It’s been a week since getting back from attending Best Cup Colombia and I’ve had so many incredible experiences to reflect on. It was a wonderful opportunity for me and I am so grateful to the people I met during this trip and to my boss Tony Vo for sending me to represent Waterbean. This is an event hosted by BanExport, a company located in Bogotá, Colombia and organized by Cafe Imports from Minneapolis, Minnesota. This year, over 1,300 local producers from the Cauca, Nariño and Huila regions of Colombia submitted their lots to be scored in order to find the top coffees produced this year. I was joined by many other coffee buyers who were invited to participate in the event from within the US and internationally.
After arriving in the city of Popayán we were greeted and given a tour of the “Cuidad Blanco,” a nickname given to describe the white facade on all of the historic town center’s buildings. Popayán has many other nicknames that describe it for various reputations such as being the city that has produced the most presidents in Colombia, for having many universities, and as the city of gastronomy.
As we took our tour, the streets were crowded with people bustling to and from classes, work, and church or just spending time around the square as the sun set. We also had a welcome dinner where we became acquainted with our hosts Andrew Miller and Jairo Ruiz from Cafe Imports and Ban Export.
The following day we began cupping! For those inexperienced with cupping, it’s a way of scoring coffee on an objective scale to determine the quality. This is done by comparing multiple cups of the same beans and scoring along a scale for different attributes of coffee such as acidity, flavor, aroma and sweetness (among others). On each table we were cupping between five to ten coffees, and by the end of the week we tasted over eight tables, or sixty cups of the best coffee in Colombia! After each cupping we discussed our scores as a group to determine our average and to provide tasting notes of the coffees.
Something really special about this trip for me was how educational and informative it was. I feel lucky to have learned about the different stages of coffee directly from the producers themselves as well as from my peers who would happily share information and insight.
While we spent all of our mornings and afternoons cupping, during the evenings we travelled outside of the city to visit some of the top 30 producers’ farms. The first we visited was La Parcelita from producer Álvaro Andrés Roldán Flor in Cauca with over 20,000 coffee trees of different varieties. We were welcomed by his family and given a tour of the farm where we were educated on the fermentation process of the beans and learned how the partnership with BanExport has improved his crop and ensured his coffee was of the best quality, which means greater revenue for him and his family.
The second day we visited the Banexport farm, also located in Cauca, and were treated to a family-style barbeque with the whole crew of staff that had been working for months to organize this event. There was a large dance floor and tables situated on the highest point of the farm with 360० views of the mountains and Popayán’s lights in the distance.
The final visit took place at La Clarita, a farm with 12,5000 trees operated by Tirsa Montilla López, a retired judge. At her farm, she has adopted practices which ensure her crop is harvested at the right time to prevent the amount of waste. She does this by providing detailed training to seasonal workers and paying them well above average to ensure they return the next season to her farm. Everyone agreed - her home was like an oasis with beautiful tropical flowers and plants and an idyllic classic home. Her family welcomed us with empanadas and patacones, which are both traditional to the region.
On the final evening before the auction we were able to meet all of the producers whose coffees we had been tasting all week. These were the top thirty producers out of 1,300 who had submitted their lots for the competition. Each person was able to spend time speaking about their farms and how important coffee was to the region in keeping peace and stability for the farmers.
Then it was Saturday, the day of the auction. We had known the auction would take place in the city’s center, but I don’t think any of us were prepared for how momentous the event would be!