One of our roasters, Jeff, visited Colombia in November of 2013. Here's what happened:
My trip to origin took me to Colombia. This trip came about because of a unique program developed by the Governor of the State Antioquia, whose slogan is "More Education!" The program is set up to allow anyone in any field to be better at what they do no matter what the industry. They decided to start with coffee as it's one of the bigger - if not the biggest - industries in the state. The goal is to teach smaller farmers and co-op owners how to produce unique coffees that will ultimately allow them to get more money year after year.
On Tuesday November 5th, myself and long time friend Drew Billups (who works for Atlas Coffee Importers, one of our green partners), arrived in Medellin, the Capitol city of the state of Antioquia. We were met by two government employees who were holding nicely printed signs with our full names on them (that was a first for me!). Anyhow, we hopped into a truck and headed down to Medellin. It took about 45 minutes and was a really twisty descent. Medellin is a beautiful, densely populated, and tropically vegetated metropolitan city that is surrounded by mountains to the north, east and west. We received a 6 am wake up call so that we could begin cupping at 8 on Wednesday morning. We cupped 34 lots that were vetted down from the 94 lots submitted! We finished cupping the last table around 3:30, and the room was quickly turned around for the auction of the coffees we had just tasted.
On Thursday, a group of 16 people (that included cuppers from America, Australia, Colombia, and Nicaragua, and support staff from the Government) piled into 5 trucks and headed into the mountains to visit five of the farms that submitted coffee to the program. The two farms we saw on Thursday required two cable car rides and a 20 minute hike down stone paved cart track. Thursday night we stayed in the town of Cuilidad Bolivar where we joined in a local celebration in the beautiful city square. On Friday we visited three farms. The first one was most memorable because of its processing equipment, panoramic views, and the delicious lunch they served us. By Friday night we were back in Medellin. Saturday we were treated to a city tour that took us to a cafe that serves Colombia coffee, which is rare! We also got to tour the National Museum that provided a visual history of Colombia, which was great close to the trip.
This first trip to origin, after nearly 19 years in the coffee industry and 17 years as a roaster, was amazing! All of the many coffee people I met along the way were humble, generous and friendly. But it's hard to come up with words to describe all the sites and smells I experienced in person that I had previously only known by photograph or video. Witnessing the starting point of coffee's journey first hand, and meeting just a few of the people who's lives are directly tied to the to a product that so many of us love and maybe "need", has sparked a desire to bridge the gap from farmer to coffee lover. I hope this blog post starts the move towards that end.
While we didn't end up buying any of the coffee on this trip, with the connections I made and as the program develops, I hope we'll buy coffee from the Antioquia in the future!