Late last night we arrived in Bogotá for a good night’s rest before spending the next morning in the city. Michael met me in the lobby of the hotel and we walked a few blocks to the Federation of National Coffee Growers (FNC) headquarters to meet with Marcela and learn more about their work. While we gathered to talk, an employee who makes coffee for the office came through and delivered us our first cup of the day—nice perk.
The FNC was founded in 1927 as a private non-profit organization to represent all coffee growers in Colombia. Every coffee farmer in Colombia (560,000 of them) is a defacto member of the FNC, and farmers with at least 1500 coffee plants can become Federated. A Federated Member receives voting rights, a national coffee grower’s ID and direct deposit for their coffee sales, but every grower has access to the FNC and its resources.
All of the representatives at the FNC are democratically elected in national and local elections, with a 68% participation rate—higher than governmental polls. In November of each year, new policies and goals are presented and voted on by representatives before being implemented.
For every pound of coffee sold in Colombia, six cents goes into the National Coffee Bank. The coffee bank funds all of the FNC programs, ranging from the research at Cenicafé, productivity and sustainability programs, quality control, and the coffee purchase guarantee—one of the most interesting things I learned on my visit.
The coffee purchase guarantee program ensures that all coffee is purchased from farmers for the current market rate, no matter the quality, to prevent farmers from falling victim to weather or other quality catastrophes that may ruin their crop. However, if the quality of the coffee isn’t high enough to be exported, the FNC absorbs the loss and works with the farmer to solve future problems.
After learning more about the FNC, I stepped across the hall to the Almacafé lab where a library of green coffee from all around the country is received, cataloged and quality tested, much like at the El Agrado lab I visited on day 2.
After meeting the lab technicians, I sat down with Camilo for a cupping that included coffee from the north, central and southern regions as well as defects that included past crop, over-fermented and Phenol. I had never specifically cupped defects before, so it was really eye opening to experience just how bad coffee can be when growing or processing problems occur—which are usually filtered out before they reach consumers.
Following our cupping session, we crossed the street to Juan Valdez Café, one of the 120 locations found throughout Colombia. When we arrived, Ronald Valero, the two time runner-up in the Colombian Barista Championship, was there to hang out and make us some lovely espresso. Ronald is now the head trainer for Juan Valdez as they work to improve the quality of their coffee, baristas and service.
Juan Valdez Café is owned by the FNC as well as about 20,000 coffee grower stake-holders. The project was started in 2002 as a way to showcase Colombian coffee within the country and has since begun to expand with locations in Chile, Peru and the United States. Royalties from the Juan Valdez brand, which is owned by all of the Colombian coffee growers, are paid into the National Coffee Bank benefitting all of the growers.
Recently, some of the cafés have begun offering home brewing classes and tasting events with customers a well as placing an emphasis on the differences of taste found in each Colombian region. The cafés rotate the brewed coffees each week to highlight different parts of the country and introduce variations in taste to their customers.
It was great learning more about the FNC, the work they do and the progress they’re trying to make. Colombia, until 2008, exported about 11 million tons of coffee each year. But recently, because of unrelenting rains combined with an increase in coffee rust and other pests, the yield has dropped to about 8 million tons. With 33% of the population relying on coffee for their livelihood, there are just as many social reasons as there are economic reasons to make sure the coffee industry remains healthy and strong.
Before catching an afternoon flight to Santa Marta, we stopped by Amor Perfecto, a local specialty coffee roaster who recently opened a beautiful new café and coffee lab following the World Barista Championship in Bogotá—more on that in a separate post.