Colombia is pretty. It’s pretty much the most beautiful country I’ve ever seen. Liz and I headed south to South America in November with our coffee importing friends from Café Imports in Minnesota and their newly grown Movember moustaches. We met in Atlanta and flew to Bogata, then Neiva and loaded into a van for a four hour serpentine drive through the spine of the Andes mountains to San Augustin. We stayed at an eco-resort in the jungle which meant no hot water, an abundance of tropical fruit and a bunch of toucans. Each day began with fruit plucked from just off the back porch of the retreat, eggs and toast, and an orgy of manual coffee preparation on the veranda by one, if not all, of the roasters represented. Brewing coffee side by side with the other roasters was an unique window into the subtlety of coffee preparation. Ahs and ahas followed by mmms.
After our first morning cups, we made our way into San Augustin by car, taxi, bus, motorbike or any other conveyance going that direction. Café Imports has a warehouse there with the Los Naranjos coop where coffee is stored along with a couple small sample roasters, a small mill and a cupping lab upstairs. Miguel Augusto Ortega, the coop head and farmer, greeted us. The coffee samples had been roasted and were being prepared for our first cupping. We have coffees from Don Miguel coming soon.
The order of each day was cupping, followed by scoring and discussion. The top three scoring farms would then be visited in the afternoon. The immediacy of this program was revelatory. We cupped about 20 coffees in each session. Then we sat down to score and discuss, picked our winners and hopped in a pickup truck and headed into the mountains. The farmers were obviously very receptive to having us visit because it meant they had done a good enough job to attract some serious buyers.
At the end of the trip, we sat down with Café Imports to contract what coffees we wanted to buy. We have three of these coffees we are introducing this week at The Great Lakes Coffee Roasting Company. These coffees were from the first picking or flush which took place before we arrived. The second flush coffees we tasted and bought when we were there are on the high seas and should be arriving at our warehouses February 2014.
One of the trip’s highlights was a futbol match between 4 Producer/Farmer cooperatives. Alejandro, simply Alejandro, our Colombian coffee exporter seeded each team with a bunch of us gringos to bring some parity to the teams. Here are the stats:
Rodrigo Silva-the defender.
This guy is solid from his girth to his prodigious yet grounded moustache. He has about 20 acres of coffee with 2 acres set aside as a wildlife preserve. He has old school delicious caturra, mundane Colombia and Castillo trees. His farm is called Buena Vista which is redundant in these parts. His farm is at an elevation of 1350 meters in Acevado near the Peruvian border in the far southwest of Colombia. His prep is excellent with uniform, defect free beans. With all this to recommend his coffee, he is very traditional and the difference from his coffee and the others is simply a commitment to try more advanced fermentation and drying techniques. He is open to improvement and from him, I predict better and better beans. I would describe his coffee as traditionally excellent. It has the wonderful aroma associated with quality Colombian coffee. You could do worse than wake up each morning to its earthy, floral fragrance. The body is as substantial as his. You will find notes of cocoa and unripe mango. This coffee really sweetens as it cools. We scored it an 86.
Elkin Guzman-the star.
Elkin is a young guy working his parents' farm. He is the most experimental of the farmers we met and a guy who gets the whole picture from the farm all the way to the barista making magic with his coffee. A mobile espresso operation from café Amor Perfecto followed us to the farm where we shredded some of Elkin’s coffee on site.
Elkin uses a variety of coffee varieties from caturra, red and yellow bourbon in this particular lot to obscure ones like Stavi, Rume Sudan and all the rage Geshas, originally from Ethiopia. He is focused on quality and differentiation. He has experimented with longer fermentation and drying times to bring out flavors heretofore unknown in the coffee world. His farm is called El Mirador, the viewpoint, and is surrounded by forest. The farm is at 1680 meters and God knows how the coffee truck made it up the winding, bone-jarring roads, if you can even call them roads. Elkin does dry fermentation after depulping. His coffee cherries were impeccably ripe and he dries them in an elevated patio with air underneath to ensure evenness. The flavor of the coffee is mind bending. Your brain might be exhausted trying to decipher all that is in there but your palate will be massaged with notes of tootsie pops, papaya and butterscotch. This coffee has a bed of spices as complex as an Indian curry. It is balanced with a persistence that I can still feel now, three months later. We scored this a 90.
Arnulfo Leguizamo-the boss.
Like a futbol coach pacing the sideline barking out instructions and waving his hands when appropriate, Arnulfo is a guy who walks down the streets of San Augustin like the pope. People come up to shake his hand. Other farmers, like Elkin, ask for his blessing. Why? Arnulfo won the Cup of Excellence 2011 competition for the best coffee in Colombia and proceeded to sell the lot for $50 a pound, a price unheard of in all the land. We have the current iteration of that coffee from El Faldon farm on the top of the mountain in San Augustin. The farm sits at 1900 meters and translates as “the slope.” Bean density and complexity is formed in large part by high elevation. You can taste the difference in this caturra coffee. Arnulfo attributes 60% of the awesomeness of the coffee to elevation and takes credit for the rest. His coffee was used by Pete Licata in his winning run to World Barista Champion in 2013. Arnulfo has the most impressive moustache and he know it and how to work a crowd. He is truly a happy man and a generous one. He took his family to see the ocean after his record haul in the Cup of Excellence. His coffee doesn’t have the meticulous prep of Rodrigo Silva but his long wet fermentation and drying periods and fortunate elevation more than make up for it. The coffee is amazingly complex. I took copious notes of everything from chop suey on the savory side to watermelon jolly rancher and coffee liqueur on the sweet side. Intensely fruity notes of green apple, mango and grapes take this coffee to a whole new level. There is a seamless integration of all these flavors. We have not seen, nor tasted a coffee of this quality and gave it a 92.
Stop in and try one or all three of these farmer coffees at our Midtown, Detroit coffee shop.