigation and processing comes from. There are also intercrops of bananas, beans, corn and plantains.
Colombia is vast and I can easily admit that it’s one of my favorite places to visit in the Americas: for its beauty, its proud culture, and friendly people. La quiero mucho!
Although some distances may look short on a map, traveling East to West within Colombia usually means flying through Bogotá, which ends up taking a full day to get where you want to go. Upon landing from the international flight, sometimes additional flying is required, which can be through gusty mountain passes where you are at the mercy of the winds and rain storms. “Will this plane land?” Generally, proximity to the equator in the South, along with proximity to the Pacific coast in the West, combined with proximity to wet and warm lowlands in the East makes for incredibly different climates and temperatures. The hills and rocky mountains make for varied elevations, sun exposures and rainfall patterns. I have visited this vast and diverse country extensively during the last ten years and even more frequently than ever over the last 24 months.
This happens to be The Time when many new and interesting things are happening at this beloved coffee origin. The issue of drying coffee has been a particular source of concern for many years and while progress has been made, new techniques are being introduced constantly. Castillo: the varietal and the controversy, has been an integral part of what I, perhaps bluntly, refer to as the New Colombia emerging in the last half-decade or so, bringing the world’s second biggest (after Brazil) provider of Arabica back on track.
Not coincidently, maybe even symptomatically of the Castillo-and-Volume-focus, there is a new generation of coffee people in the country coming forward: farmers who, as well as a whole community of coffee professionals, evidently want to reach a growing specialty market outside the county’s borders. Just as much as this is a story of new trends in an old coffee country, it is also a story about a better-connected world and the empowerment of coffee farming people.
E-mail and social media apps are now on everybody’s smartphones, including the ones many coffee farmers carry with them in their pockets. This means that farmers are able to be in touch with the ‘market place’, and can be in direct contact with their (green) coffee buyers. The world has opened up, connecting both ends of the chain – along with everybody in-between. Your favorite suppliers are now bombarding their Instagram accounts with photos of the new crop and new developments at his beneficio. New times.
The coffees themselves trigger excitement for their quality and flavor attributes, yet the underlying currents for why things are happening in the first place—why things are changing, why things are diversifying and getting better—intrigues me just as much the coffee itself. We want to understand what is going on right now and support the people that are making the push.
For some funny and inexplicable reason, most coffee farmers I have met in my career have always seemed initially shy about joining for cupping, as though it is something that one inherently will not master. They seem to not want to risk feeling intimidated. That is of course not the case.
As a cupper and green coffee buyer this scenario can be a rather awkward position to be in: tasting and assessing a coffee in front of the farmer who is constantly studying your facial expression and looking for hints of appreciation, making it all the more difficult to explain the results when you have not had the same sensory experience as them. It can be devastating on a personal level.
Personally, I love it when we get to cup with farmers. It is such a great learning experience for everybody involved. The sharing of opinions can then happen in a much more fruitful way. Fortunately, a growing number of coffee producers are eagerly learning to cup and are thereby in a position to understand how and why we value their product.
As we all know, as calibrated as a group may be, a tasting experience is inherently subjective. Thus, having a chance to let a supplier understand what I prefer and what we look for is an important dimension of coffee buying. Then the next time around a farmer may understand what another customer of his prefers and may choose to prepare a different coffee to their liking.
Unless a farmer is tied to a buyer due to credits/loans, which commit them to sell their crop to the person or institution that granted it in the first place, they are free to sell to whomever they choose. The FNC is always the default buyer for any Colombian farmer. Such is Colombia’s coffee history and this is still the law. Yet it isn’t the only buyer, and with a growing demand for specialty coffee, other middlemen and buyers are setting up cupping facilities and logistical networks to get hold of the best lots.
By requesting not only a better quality, but simply a different product, one is subject to paying higher prices to the farmer. As obvious as paying higher may sound, this is where things sometimes get complicated.
What is the value for specialty coffee outside the FNC sphere? And when is it Specialty Coffee, by the way? Is the (specialty coffee) marketplace developed and sophisticated enough to establish a fair marketvalue for 86+ point lots? Castillo has a ‘certain reputation’; does Caturra always deserve a better price (to incentivize farmers to keep them)? How much higher is the value, then, for Bourbon, Typica and other varietals that are even more ‘endangered’?
This is the situation:
- The Castillo varietal is here, and it is here to stay. Can one disregard it then?
- At the same time, the Traditional Colombian Wet Processing of coffee cherries – as we know it - is scrutinized and analyzed. Simply put: It is being challenged. Big time!
It makes a whole lot of sense to see these things altogether.
Farmers are realizing that they will not get the best possible prices for their Castillo coffee, so they are seeking out ways to ‘build value’ into it. With this, they are reaching out to the marketplace with an altogether different product. The rhetoric is out there and invested people are talking about: “Enhancing the Quality”; “Adjusting the Flavor Profile”; “Changing the Cup Character”; “Making it sweeter”.
At the same time green coffee buyers continue to travel, people interact, trends move. Before you know it, an Australian buyer has met a farmer and talked about his preference for sweetness and body, while a Russian buyer may have met and talked to a middleman and voiced his curiosity for fruity flavors (that he just tasted in a ‘new wave natural’ from El Salvador). This while a Japanese buyer may be keen to get hold of a little something that is made ‘only for him’: an experiment with fermentation-time, hopefully making the coffee a little more juicy than the other (Castillo) lots.
In my next article I will present some of the processing techniques that we’ve seen out there, mostly to the Castillo varietal. These approaches and processes are themselves ‘catching on’ and are being used to twist and tweak the flavors of Caturra, Tabi, and other varietals as well.
In the meantime you may enjoy listening to a great podcast: Ferment in Colombia with Leo by our good friend Tom Owens at Sweet Marias. It is an interview he conducted with Leonardo Henao in Colombia and is such a great conversation about this topic.
We are very pleased to announce that one of our own partners in Colombia, the knowledgeable and energetic Carlos Arévalo, a long time coffee consultant in the Americas, currently at the La Palma y El Tucan farm in Cundinamarca, will be presenting these topics in-depth at LCDC in Paris, January 25-27.
- Robert W
Remember the days when the main quality distinction among Colombian Coffee qualities was Excelso (‘export quality’) and Supremo (‘export quality’, bigger screen)? Those were the days…
Looking back just a few years in time, it is evident that the development of ‘Specialty Coffee’ as a term and as a mindset has changed how we perceive coffee, how we describe it (with flavor attributes), how we communicate about it (as product from a concrete place and person) and how it is traded (transparently).
One may take these things for granted today. As we all should.
Soon Colombia will celebrate its 10th year as member of the growing and still exclusive group of coffee producing countries that have been scrutinized and recognized by the Cup of Excellence (CoE) program. The program’s mission is to bring farmers to the forefront, by acknowledging both their existence and individually crafted products.
Up until ten years ago ‘Colombian Coffee’ had been presented to the world by a very different marketing concept. As early as in 1958, the Colombian Federacion Nacional de Cafeteros (FNC) created Juan Valdez, a marketing mascot playing the role as a personification of the Colombian Coffee Farmer. ‘He’ is not only a fictive figure, but has represented FNC’s marketing concept which, quite tellingly, has been a presentation of the entire community of Colombian coffee farmers, meant to build a collective pride as a nation of coffee famers. And it has worked well for a long time.
Colombian coffee had been marketed as a brand and as a blend, made collectively by the country’s half million coffee farmers, and managed to build a worldwide reputation for its quality. It had fame and recognition and became a staple on every roaster’s menu. CoE’s concept of bringing farmers individually and personally into the light and onto the stage, which at the time was a new idea, didn’t fit perfectly well with how Colombian coffee had been marketed by the FNC in the past.
With the CoE competition in 2005, this was literally the first - and ultimate - test of what Colombian Coffee really was about. Since the average production at a coffee farm in Colombia is much less than the CoE program’s minimum submission requirement of 12 bags, farmers were allowed to form groups with coffee from up to three farms constituting a CoE competition-lot. Despite this stipulation, samples representing over 800 lots were submitted to FNC’s center in Manizales that first year, where the national CoE jury first pre-screened the samples based on technical quality and then began the comprehensive cupping/further screening and re-cupping processes of the remaining 150+ samples. Of these, the international jury were presented with 60+ of the best samples and given the task of cupping and scoring them all over again. The CoE international jury’s mandate is to screen the national jury’s selection further in order to find the very best lots (at the time those who scored an average of 84pts or more), and then ranking these top coffees, as well as describing each coffee’s attributes.
Many of the well-known personalities, new and old in the coffee trade, were on that jury, including the gracious Grand Lady of Specialty Coffee, Erna Knudsen. As a matter of fact, it was she who coined the term Specialty Coffee almost thirty years prior to this event.
During the course of two weeks, all the samples from the submitted lots were cupped five times, but even with all that, on the final table, when ranking the top 10 coffees on the final day of the competition, samples were rejected for phenolic off-flavors, a defect that is usually related to issues with the processing of the coffee cherries. Hey, Juan Valdez, what was going on?!
In the end, the remaining top coffees were fantastic and all the farmers’ names were revealed. The winners received their standing ovations and sold their coffees at the auction at record prices. Regions and microclimates were discovered. A new era began.
Still, this was also a time for reflection on how to approach the seemingly endemic processing issue that had thrown so many coffees out of the competition.
Meanwhile, another kind of problem had been threatening the Colombian coffee tree population for a long while. Coffee Leaf Rust, La Roya, is such a long-standing phenomenon that Colombians commonly use it as a slang term for something that ‘takes with it whatever comes in its way’: La Roya se lo llevó. Coffee farmers have had to struggle with climate and climate changes that have created environments where fungi that can kill coffee trees leaves are able to flourish. The traditional ‘Colombia Varietal’, a Catimor hybrid, was designed to be Leaf Rust resistant, whereas the Caturra varietal became known to be more susceptible to it, yet many farmers have been able to work out Roya-threats proactively.
Coffee is a cash crop; it is handled as any other cash crop, like soy, maize, beans, bananas, etc. Coffee farming in Colombia is usually a rather non-technical enterprise, often times with little planning, thus no calculations for concrete outcomes. With little control over harvest outcome, revenue, and cost control, one becomes vulnerable to unexpected problems and market price volatilities. Coffee farming is often times a losing proposition.
Being on top of the game requires more than just will. Taking care of a farm, particularly with the ever-present risk of a Roya-attack, is labor intensive and costly. Cleaning weeds, pruning trees, fertilizing, and in order to maintain sound trees is key, particularly when there is an environmental threat lurking. A healthy tree is generally less susceptible to diseases like Roya. If proactive spraying is necessary, usually done with copper, this is an extra cost to already expensive regular operations.
One may take the chance and do nothing about disease prevention, but if the farmer wants to be proactive and doesn’t have money saved from previous harvest sales to buy the required products and pay for the labor to apply it, he can easily find himself within the hands of those money lenders, or those who sell disease prevention products on a credit basis. These suppliers can be private, sometimes a cooperative, but usually the supplier is the FNC itself. The same FNC that guarantees buying coffee at the market price, but at market price only…
One of the results of all of this is that the concept of investing in a coffee farm and keeping healthy coffee trees isn’t necessarily a viable path from an economic perspective - considering the level at which coffee is usually paid for. So when fertilizers and fungicides are needed, a vicious cycle of borrowing money before the upcoming harvest can easily develop. When you don't own the revenue for your own coffee harvest until all debt has been paid off (sometimes at exploitative high interest rates) it becomes tempting to not spend extra money on the farm.
For Colombia, as a coffee producing country, this kind of vicious cycle has been even bigger. When millions of trees lost their leaves, partly due to insufficiently attentive farming practices or plain negligence, many farms lost entire harvests, meaning Colombia as a nation lost a lot of revenue. The FNC went on the hunt for solutions!
This is when the Castillo varietal, a modern version of the Colombia (Catimor) varietal, was developed and pushed for by the FNC. Castillo was cleverly designed as 11 different types, meant to be ‘site specific’ to particular geography, environmental and climatic conditions around the country. But the FNC not only encouraged farmers to exchange the Roya-susceptible Caturras into Castillo; Castillo was made a requisite variety, meaning it became eligible for subsidies and credits from the government.
Castillo has its benefits. It can be planted more densely (higher yield per hectare), the trees are shorter (easier to access for cherry pickers), and it produces more even cherry ripening than other varietals (making the harvest season shorter). Though whether Castillo continues to be resistant to Roya, or other fungi, in the future is as yet to be seen. Coffee farming may not prove to be that simple.
The good news for Colombia is that tanking production levels and a record low of 7 million bags is now turning around. Production levels are back at 11 million bags; approximately where they were ten years ago.
In the meantime, the country has transformed itself into a ‘Castillo-origin’ making the other varietals (Caturra, Bourbon, Typica, Tabi, etc.) more difficult to find. Begging the question: How smart is this, when a growing market is asking for diversity and specialty quality?
And this is all political. Of course it is!
As a nation, for which the GDP is dependent on coffee, the market price level matters.
On the other hand, Colombia’s coffee production level (volume) affects the world market and international coffee price. In any economy where a product is – to such an extent – culturally engrained, is so much part of national identity, with so many livelihoods dependent on it, it will be – and should be – a political matter. But as is any political matter in any modern society, it is – and should be – up for debate; the policymakers in power accepting of questions. As independent as the FNC is supposed to be, there is no question that it is seen as, as well as functions as, an extension of the governing institutions of the country. I get this perception. Policies need to adapt to changes occurring over time, whether they are internal or, as is very much the case with coffee, international. Today, the parties on both ends of the chain, the producers and the buyers, are interacting and communicating more transparently than ever before.*
Colombia is not merely a coffee supplier; the ‘market’ is not merely asking for supply.
For one, the ‘market’ is divided into at least three coffee segments:
- Commodity coffee (sold at NYC with a differential);
- Certified coffee (sold with a premium);
- Specialty Coffee (sold at a negotiated price based on quality assessments, including cup attributes).
With this backdrop and based on recent visits, my next article will look into what is happening in the field of Specialty Coffee in Colombia right now.
As an important aside, the Cup of Excellence program celebrates its 100th competition this fall. Susie Spindler, the program’s director for many years has chosen to step down, thus we should take a moment to reflect on her formidable and significant contribution; building CoE’s credibility by holding firmly to it’s protocol, which has helped to define Specialty Coffee as we know it today. CoE, under Susie’s tenure, has helped create an understanding of the individual origins it has been present in since the program’s inception in Brazil, 1999.
Looking back at a hundreds of years of coffee history, this understanding has developed a long way in a very short time. Thank You Susie!
- Robert W
*In the case of Specialty Coffee we are seeing a drive toward taking charge of the production by ‘designing quality’ for specific markets. With so many Colombian farms being re-planted with the Castillo Varietal, the question becomes if the Country is able to meet the demand of an increasingly growing Specialty Coffee market.
Farm Name: Cerro Azul
Owners: Rigoberto & Luis Eduardo Herrera
Size: 20 ha of which, 17 ha dedicated to coffee
Height: 1,700 – 1,950 masl
Varieties: Geisha; 35,000 trees
Annual Production (46kg bags): 300
Processing: Dry fermented then washed
Processing Facility: La Esperanza
The Herrera brothers come from a traditional coffee-growing family but studied engineering abroad in the 70s before returning to Colombia in 1998 in order to reconstruct their grandfather’s hacienda and to begin coffee growing. Cerro Azul is one of several farms owned by the Herreras.
Based on the growing conditions at Cerro Azul, the Herreras chose to grow geisha. This location boasts ideal altitude, climate (especially night temperatures), soil composition, access to light, amongst several other attributes, that contribute to excellent growing conditions for this varietal. The farm is separated by a hill: one side with foggy and cloudy conditions, the other, more sunny and clear. These differences lead to two different growing conditions, as well as differences in the cup. One interesting thing to note about the elevation in this region is that at 1600 masl, a tree yields 900g of parchment, while at 1850 masl, 280g of parchment is produced.
500 of the best trees are marked for replanting and the cherries harvested go directly to the nursery. There are two sub-species of geisha: bronze tipped and green tipped. These sub-species are mixed amongst the 17 lots. The seeds for the trees at Cerro Azul come from one of the Herreras’ farms in Panama and the first were planted in September of 2007.
La Esperanza is the processing facility for Cerro Azul and it also manages two other geisha farms. 40% of the coffee is harvested and processed between January to June; 60% from July to December.
Last Thursday Da Matteo roastery graciously hosted Collaborative cuppings for roasters interested in buying incoming coffees from Honduras and Panama. Since Giancarlo was also in Sweden at the time, Virmax took the opportunity to present on varietals in Colombia - specifically in the Santander, Valle del Cauca and Huila regions. El Roble is a state-of-the-art farm Kaffa started buying from last year and during this cupping, we presented three varietals from this farm (caturra, bourbon and typica), as well as a geisha from Cerro Azul Estate and a caturra from Omar Viveros' farm.
In attendance were representatives from Åre Kafferosteri, Johan & Nyström, Kahls kafferosteri, Dear Coffee, I Love You, Coffee and Memories, First Degree Coffee and Kaffemaskenin. From Santa Barbara in Honduras, 18 lots were cupped; 6 lots from the Los Angeles, Helsar and Don Mayo Mills in Costa Rica were selected; 1 lot each from the Yukro and Hawa Yember washing stations in Ethiopia were sampled; and finally, a variety of coffees from the Don Pepe, Lerida and Esmeralda farms in Panama were presented.
In general, cuppers were very excited about the Honduran and Ethiopian lots and felt that the Costa Rican lots were very clean but perhaps lacking in distinctness and character, in comparison to some of the others. Also of interest, and leading to much discussion, were the differences in cup profiles of the different varietals coming from El Roble, as well as the naturally processed geishas from Panama. Cuppers felt the Honduran coffees presented cleanly, distinctly (i.e. varietals as well as locations), with many exotic fruit notes, intensity and sweetness.
With respect to the geishas, we decided to dedicate a table to coffees from Esmeralda, specifically from the Jaramillo farm. Back in 2006, Robert asked the Petersons to begin separating lots from different areas of Jaramillo and year after year, he has preferred coffee from "Mario's area" (Mario is one of the people who live on this part of the farm). Even more specifically, Robert has cupped at various times this year and is most interested in pickings from February and March.
So, based on feedback we've received from last Thursday's cuppings in Gothenburg and in addition to prior organizing, we are in the process of finalizing shipments from Honduras and Panama. To allow for further contribution, we are hosting a cupping in London this Friday at Prufrock so that UK roasters can participate. News from this event to follow...
It's been a busy, eventful and educational last few weeks at the Collaborative with our jurying at Best of Panama, participating at both the Specialty Coffee Association of America's (SCAA) annual event in Portland and Omar Viveros' and Giancarlo Ghiretti's visit from Colombia. With everything said and done, it's now time for us to communicate with you all about these happenings because much work has been done over these last weeks to establish relationships, build upon existing ones and to learn more about how specific partners are contributing to this community of quality-focused coffee professionals.
When we talk about partners we are not only referring to original cherry producers or end coffee buyers/roasters. There are many people along the way that contribute skills, knowledge and equipment to the green coffee a roaster receives. The number of partners that contribute depend on many things: geography, the particular skillset of a farm owner and the equipment/facilities available on his/her farm, how a miller and/or exporter works with both producers and the coffee, etc., etc. So while the work done on the initial product, from agricultural practice to picking, is of utmost importance, the work done after picking up until the coffee is delivered is almost, if not just, as important. Thus it isn't enough to have great relationships with just cherry producers or coffee farm owners; a coffee buyer must be able to trust those milling and exporting coffee.
Right now we are buying from approximately eight coffee producing countries and are looking to reestablish buying relationships in one or two more. Within these eight countries, we are buying coffee from a minimum of 70 individual cherry producers. So even if we have the chance to visit each and every one of these partners in a given season, it is not possible to get all the work done in those short visits as is necessary to establishing and maintaining meaningful contact. The regular contact and work done with each of these producers is one of the many reasons our exporting partners at origin need to be acknowledged.
I had the privilege of meeting the majority of our export partners at this year's SCAA event in Portland. I've "met" and worked with them a lot over the last few months through email but nothing replaces face-to-face contact. I learned much from these meetings and conversations, amongst which were: 1. A bit of context about the producing region each exporter works within; 2. How each exporting partner works with and views the relationship between cherry producer and exporter; and 3. Where they would like to see the industry go and how they plan on innovating and growing within their own region and context to see through this vision. In some cases we were able to talk about more but these were the most significant parts of the conversation for me, as a communicator and facilitator between/amongst partners throughout the coffee chain.
Robert has been working with these partners for several years and has assessed the work and merits of them. This made it easier for me to just talk with them about the current season and to begin planning for the next. All of us are excited - many ideas flew about during those four days. Now that we're all back home, it's time to work on these ideas. The work has already tangibly begun with our partners in Colombia.
Omar's and Giancarlo's Visit
Omar Viveros is a cherry producer who we've been buying coffee from with the help of Virmax, our exporting partners in Colombia, over the last two years. He is a producer who works hard, is innovative, is becoming a model for neighbouring producers and simply produces clean, excellent coffee. Virmax work with the most quality-focused coffee producers in Colombia and even amongst these dedicated producers, Omar stands out.
A few days after SCAA ended, Omar and Giancarlo Ghiretti, one of Virmax's founders, travelled to Oslo to lecture at Kaffefestivalen (the annual Norwegian coffee show) in Haugesund and so Omar could meet some of his end customers and see how his coffee is brewed in coffeebars in Norway. Omar's visit was educational for everyone who participated. For us at the Collaborative, a lot was learned about what it takes to produce excellent coffee in Pitalito. For Omar, it was inspirational and instructive to see how the many things he chooses to do on his farm have an impact on how the final consumer experiences his coffee. He also had the chance to see what is done in between, during the roasting process, at KAFFA.
Amongst the many things the Collaborative learned during Omar's visit, the following details kept reemerging as practices Omar follows to ensure the highest quality in his coffee:
- He pays his pickers well and provides bonuses in order to keep them. Once a good picker is found - someone who understands what a ripe cherry looks like and consistently picks ripe cherries - you don't want to let that person migrate elsewhere.
- The common practice in Colombia is to allow cherry to dry ferment for 18-hours before it is depulped and sent for delivery. Omar has found, through experimentation, that soaking cherry in water for 24-hours provides much better temperature stability, which allows for a more even fermentation process.
- Omar's drying facility is constructed so that some areas have more or less shade, so that coffee can be rotated at specific times, for an optimal drying process.
- Omar is constantly looking for new ways of doing things to improve quality. He follows through on the advice of Virmax's agronomists and is a member and participates in a growers' association that provides education and training.
As a result of educating himself, experimenting and listening, Omar has learned that certain varieties cup better, thus receive higher scores and prices, than others. Currently his farm is half made up of the Caturra variety and the other half is made up of the Colombia and Castillo varieties. The Colombian government promotes and encourages the planting of Colombia and Castillo because they are "hardier" plants. But (without getting into a long debate about it) Caturra cups better. We'll leave it at that for now because not enough is understood/known about this topic for us to make statements about the whys and hows of this.
We will write more about Omar's visit. He and Giancarlo lectured at both Kaffefestivalen and at KAFFA about what it takes to be a great coffee producer in Pitalito. When we described the work we do to Omar, he wanted to find ways that he can engage more. One of his ideas is to livestream activities on his farm, so we'll be working on how to do that over the coming weeks.
Upcoming at the Collaborative
This month, we receive shipments from Kenya, Brazil and Guatemala. We are cupping in Gothenburg today and are arranging cuppings in other locations, which are yet to be determined.
Until next time,
We are very happy and proud to announce that Omar Viveros will be in Norway this week and next to speak about his experiences as a coffee producer in Colombia. He will present at both the Norwegian Coffee Festival & National Barista Competition in Haugesund and at KAFFA roastery and lab in Oslo.
Omar's farm is located in the village of Pitalito, near San Augustine in the far south of the Huila region. Coffee producers in this region enjoy great growing conditions and produce high quality coffee but changing weather patterns are becoming more and more challenging for producers each year.
During the past few years in particular, producers have experienced unpredictable rain patterns (e.g. rain during typically dry periods), which has led to the damaging of coffee bushes and subsequently made it difficult to dry beans evenly. Omar is, however, both an ambitious and conscientious producer and has found ways of working within these challenges. He understands that in order to receive a higher price for his coffee, good cupping scores (i.e. 86+ points) are required. In order to achieve these scores and prices, he must consider many things: plant species (in Omar's region, caturra produces the best quality), sound agricultural practices, careful picking and processing and good drying systems, amongst many other things. Omar’s lots show his understanding of these practices; his coffee is exceptionally clean and fresh compared with other lots in this region.
The first lecture takes place on April 26th at 1pm at the coffee festival and barista competition in Haugesund and at 5pm at KAFFA roasterty and lab on May 2nd. Hope you can make it!
Farm Name: La Esperanza
Owner: Hector Artunduaga
Size: 7 ha
Height: 1,700 masl
Varieties: 80% caturra and 20% castillo
Hector Artunduaga is married to Maria Yanit Sanchez and they have 2 children: Hector Mario and Laura Camila. Hector and Omar Viveros (another Collaborative partner) are neighbours. 50% of the farm is planted with coffee and the rest is a native forest that he does not want to cut. La Esperanza also produces plantain and yuca mainly for family consumption. Hector produces about 12,000 kg of dry parchment per year, equivalent to about 120 bags of green per year. In addition to coffee producing, Hector has studied and holds a bachelors degree in Economics.
We are proud to present El Roble - a farm we've been working with and buying from over the last few years. Bjørnar is there now and sends this overview:
Region: Mesa de los Santos, Santander
Farm geography/description: 1,700 masl. The entire farm is relatively flat.
322 hectares, of which 281 is dedicated to the cultivation of coffee.
1 060 000 coffee trees, 66% Caturra, 13% Bourbon, 20%Typica, 1% Colombia
History and Overview: The owner of the farm is Oswaldo Acevedo. Oswaldo and his cousins inherited El Roble from their uncle but Oswaldo bought out his cousins in 1995. Coffee has been cultivated on this land since 1976 and Monica Fuentes, who is now manager, has worked at Roble for more than two years. In the last few years, El Roble has really begun to focus on the quality of the coffee with much help from Virmax. Varietals are now separated, as well as day lots. Every lot is cupped; this year alone Virmax has cupped about 400 lots/samples. Virmax have also initiated training programs for pickers, so there is more of a focus on picking for quality. All parchment is stored in grainpro to protect from outside moisture and humidity, as well as for general protection.
Output: Normally, El Roble produces 5000 bags of coffee per annum, but in the last few years they have averaged about 2000 bags because they are renovating (i.e. they are pruning and replanting), leading to a lower output.
Harvest/Season: From October to December; one crop per year.
Processing: Depulping, dry fermenting approx. 18 hours, washed and then sundried.
Certifications: Smithsonian Bird Friendly, USDA Organic, JAS Organic and Rainforest Alliance.
Description: El Roble is a fantastically beautiful farm, located two hours away from Bucaramanga, in Santander, northern Colombia. One of the most special things about this farm is its canopy of shade trees. Like an enormous roof, this canopy covers the entire farm. The ecology on this farm is diverse with many different animals living on the farm. Thanks to reforestation processes, the management have found new water sources and the organic farming practices combined with the shade canopy have contributed to creating a home for several types of animals, including 125 identified bird species.
The farm's water sources include five lakes and two creeks/rivers.
El Roble planted an experimental coffee garden with 72 varietals. This garden has provided the possibility to plant new varietals on the farm, for example, Mocca and Geisha (HR-61 and HR-62). The garden also provides the opportunity to see how different trees react to a specific climate and terroir.
Emma is 57 and she is married to Juan Bautista Pichica. They have 3 children (Nelson, Javier and Jonny) and two of them help out with the farm work. Emma has been working in coffee for 30 years and the coffee is picked by Emma herself, as well as her family and they try to only pick ripe cherries. Aside from coffee they also produce sugar cane, plantain and yuca, which they use for their own consumption.
Farm: Buena Vista
Area: 3 hectares, of which 2 are planted with coffee, 100% caturra. 7,500 trees
Height: 1,918 masl
Beneficio: Washed, then fermentated 15 to 16 hours
All coffee sun dried on "African" beds