The Bean Hunter’s Travels: Colombia & Ecuador 2014 – Part 1 of 3

In early September Bean Hunter Jon Ferguson left Kansas City to journey to Colombia and Ecuador in search of the world’s best coffee. Read on below about his adventures!

August 31, 2014 – September 6, 2014, Neiva, Colombia – Cup of Excellence 2014

Last week I attended the Cup of Excellence competition in Colombia. Being that this was my first visit to Colombia in my life, I was excited to explore not only the diversity of coffee profiles from numerous regions throughout Colombia, but also meet our producers and exporting staff in Pitalito, Huila, where our Colombia Pitalito Estates coffees are grown.

For the past six consecutive years, I have participated in the Cup of Excellence® (CoE) coffee competition as a cupper on the International Jury, and both Danny and Normy have been participating as Jurors since it´s onset in the late 90s. The ACE (Alliance for Coffee Excellence) organization, which hosts the CoE competition, has played a crucial role in the development and expansion of specialty coffee within the industry, and with the support of roasters and customers who find extra value in this coffee competition, has given back a tremendous amount of income, inspiration, and support to farmers who have participated, helping increase the quality of life for countless families within several countries.

The Cup of Excellence competition is held in 10 coffee producing countries every year, creating not only immediate lots of exceptional coffees, but more importantly bringing attention to producers who are able and willing to put forth the effort and risk to deliver quality in their work. These experiences also provide a very clear and definitive perspective on exemplary coffees being produced in each participating country, and often reveal growing regions and producers which may have been lesser known prior to competition.

Although there is continued discussion on how auction results are often priced well above similarly available quality specialty coffees, the Cup of Excellence has recognition as a type of trusted third party verification certification process for quality. The CoE also provides unique services and additional values beyond the direct immediate access to quality coffees. The competition furnishes detailed contact information on each winning farm, permitting a roaster or importer to directly connect with a producer that has proven to have the capacity and desire to put forth extra effort to achieve exceptional coffee quality. Many well-known specialty coffee roasters around the world have found several of their direct-relationship coffees through attending the competition or reviewing the lists of winning farms. ACE also provides auction results, along with logistical support and a list of cooperating importers to help deliver the coffee.

The amount of coffees which are submitted can be quite daunting. Some of the most impressive and useful features CoE offers are the lists compiled of the winning farms from every previous competition and posted on their website. This wealth of information is unique. No other organization has offered such a specific and detailed perspective on where quality coffees are currently being grown, with the names of the women and men who are responsible for producing them. In addition to this recognition, the producer currently receives 85% of the final auction amount.

During the week in Neiva, I was able to talk with other roasters and importers from around the world. Being able to talk with a green buyer for Dunkin’ Donuts and a small shop roaster in the southern part of Germany at the same dinner table always lends to interesting coffee conversations. Regardless of our location on the globe, as a group we were able to rank the top 10 coffees in Colombia with agreement.

On Friday, September 5th, after the awards ceremony was complete, I met James and Sebastian, two representatives sent from Condor Coffee to drive us to Pitalito and San Augustin to visit some of our coffee producers.

We left Neiva Friday afternoon and spent much of the early part of the day on Saturday touring the San Augustine Archeological Park, a World Heritage Site with the largest group of religious monuments and megalithic sculptures in South America. It was inspirational, informative, and quite moving on many levels.

After eating a healthy serving of churrasco (grilled steak), we drove to Pitalito to visit our first farm. I quickly noted a difference with farms in Colombia. The majority of farmers use their rooftops for drying coffee, which are typically built on tracks for sliding open when in use. It seems to be an extremely clever use of space, and also protects the coffee from rain when it´s rolled shut. The other drying beds commonly seen throughout the region of Huila are known as parabolic dryers, consisting of raised beds with a plastic hooped rooftop, appearing very similar to a green house. And when coffee is not being dried, it serves well to dry out corn too!

Check out the photos below from Jon’s trip so far and stay tuned for more updates!

Quick grammar lesson. Or geography lesson?

Cup of Excellence judge extraordinaire, Jon Ferguson.

Condor holding a snake at San Augustin Archeological Park, Huila.

Cup of Excellence judging. Visiting a farmer in Pitalito. This drying bed also serves as the rooftop of his house!