April 2007

So, I hop a plane to Colombia just three days after the Stumptown sets the new record at the Colombia Cup of Excellence by paying $19.20/lb in collaboration with George Howell’s Terroir Coffee. 85% of that auction price goes directly to the producer, Isaias Cantillo Osa, which essentially is like hitting the lottery. For those who don’t know, George is the creator and founder of the Cup of Excellence. He also accompanied me on my journey to the Narino province in southwest Colombia.

The Stumptown is part of a start-up project, so-to-speak, with my old buddies Alejandro and Giancarlo at Virmax Café in Bogotá. Virmax made themselves synonymous with the absolute highest in Colombian coffee quality over the past five years and are dedicated to making progress in new regions like Narino. Their approach towards improving quality of coffee and life for producers is quite unique and not just in Colombia. Other than another friend in Peru, nobody is working as quality focused and transparently as Virmax.

So, after a restless night of sleep at 8,500 ft in Bogotá we board a plane early the next morning headed to Pasto, the capital of Narino. It was an honor sitting next to Mr. Howell on the flight and chatting about coffee and our histories in the industry as well as the vast potential Colombia has for top quality. With the altitude, weather conditions, soil content and Virmax’s track record, both George and I are expecting superb coffee deliveries later this summer. After checking into our hotels and grabbing an early lunch we were off to cup the preliminary deliveries for the three producer associations we are considering working with. The first is the Aguacate Cooperative in Santa Barbara de Narino. The second is ASOPROCASAM in Cartago de Narino. And, the third is ASOKWICI in San Lorenzo. Honestly I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect since I have very little history with the region and this is a brand new venture for Virmax. Most importantly, the coffees only had a week at most to compose themselves in the parchment after drying. You see coffee, like wine, needs time to rest and develop its flavor profile while in its protective shell which is called parchment. You’ll hear people give you different equations for success, but in my experience coffee needs a minimum of 30 days and up to 90 days to develop its full potential. Anyway, the only thing I did know was that Aguacate won the 2005 Colombia Cup of Excellence so the potential was certainly there.

We had the grand pleasure of meeting Aguacate’s board of directors before the cupping.  We got through the first table with mixed results until we hit the last coffee. The coffee was R I P P I N‘! It has full on heavy mouthfeel with intensely sweet strawberry syrup, high percentage cacao and tangerine for miles. If the 2005 #1 coffee was better than this my name is Darryl and so is my brother’s and my other brother’s.

We had enough time to discuss the flight of seven coffees (I was actually catching my breath) before round 2. So I’m amped but the first 3 coffees on this next table were killing my buzz; inconsistent, dry, grassy, unripe flavor, etc. I pawn it off on the coffees lacking rest but I’m beginning to lose confidence in the table. That is until I met coffees #4 and #5. The fourth coffee smashed me in the side of the face with super sweet peach juice, sweet citrus, reminiscent of clementine and chocolate syrup. I could not believe it’s complexity. You don’t find this sort of flavor in Central America; STRICTLY Colombia. So riding my high into coffee #5, thinking I was satisfied with finding two world-class coffees, I was jolted with a blast of floral essence and ultra-sweet acidity to the pallet. It was the most intense jasmine fragrance I have EVER smelled in coffee, paired with dried rose petals and then combined with what we call Jugo de Cana (sugar cane juice) in Latin America. And that wasn’t all. Bittersweet chocolate, mandarin orange and just a hint of black tea rounded out this other-worldly flavor profile. As it turns out both coffees are from ASOPROCASAM in Cartago and this is where the Stumptown will focus for this crop and crops to come. This kind of potential is just too hard to find. I’ll be back in May or June to catch the peak of the harvest and gather our producers for a chat about what we can offer them; to put it simply, the opportunity to receive $3/lb for their coffee. I’m not talking about stopping short at the cooperative like all of these flimsy certifications do. I’m talking about the opportunity for the farmers themselves to receive a check for $3/lb for their coffee if the quality turns out the way it’s potential has demonstrated it can. The NY-C market is closing just above $1 these days. You do the math.

The following day we toured the 50 hectares of production owned by the 89 producers who make up the Aguacate Cooperative and held a meeting with them discussing a similar proposition. It was a full a house and they were stoked to say the least. This kind of opportunity doesn’t exist for 99.9% of coffee farmers in this world. Stumptown Coffee Roasters is aiming to fix that one producer association at a time. Look for Colombian offerings by the end of the summer or early fall. That is if I don’t hoard it all for myself first.