Coffee has the unique ability to inspire storytelling. It’s our drink of choice during mornings spent exchanging new stories with old friends. It provides us warm comfort while reflecting on our own personal narratives, and perhaps most notably, coffee animates and fuels the stories we'll someday pass onto the future of the world. The days we'll recall as the best of our lives so often begin with a predawn alarm and an awakening cup.
Great coffees bring these narratives to life, but the best coffees tell stories of their own. To us, the most remarkable coffees aren’t the cups that score 90+ points, but the ones that reflect the lush hillsides from which they were harvested. We love coffees that display the character of the hardworking producers who picked its cherries one by one. We believe the best coffees taste like a memory. That they have the ability to transport us somewhere else while enriching the moment at hand.
Coffee’s capacity to tell and inspire stories is what makes the product extraordinary, and the best way to understand coffee’s obscure narrative is by experiencing it firsthand. A few months ago we had the great pleasure of joining our friends from Cafe Imports in Pasto, Colombia for their 5th annual Best Cup competition. Alongside their experienced team and some of the industry’s finest roasters, we created lasting memories and gained a greater understanding of the history and future of Colombian coffee.
This spring we have three Colombian offerings in our lineup, all of which were discovered during our time in Pasto. All of these coffees have characteristics that make them unique: they are all a reflection of the people, landscapes, and cultures that make Colombia our favorite coffee region in the world.
The Best Cup competition was created from a desire to discover the world’s finest coffees. The concept is fairly straightforward; invite producers to submit their best crop, cup and score every submission, then auction off the highest scoring coffees to potential buyers from around the world.
During the inaugural event in 2014, Cafe Imports received a couple hundred samples from a few separate departments. The competition has since grown dramatically. In 2018 they received nearly 2,000 microlot submissions from Cauca, Nariño, and Tolima. The team at Banexport roasted, cupped, and scored every coffee before narrowing down the top 30 coffees in the entire country
Months of preparation and tedious work were completed before we joined Cafe Imports during the final days of the event. After arriving in Pasto we had the opportunity to cup Colombia’s top 30 coffees before the highest scoring lots were auctioned off in the small, lively pueblo of Sandona.
One of the coffees that immediately caught our attention was the Best Cup submission from Maura Mery Delgado Rosero. Her coffee was harvested from her five hectare farm, Finca Sance Chamanal, in Samaniego, Nariño before being selected as one of the best lots in Colombia.
We were initially impressed with the microlot’s crisp and sweet notes on the cupping table, but were sold on buying Maura’s coffee after meeting her at a group dinner held in recognition of the producers’ exceptional lots. Maura held a confident demeanor, and her words were soft and earnest. Her coffee is a reflection of herself and the years of hard work she has put into improving the quality of her crop.
Best Cup was created from a simple idea; discover better coffee. Cafe Imports has succeeded in this goal, but their competition has achieved far more. Best Cup has improved the overall quality of Colombian coffee through professional education and feedback. It has motivated smallholder farmers to grow higher quality coffees and has shown them the economic potential of specialty coffee. Most importantly, it has united producers, agronomists, exporters, importers, roasters, baristas, and coffee professionals from around the globe in the heart of coffee world. Best Cup has created community, and it is inspiring interaction from farm to cup.
During our time in Pasto we also cupped several regional coffees from a few distinct Colombian departments. Cafe Imports created the Regional Select program to highlight coffees that reflect the characteristics and flavors of a particular place.
Nariño is Colombia’s southernmost department and one of the country’s most mountainous regions. The department’s high altitude and unique climate create exceptional growing conditions for coffee. During the heat of the day, humid air collects in the valley floors before being pushed into the mountainside during cool nights. The result of this rare climate and location is a coffee that is sweet, smooth, and juicy.
The Regional Select coffee we brought home from Colombia is comprised of lots from 18 farmers in the Colon Genova municipality. Their coffees are reflective of the flavors of southern Colombia and the Andes mountain range which dictate life and the culture of the region.
Last December our family convened in central Colombia for the holidays. Christmas in Latin America allowed us to escape the strains of running a small business and step away America’s consumerism obsession. We spent the holiday dancing salsa, drinking local coffee and spirits (admittedly more aguardiente than cafe tinto), and enjoying the presence of one another.
Several moments stick out from that trip but perhaps our fondest memory was made on the roof of a bus. In Colombia and other Latin American countries, rustic school busses have been redesigned, repainted, and adapted to serve as the primary form of transportation between rural Andean villages. Almost always these buses are filled to capacity with passengers, livestock, cargo, and coffee in transit. These vibrant buses, known as chivas, have become a symbol of Colombian culture and the vivacious way of life, even in the smallest villages.
Our family found ourselves seated on the roof of one these chivas while traveling to a small Antioquian pueblo called Jerico. We clung to fellow passengers and dodged hanging branches as we rambled over rutted roads. During the span of the ride we passed numerous patios covered in drying coffee and watched producers traverse steep hillsides, carefully selecting ripe cherries ready for harvest. We marveled at the wild landscape and Colombian lifestyle. Our laughter bellowed as we sped along that twisting rural highway. Our new rooftop friends laughed and grinned right alongside us.
While drinking this coffee we reflect on the faces behind those smiles and that winding dirt road. We blended two Regional Select lots that were sourced during our time in Colombia to create a coffee that is velvety and vibrant. Our dear friend, Forest Hurlburt, used watercolors to recreate that colorful chiva, designing a label that is just a lively as the coffee it represents.
We decided on naming this blend El Camino: the road. It is our representation of Colombia and the elements that make it one of our favorite places on Earth. It is a reminder of the prolonged path and intricate value chain that enrich the stories carried by coffee and the hands that make it possible.
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