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October 2007

2007 has been one whirlwind of a year. I’m writing this particular piece from Jimma, Ethiopia waiting for my breakfast, about to embark on a journey to see our famed Tega & Tula plantations. During the course of the year I’ve been fortunate enough to make my first ever trips to Rwanda, Burundi, Malawi and Bolivia. To say they’ve been anything short of enlightening would be an understatement. We’ve made progress, in terms of picking, processing and growing relationships, in each of these countries and will be showcasing coffees from almost of all of them by the end of the year.

Bolivia was absolutely spectacular from the moment I stepped off the plane. La Paz, the capital city of Bolivia, is located at over 3600 meters above sea level. You can feel the altitude as soon as the cabin door is opened and you take your first steps out into this Andean paradise. After a night of continuous panting and restless sleep we headed out to Coroico, in the Northern Yungas, for the 2007 Bolivia Cup of Excellence cupping competition. As you all know, these CoE competitions are strictly about bringing top quality coffees, and the producers who produce them, to the forefront of the global coffee stage. You can’t help but be jittery waiting for the first cupping table.

The drive out to the Yungas from La Paz was mind blowing. Although I’d been in the Andes on numerous prior occasions, I’d never really been at these altitudes. Within 30 minutes of leaving the city we climbed to 4500 masl. The view in front of us was snow capped mountain peaks while the peripheral was cavernous valleys and what seemed like a black hole below. As we traversed the fabled ‘most dangerous road in the world’ there was no doubt where its namesake was derived. One false move and we plummet over the side of the road into the great abyss of green jungle and rocky mountainside. Two tumultuous hours later we arrived at the Rio Selva lodge, the sight of the competition.

After a brief intro from head judge Paul Songer, we breezed through the calibration round. With all of the judges seemingly calibrated, we began with the first table of coffees. As we smelled the fragrance, or dried coffee grounds, I began conjuring images of Bolivian CoE coffees of the past. Leading the charge was Juan de Dios Blanco and his magnificent coffee that tasted exactly like chocolate covered mandarin oranges. That same profile was to light up the cupping tables for the next four days! As we moved through round one, another cup profile began showing its face as well. Although not as prominent as the former profile, the cup characteristics of these coffees captured my pallet and eventually my heart. Sweet honey, red cherry and ripe plum abounded in this elegantly subtle cup. This is the true Andean cup profile that can be found in only the most special coffees from Colombia to Peru to Bolivia.

By the time the event was through, I scored several 96’s and many more 93+’s. The second place coffee was far and away my favorite. Look for the Stumptown to bid furiously for that one when auction time comes around. By now y’all know we’re ruthless when it comes to getting what we want all of you to taste.

Bottoms up to Bolivia!