To finally pick a coffee cherry off the tree and taste the inherent sweetness that should be found in your cup (cliché as it may sound) gives an entirely new understanding and appreciation for the farmers, roasters and baristas who are able to maintain the true characteristics of this wonderful seed throughout it’s long and complex journey. Great coffee should not be unpleasantly bitter, it should not need sugar, and it should not be insulting to pay as much as you would for the cheapest glass of wine on a menu.
I learned so much during this week, but nothing more important than just how little I know. Though I experienced many things on this trip, it was only a few farms, in a couple regions, of one country out of many, that produce coffee in different ways, in different parts of the world. After finally visiting origin, I now feel like I know less than I ever have—which is more of a reason to keep learning.
After five days of immersive education at coffee farms, labs and mills, the remaining two days of my trip were reserved for experiencing some of the non-coffee related highlights in Colombia. To wrap-up a long week of travel and learning, I was excited to relax on the beach with new friends, enjoy a few bottles of Aguardiente & dance the night away in moonlit clubs. I spent the weekend visiting cultural landmarks and enjoying a few restaurants in Bogotás lively food scene—complete with belly dancers, burgers & beer.
At the beginning of the year, I made it a goal of mine to visit origin in 2012, but I had no idea it would be through such an incredible opportunity as this one. I can’t thank the Colombia Coffee Hub and the FNC enough for this experience.
Marcela, Camillo and Michael were incredible hosts, answered all my questions (no matter how controversial the answers may have been) and were genuinely fantastic people to be around. Also the media team—Lina, Jorge and Sebastién who did their best to avoid awkwardness while filming my every move for a week. This journey would not have been the same without all the lovely people who were a part of it.
In the coming year, there will be more origin journey’s featured on the Hub, including another (like mine) to be given to a lucky Hubber. So if you haven’t joined yet—it may be one the best decisions you’ve ever made.
On my 4th day in Colombia, I spent the morning in Bogotá before catching an afternoon flight to the northern coast. Once all of my official business was done for the day, I had time to visit Amor Perfecto, a local specialty roaster who recently opened up a showcase coffee bar and education lab in the city.
Amor Perfecto, owned by Luis Fernando Velez and Jaime Raul Duque, is also the home of Ever Bernal, the current Colombian Barista Champion and was the first coffee company in Colombia to have someone compete in the World Championship. The Amor Perfecto roastery, which is just a few blocks from the café, is also home to Colombia’s first Loring SmartRoast.
The shop only features coffee grown in Colombia, but it offers a rotating selection from regions around the country. The first coffee I had was an AeroPress of the Boyacá, which is a fairly unknown coffee growing region just a few hours northeast of Bogotá. It has a very spicy chocolate taste profile that I don’t normally prefer, but it was really unique compared with the other coffees I’d been drinking all week.
I sat down with Luis and Jaime who told me about all the classes they provide to customers, from basic cupping to learning how to roast their own batch of coffee. Their goal is to provide an environment and experience where someone can come have a nice cup of coffee and relax, or if they choose learn everything they want about the process.
Along with their selection of coffee and a small assortment of baked goods, Amor Perfecto also offers single malt whiskey pairings with their coffee—an incredible dream come true. Sadly, I didn’t have time to stay and experience the pairing, but I look forward to doing so in the future. Unique pairings like this are something I’d really like to see and experience more of in the world of coffee.
The coffee shop and lab are on the ground floor of an old two-story home that’s been renovated to contrast a history of textures, modern lines and delicate woods. The modern furniture is illuminated by the natural light that washes through the front windows, the enclosed courtyard and translucent ceiling above the lab.
Upstairs are several rooms that include a dedicated training lab and classroom for teaching employees and friends in the industry. Everything about Amor Perfecto is considered and focused on growing the knowledge and capabilities of the baristas, roasters and interested customers engaged with the company.
If you happen to live in Bogotá or are visting Colombia for an extended time and need any kind of coffee gear, this shop is probably your best bet. Along with their coffee bar and coffee roasting duties, they are Colombia’s official distributors of AeroPress, Bodum and Nuova Simonelli espresso machines.
Amor Perfecto is a great example of how passion for coffee goes far beyond serving it. Because of their passion, the customers and baristas in Colombia will benefit greatly from the energy and quality brought to the city. Since the World Barista Championships took place in Bogotá last year, there has been a new found interest in discovering what coffee can be to Colombia besides just an export. It was great to meet the people at Amor Perfecto who are helping lead the way.
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.
Over the weekend, top baristas from 53 countries around the world competed for the title of World Barista Champion in Bogota, Colombia—the winner becoming the face of exceptional specialty coffee around the world. After a great all-around competition and an incredibly refined finals round on Sunday, Alejandro Mendez from El Salvador took the top prize with his stunning presentation. Big congrats to every competitor, who all exhibited incredible skill, craft and expertise in coffee.
World Barista Champion: Alejandro Mendez, El Salvador (710.5) 2nd: Pete Licata, USA (659.5) 3rd: Matt Perger, Australia (659) 4th: Javier Garcia, Spain (631.5) 5th: Miki Suzuki, Japan (629.5) 6th: John Gordon, UK (613.5)
Not only was this the first Championship held in a producing country* it’s the first time a barista from a producing country has won. Alejandro’s presentation showed his expert knowledge, not only of the coffee most consumers are familiar with, but everything else that is usually discarded in the harvesting process.
Alejandro’s signature drink was comprised of an infusion of coffee mucilage, a tea made with dried coffee flowers, and a tea made from cascara (dried coffee cherries). The espresso used, which was separated from the crema, was a single origin El Salvador, called Finca La Illusion. It was grown by Ernesto Menendez on the slopes of the Sanata Ana volcano and roasted by Steve Leighton of Has Bean Coffee in the UK.
After Alejandro’s final presentation, the internet lit up with excitement, claiming that El Salvador had won, even with several contestants left to compete. His presentation was remarkably calm, personable, and had a beautiful story. I can only imagine how great the drinks tasted. You can watch the final presentation below.
*While the US and Australia both produce coffee, I reserve the term “coffee producing” for countries who include coffee among their primary exports.
View videos of the all the competitors on Livestream
After taking four regional titles and coming in second place at the USBC finals twice, Pete Licata from Honolulu Coffee Co, is a prime example of persistence who has reaped the benefits of never giving up. There was an incredibly talented group of competitors in this years US Barista Competition, so it was no easy task to take the top prize.
Pete’s presentation, which shared his journey from fruit to cup, along with the quality of his drinks—prepared with self-picked and self-roasted Hawaiian coffee—brought home the US Championship title, making him the first to do so with Hawaiian coffee. I recently talked with Pete about his win and what he’d be doing if it weren’t for coffee.
It’s been over a week since winning the USBC. Has it sunk in? Are you ready to represent in Bogotá or have you re-immersed yourself into training?
I still don’t think it has sunk in yet. I haven’t really had time to think about being some champ, probably because there is another competition just 5 short weeks after the USBC! I have literally been running all over with my mind racing about all of the little details I need to take care of in order to be prepared for WBC. I feel I will be ready to represent in Bogotá, but my training mode this year is FAR more extensive than anything I have ever done before. As of right now I have hulled my coffee and roasted a sample batch. Next is going to be practice runs in between roast days, high altitude training (Colorado and maybe Mauna Kea), and finding the perfect touches in smallwares.
Will you be changing anything about your routine for the WBC or are you completely satisfied with it?I will never be satisfied with my routine until there is nothing negative that can possibly be said about it. I am taking in my judges’ feedback and information and going to revamp what I can. Obviously I feel good about my routine, but I am my own horrible critic.
Could you summarize your signature drink and the concept of your presentation?Let’s start with the presentation. The concept was to tell the story of the coffee, as well as my own, in the journey it took from the fruit to the judges’ cups on the table. I didn’t just want to say “look at what I did,” but rather “look at your coffee and what a fantastic journey it takes to get to you.”
Aside from telling the story, I tried to emphasize a balanced espresso by explaining each element and building the blend from the ground-up. This is where my sig drink came in. It was a highlight of the honeyed coffee I used in order to give a representation of my first tastes, as well as delving into the honeying process itself.
The drink was 3 tastes—a tea made from the cherry skins and parchment that the mucilage had dried onto (to represent tasting the cherry right off the tree), a French press of a lighter roast (to represent cupping the coffee for the first time), and a single shot of the coffee at a longer espresso roast (to represent pulling shots and understanding how the coffee would fit into the overall blend).
You harvested and roasted the coffee you competed with, which gives you a rather strong and unique connection with the entire process from fruit to cup. Was there anything during the experience that surprised you, that you weren’t aware of previously?I didn’t realize just how many spiders live in coffee trees in Hawaii.
If you could get consumers to understand just one thing about coffee, what would it be?That coffee is an agricultural product. It needs to be fresh (green and roasted). As economic and environmental factors change, prices will too. Just like the price of your milk or fresh produce.
Do you have any creative talents outside the realm of coffee?I am remarkably talented at consuming really tasty beer.
If it weren’t for your passion of coffee, what would you be doing with your life?Probably translating Japanese and raising a family…