Two weeks in Colombia just before Christmas was crazy and busy, but also a totally awesome experience.
My first opportunity to visit Colombia came three years ago when I took part as a judge in the Cup of Excellence held in Popayan. The competition schedule didn't leave much time for sightseeing so I didn’t get to see much of the country. This time, I got to move around and take in this beautiful land and its people.
My trip started with two nights in Bogota, cupping one morning with the guys from Virmax, and having lunch with them after. It was then a wait for the rest of our party to arrive from all over the globe.
We started with an early flight to Neiva, followed by a bus to Garzon, where we cupped at Coo Central, then on to Tarqui where we would call home for the next three days.
I was asked by Nordic Approach to judge a local coffee competition in Tarqui. The competition was the brainchild of Franci, who worked for Fairfield Trading. Her vision was to run a competition that inspired farmers to improve the quality of their coffee and production methods.
As an added incentive Nordic Approach committed to buying coffee from the top ten winners while paying them a premium for it. Nordic Approach's purchase guarantee added the extra motivation for all the producers to put forward their best lots.
For two days we cupped coffee from all around the Tarqui area. The coffee was astounding. I’d only once previously tried coffee from this area and it had been stunning. The winning lot was from a producer called Fabio Escobar.
On the completion of tasting rounds, awards were given out for the top three coffees. As was only fitting, a fine party was thrown. While the Cerveza was liberally consumed, my travelling troupe agreed we would visit the winners at their farms the next day.
Second place in the competition was the Tarqui Mayor, who’s also a cattle farmer. 10 am and the Doble Anis was flowing with a Cerveza chaser – you quickly realise in Colombia when you’re offered food and drink, you take it, no matter what time of day.
We headed back to Garzon for more cupping at Coo Central. While in Garzon, I randomly ran into a coffee roaster from Denver who also happened to know ex-Supremers Hayden and Amy and supplies them at their cafe Stowaway in Denver … small world.
Next was on to Armenia, which is the base of Azahar Coffee. Melbourne Supreme fans may remember Tyler, owner of Azahar Coffee, from our Platform events around MICE 2015. We’ve previously had some coffee from Azahar and have a part container current on the water from them which is due to arrive in the next couple of weeks.
An important aspect of my trip was to evaluate different regions and profiles as well as evaluate different suppliers. Azahar is doing some fascinating work in Colombia so I wanted to spend some time with them to see if they were a good fit wth what we do at Supreme.
We spent the next two days cupping. A couple of 12 hours days at the cupping table is enough to make you what to drink tea or something stronger!
At this point, I split from the Nordic Approach group and just hung out wth Tyler, we headed back to Bogota for a couple of nights but in-between did a day trip to Narino.
Having spent a few years landing at the airport in Wellington I thought I’d experienced some hairy flights, but the decent into Antonio Narino Airport was something else! Landing on a cliff-top in a cross wind, while spectacular, was sketchy and more than a bit terrifying. Check out some landings at this place on Youtube and you’ll get the idea.
We had a beautiful lunch with a local producer in Narino, which included the local favourite of Guinea Pig. We did a bit of a farm tour and headed back to Bogota for one more night.
My trip was amazing, probably one of the best sourcing trips I’ve had the pleasure to make. Colombia has some stunning coffee, but the producers have very limited land which means they have very modest yields. All this is to say speciality coffee growers like these don’t make much money.
Azahar and companies like Nordic Approach are doing great work in paying producers more, encouraging them to continue to produce coffee.
It is becoming increasingly important to think of ways to keep the coffee industry sustainable. If coffee growers struggle to make money, they will look at alternate crops to provide income for their families.
Mainstream media will tell you there is an oversupply of coffee, but it’s not the kind of coffee we’re seeking out. This year we are looking to continue to work with the producers we have over the last six years and make sure we continue to get great coffee and pay a fair price for it.