We have two employees, Frank McGinty and Keith Kildron, on the ground in Colombia visiting coffee farms for a week. We're meeting with old friends, and working to find new farmers to work with, too. We're receiving photos and field reports from them, and thought we'd share the info with you. Here are their reports.
Wednesday, August 13
Hey guys! Just wanted to give you a quick update...we've had an incredible first day. No promises on further updates due to Wi-Fi, but we'll send what we can when we can! We'll try to upload some pix on Google Drive as they may be too large to send via WiFi.
- At 4:15 a.m., our group met up with Sebastian at out hotel, and we flew from Bogota to Neiva.
- From Neiva we drove/bussed a few hours to Timaná, where we met up with the AsproTimaná group. This impressive group of producers gave us a great presentation on their efforts to control quality and promote a sense of family within the group of 100 farmers (Sebastian did a great job translating!).
- After the presentation we cupped nine of their coffees at their lab, ranging from 83pts - 86.5pts ... a lot of the experimentation was based on wet and dry fermentation and at different times (24hrs/48hrs/72hrs) A couple of the coffees were complex and cupped very well.
- From the lab/office we piled into three jeeps/back of trucks to Robinson's farm/house (the President of the producers group AsproTimaná) The ride was incredible as we climbed the 1700-meter mountain. The highlight of the journey was the small open cable car/box we took from the end of the road to his home (see pix...it was insane!!)
- We were greeted with shots of Double Anise and a lunch that will live on my Top 10 dining experiences of all time (see pic of Chris & Keith).
- After a lunch of roast chicken from the farm, soup, rice and the most delicious avocados I've tasted, we hiked up the mountain to experience the coffee growing first-hand. Robinson's farm is a 13-hectare plot which sits at 1,700 meters, planted with both Caturra and Castillo varietals. Sebastian seemed very impressed with the operation and the quality focus of the farm!
- After more shots of Double Anise and coffee, we headed back down the mountain to a beautiful cafe owned by the farmers and the AsproTimana group.
I think that sums it up for today. We are posted up tonight and tomorrow at Hotel Kahve, which is owned by the Coocentral group here in Garzon. We have a presentation from them and a cupping in the morning, then touring a few of their farms in the afternoon. Hope all is well back home! Talk soon!
Thursday, August 14
Coocentral Co-Op in Garzon, Huila
- We're currently posted up at the beautiful Hotel Cambis in the town square of La Plata. Wi-Fi is somewhat spotty so hopefully this all goes trough. We'll try to upload more pix when possible.
- Presentation at the very well organized co-op of Coocentral representing 4,000 farmers near Garzon. They support the famers/members with everything from technical farming services and support, to funeral services for the death of a producer.- Later during the morning we cupped 22 different coffees from multiple producers in their "premium" program. All coffees were grown above 1,600m and Caturra and Castillo varietals. Most scored around 83pts ... there was an overwhelming acidity/astringency to the cups - possibly due to light roasting and the fact they were only picked 10-14 days prior (very fresh). The feedback to their Director of Quality Control was well received.- The afternoon we bussed up the mountains (getting stuck only once!) to the farm of a female producer associated with the co-op. The farm had substantially improved infrastructure with multiple raised bed systems, a newer wet mill/de-pulper and an internal, organic fertilize station. Among the three hectares planted with 8,000 coffee plants, were plantain trees, sugar cane, yucca and orange trees.
- We finished the visit with a presentation of coffee desserts including candied coffee pulp/cascara, coffee flan, and salty cheese!- Finished the day with arepa for dinner with late night shots of double anise.Friday, August 15La Plata- Bussed 2hrs from Garzon to La Plata.
- Cupping at Sena (student learning center) with RACAFE team to calibrate. Met Elcy Causuya and her daughter. Tasted/cupped random coffees that Sena had been working with ... just to get calibrated for the competition
- Lunch then at a beautiful colonial hotel with the team at RACAFE.
- Visit to RACAFE's buying station/storage in La Plata. Once inventory reaches 5,000k they ship the coffee to Bogotá. Only coffee from Monserrate is in this place (40 farmers which are kept as separate lots).
- Afternoon of Round 1 & Round 2 competition cupping (16 coffees total) ranging from sub-80pts to over 87pts. Then on to handmade empanadas and cerveza at the hotel to wrap up the day.Saturday, August 16La Plata- We are cupping another 24 coffees from different producers in the Monserrate competition today (40 total). Then tomorrow we are hopefully heading up the mountain to Monserrate. Sebastian said the road to town has been a little difficult to traverse lately, but he feels if we go up early in the morning and leave just after lunch we should be okay.
We'll try to send notes tonight ... Wi-Fi remains tough to catch.
Hope all is well back home!
Frank (& Keith)
Saturday, August 16 (continued)La Plata- Another incredible day in La Plata, Huila! After buñuelo (fried dough!!) at SuperPan (local bakery) we headed back Sena to cup the remaining 40 coffees from Monserrate (16 Friday & 24 Saturday morning). Coffees scored from 79 to 91 points.- After lunch, we had the honor of cupping and ranking the top 10 producers of Monserrate! These were all incredible coffees ranging from 84 to 92 points, with at least five of the coffees receiving scores over 90!! All 10 judges (Kaldi's, Atlas, Cafe Grumpy, Irving Farms, Congo Initiative, Valentine Coffee, RACAFE) were very impressed and excited about what the town brought to the table.- The evening consisted of empanadas, more Double Anise & smoky pork ribs on the mountain looking down on La Plata. We spent the rest of the night (and early hours of the morning) at a Salsa club trying to keep up with the locals!!! (Editor's note: where are the pics, Frank?)
(Editor's note - standing with Frank in the picture above is Oscar Medina himself!)
Sunday, August 17La Plata- After a late night of dancing, and another morning of buñuelo at SuperPan, we were excited for the announcement and celebration of the Top 10 producers of Monserrate. A majority of the producers made it down to La Plata for the morning's festivities. The morning was followed by soccer vs the local kids (yes, we lost) and lunch of roasted suckling pork!! - Due to the fact that a car was set on fire Friday night by drug traffickers on the road to Monserrate, the celebration and soccer match were moved to La Plata. I guess we'll have to come back soon to see Monserrate!Tonight we're back to Bogotá...with AC and hot water!
Frank & Keith
Monday, August 18
- After making our way back to Bogota for one last day in Colombia, we had a full schedule of city sightseeing. We started the morning touring the dry mill of RACAFE, our exporter and host for the trip. It was incredible to see the volume of coffee they receive (140,000 bags per year), grade, sort, package, and export around the world.
Coffee at the mill ranged from "C-grade" coffee to some of the best coffees in the world (i.e. coffee from Monserrate that we graded). As of last week they had installed a completely separate mill/station for the specialty coffee they deal with (coffees cupping 80 points or higher). This was an enormous step in the right direction and to our knowledge the only one of its kind in Colombia.
- After saying goodbyes to our travel partners, we spent the afternoon playing tourist in the city of over 7 million. The mix of old colonial architecture and new, modern growth was a gorgeous juxtaposition. As with the rest of the country, the people of Bogota were extremely hospitable ... and not to mention, as beautiful as the city itself!
- The highlight of our tourist afternoon was taking the cable car tram up the 10,000ft mountain to a scenic overlook above the city ... also known as Monseratte. From here you could see the scope of the city's vast layout, as well as the mountains that surround it.
- After souvenir shopping for our kids, checking out the new (and only) Starbucks in Colombia and dinner at the Bogota Brewing Co., we made our way back to our hotel for an early night.
- It's great to be back in St. Louis, but as with most international travel experiences, there is always the reverse acclimation of getting back to our fast-paced, modern lifestyle here in the States. We are already missing the people, landscape, architecture, food, and culture of South America. We will always cherish this trip and I know we both hope to return to the beauty of Colombia soon!
Frank & Keith