In early September Colombia and the Federación Nacional de Cafeteros (FNC) celebrated their 10th Cup of Excellence Anniversary in Popayán, Cauca – and what a privilege it was to be part of the international jury.
A record total of 1,043 lots were entered into this year’s competition, from the regions of Cauca, Nariño, North Huila, Tolima and Antioquia. These lots were bought internally by the FNC and growers were paid immediately – a big incentive for producers as it meant that they didn’t have to wait until the end of the competition to recover and sell their lots if they missed out on making the final auction. Winning producers will of course also receive all of the funds paid for their lots at auction.
From these 1,043 lots a total of 150 coffees were selected by 40 national cuppers to go through to the next stage of the competition. The cupping team was led by Cesar Herrera and Fernando Osorio (both quality managers at Almacafe–FNC in Bogotá and Pereira) and head judge Eduardo Ambrocio, who is in charge of quality control at Anacafe, Guatemala. With more than 20 years experience in coffee, Eduardo is one of the most professional and skilful cuppers in Latin America and a truly inspirational person to cup with.
A selected team of 12 national cuppers worked really hard to narrow down the final 150 lots to find those coffees that deserved to go through to the final. At the end of an intense week of cupping they finally sent 57 lots through to the international jury stage.
The competition took place in the beautiful white city of Popayán, the capital of Cauca Department in southern Colombia. This region is capable of producing exemplary coffees with very complex cup profiles – displaying bags of tropical fruit in a cup and a remarkable sweetness! Varietals found in this region include Caturra, Colombia, Castillo and Typica.
The Cauca region suffered for many years at the hands of insurgent groups, most notably the FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia), making it a very difficult place to source coffees sustainably. Thankfully the Colombian government has worked intensely in the past 10 years to bring peace and progress to the region; the results speak for themselves, as 11 out of 30 lots from Cauca made the final auction.
It was a fantastic week. It is such a privilege to be able to arrive as an international juror at the final stage of such a long process of selection and have the chance to cup the very best coffees in the competition. I also really enjoyed catching up with Chucho Muñoz and Pablo Bolaños, who have been roasting all the COE lots since the very first competition in 2002. These two men are the event’s unsung heroes, working non-stop behind the scenes to make sure every roast was spot on. Just imagine roasting 1,043 lots!
This year’s winner came from the Buesaco municipality in Nariño. It was produced by Maria Etelvina Diaz and her son on their small farm in this wonderful region, where the mountains are so steep that pickers secure themselves to ropes so they don’t slip down the slopes (for more on this region please see my report on Nariño ).
This winning coffee intrigued me throughout the competition. Its cupping profile was unique and distinctive – going through my cupping sheets afterwards I found descriptors such as tamarind, eucalyptus and mandarin. I encourage COE member roasters to cup this coffee when the samples arrive – and to really look forward to talking about it!
The COE competition was held in conjunction with the fifth annual Colombian Specialty Coffee Conference in Popayán. This event is organised by the FNC and offers lectures and workshops for coffee producers – this year they covered topics such as varietals and farm management.
The iconic Juan Valdez and professor Yarumo (symbols of Colombian coffee) were of course in residence. These two figures are as important to Colombian coffee growers as their national flag and anthem. Professor Yarumo runs a witty and very popular weekly tv show (‘El show del Profesor Yarumo’), where he manages to combine a steady stream of jokes with advice on farm management for coffee producers nationwide.
Professor Yarumo hosted the COE award ceremony at Popayán’s stunning municipal theatre, where 57 coffee producers waited nervously for the final results. In a very emotional ceremony 30 growers made the 85+ mark and collected their awards, and the top 3 producers received presidential trophies for scoring 90+ points. Arnulfo Leguizamo from Finca Primavera (Huila), the winner of last year’s competition, delivered a fantastic speech, speaking about his commitment to quality and the relationship developed with his buyer after winning first place in Santa Marta last year.
After the speech our friend Andrew Miller from Café Imports (Minneapolis, USA) told me a great anecdote about Arnulfo Leguizamo when he visited him in Huila to buy his coffee earlier this year. During the visit Andrew and Arnulfo agreed on a price/quantity deal for his coffees, but when Andrew asked him about signing a contract Arnulfo laughed and replied: ‘Look at me – look at my moustache. Do I look like the kind of man who will not honour a contract?’ Andrew didn’t ask again and continues to buy Arnulfo’s coffees on the strength of a handshake. (It’s worth noting that Arnulfo has the thickest moustache in Colombia and looks like a sheriff out of a Clint Eastwood western – in the US he is known as ‘The Champ’..!).
For us, this is what the Cup of Excellence programme is all about – and is the reason we believe and support it as a lifetime member; allowing unknown producers to establish and develop long term relationships with specialty buyers.
We at Mercanta have our own COE champion – Don Fabio Solis from Finca Las Nubes in Guatemala, who won the very first Guatemalan COE auction in 2001. Eleven years later we continue to buy his full crop. You can read an interview with Don Fabio and his wife Sonia elsewhere.
I would like to thank Grant Rattray (Managing Director of COE) and the team at COE for inviting me to join this jury. Thank you also to Carlos Alberto González (Commercial Director at the FNC) and Madlyn Madrid (COE national coordinator) for your hospitality and warmth as always.
Also a big thank you to the national and international jury. It was great to catch up and cup such wonderful coffees together for an entire week.