"Direct Trade" - I had always been fascinated by what this actually means. You see a lot of roasters talk about it, advertise it, and kind of show off about it. But to what extent do you go to warrant this label? When I started Craft House I wanted to find out what makes amazing coffee. So, for me anyway it’s not only about meeting the people who produce the coffee I buy, it’s about creating the infrastructure needed for a direct link from farm to cup. This took me to Narino, Colombia...
After nearly missing my internal flight to Pasto, I met up with Jose, owner of Cooperativa de cafe especiales de nareno. Thankfully Jairo, the designated translator (and representative from La Meseta), helped me fumble my way to where I needed to be. The first of many stops took us to some amazing small hold farms, where we could see first-hand what Jose's COOP helps to provide for producers. Most are fortunate enough to have a de-pulper on site, meaning they can fetch a better price for selling a fully processed coffee. The alternative is having to sell the beans still in its cherry, compromising the quality and reducing the price they sell for.
After a few more stops we ended up in the small town of Buesaco, where one of Jose's warehouses was located. There we met the team who managed the sites operations. Throughout the day everything from donkeys to trucks unload crops, where it is weighed and then screened. Coffee's that show a good yield and screen size are then put through rigorous testing in the cupping lab just opposite the warehouse.
All day the coffee is roasted and cupped in the lab. This is where it gets exciting! The crops are given a cup score, from 1-100 (80 and above are considered speciality). Some amazing lots pass through this room. Farms that think they have only produced conventional grade coffee have sometimes been shocked to find the cup score being 89 and above!
Next on the agenda was to meet the community who inspired me to come out to Colombia in the first place - Inga Aponte. I remember receiving samples of this coffee nearly 2 years ago and being blown away by its vibrancy and versatility. Their community represented for me a very unique coffee that has always stood out. We were greeted by Fernando and taken on a tour around the land. It was amazing to see not only where one of my favourite coffees had been produced, but the community who created it. We took some samples of a few experimental lots such as black, red, yellow and white honey to cup the next day. On the way out we were given a traditionally made coffee, which is pan roasted and brewed fresh served with the most amazing soft creamy cheese and crackers!
Now on our first day back in Pasto we met a man named Pablo Perez who brought in some very special coffee. He owns a farm called El Obraje, uniquely located near the town of Tangua sat by an active volcano at an altitude of 2250 meters. What makes the location of his farm unique is there are no neighbouring coffee producers anywhere in the area as it is considered to be "out of the coffee growing belt". However, given the conditions, altitude, and methodical approach to cultivating his land, Pablo has created some of the best coffee in Colombia, if not (and I'm not kidding here), the world. The sample he brought in for us was a Geisha varietal, one of the most sought after species available. As my fellow coffee nuts will tell you, it’s hard to find Geisha, and to have one grown at 2250 meters is unbelievably rare. By the end of the trip I managed to work out a deal that landed me with a very small amount of this current crop... Available here
I’m proud to of come back from Colombia having made new friends, understanding who it is I buy from and building a more transparent link from farm to cup.
- Tom Osborne