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April 2010

Colombia Planadas

Gaitania de Planadas

Finally! After 4 years of yearning to visit our producer partners in Gaitania de Planadas de Tolima, Colombia we finally were able to make it happen. We left our hotel in Neiva de Huila at 5am and embarked on the five hour drive into the region past some of the most spectacularly lush coffee area I’ve ever seen. We had to stop the tank, I mean badass jeep, we hired for the journey to remove boulders from the night’s landslides along the way. We passed 10,000 ft. above sea level as we crossed the border of Huila into Tolima and we forded the El Jordan River as we entered Gaitania and again as we entered our friend Edith Encisco’s farm, La Isla.

In fact, our first stop of the day was a sneak attack of Edith herself at her home in the center of town. She couldn’t remove the smile from her face for the rest of the day. You see people don’t visit Gaitania. Gaitania has been mired in violent conflict between the separatist guerilla group, FARC, and the Colombian military since the 50’s. Sadly, our producers have been caught right smack dab in the middle of it. Just ask Cesar Julio Munoz who lost his leg after stepping on a land mine planted by the FARC on his own farm, or Alberto Rojas who was shot in the hand by a stray bullet after the guerilla shot up town on one of their terrorist missions. She wasn’t expecting us. None of the producers we work with at the Maciszo group were. But they were extraordinarily stoked that we came.

Colombia PlanadasLa Isla

We headed straight out to La Isla from Edith’s home and it was as magnificent a washing station as I’ve seen in my years traveling to Colombia. Everything was immaculate from the depulping machine to the tiled fermentation tanks to the holding tanks to the drying beds. In turn her coffee was immaculate as well. I dipped my hand into one of the bags in her storage bodega and it felt as if someone had poured raw honey into my hand. Lovely. We took a quick stroll through her newest farm, Villasofia which is producing for this first time this year. It was healthy and pristinely beautiful as was her husband Wilson Rodriguez’s farm, La Lusitania. Wilson produced our highest scoring micro lot from Planadas last year. It was a jasmine and blackberry treasure.

Porvenir FamilyWe ended the day in Gaitania at the Rojas brother’s farm, El Porvenir, potentially the highlight of my career. You see these two young men have produced multiple micro lots for Stumptown for the past three years. Only Walter Penna in Pedregal, Cauca has matched that feat and that includes all of our producing countries. Only in Colombia I suppose. Their farm is on as steep a slope as I’ve come across in my days traversing coffee farms. Perched up around 1700 masl the farm seems to be painted onto the face of the mountain. It’s as stunning as the coffee is in the cup. I wanted to stay for days and soak up every last drop of the experience. Sadly, Gaitania still isn’t very safe at night so we made the 5 hour trek home that same night. I’d do it again tomorrow.

-Aleco

Coffee Confidential

Five coffee connoisseurs rank the Northwest’s finest roasts. May the best sip win.

PORTLAND MAY HAVE the lowest rate of churchgoers of any American city, but that doesn’t mean our citizens don’t worship—it’s just that our ministers are called baristas, and they pontificate from the pulpit of $12,000 espresso machines. And whether the faithful prefer Emerald City giant Starbucks, its popular indie brother Caffé Vita, Italy’s Illy, or Portland’s own Stumptown, converting coffee drinkers from one brand to another is about as easy as persuading Louis Farrakhan to eat pork.

So to test the influence of the reigning sects, Portland Monthly assembled a group of local food-and-drink high priests. With the cups free of logos, catchphrases, and hipper-than-thou reputations, this was a lesson in blind faith. And with regional barista champion Charlotte Deason pulling perfect espresso shots and whipping up creamy cappuccinos, and one of the country’s top coffee consultants—Matt Milletto of the American Barista & Coffee School—policing the entire affair, our crusade was clear: find Portland’s supreme bean.

1. THE COFFEES

Caffé Vita – One of the original so-called “third wave” coffee companies, the Seattle-based outfit is finding love in Portland despite its fierce rivalry with Stumptown. The company has a Portland café in the works, and is the exclusive coffee 
of all Bruce Carey Restaurants (23 Hoyt, Saucebox, Bluehour, and Clarklewis).

Illy – Before Stumptown arrived, Illy was the longtime go-to brand for Portland’s upscale restaurants. Many good PDX eateries still hold tightly to the Italian company.

Stumptown – Outside of fixed-gear bikes and indie rock, Stumptown Coffee Roasters is Portland’s most renowned contribution to hip popular urban culture.

Caffé Umbria – In the beginning there was Seattle’s Torrefazione, a private company owned by the Bizzari family. It was swallowed by Seattle’s Best, which was gulped down in turn by Starbucks. The Bizzari family debuted Umbria in 2002.

Starbucks – Say what you will about the jolly green giant—it’s probably the most widely consumed coffee in Portland. Stumptown has five Portland venues. Starbucks? Hundreds.

2. How They Rated

The judges critiqued each coffee on a scale of 1 to 5 for flavor, finish, mouthfeel, and overall enjoyment. Final scores reflect the average of the categories. (Criteria developed by Matt Milletto, a frequent judge of international barista competitions.)

3. The Results

Stumptown – Winner
“Bitter with hints of chocolate, citrus, and a good mouthfeel. Pleasant.” —AM
“Perfect.” —CW
“Pleasantly railroad-y, with a hint of brimstone.” —MB

Caffé Umbria – Runner Up
“Bright and bold.” —AB
“Buttery and chocolaty with hints of orange peels. Round and mellow.” —KM

Caffé Vita – Third
“Good balance, sweet, and a strong finish.” —AM
“Very bitter and astringent.” —KM
“A bit like durian.” —MB

Illy – Fourth
“Creamy yet woody.” —CW
“Tastes like blueberries.” —AB
“Chocolate with bits of peppered jerky.” —MB

Starbucks – Fifth
“What seemed nice at first quickly became terrible.” —AM
“Not an exciting flavor profile. Boring and bitter.” —CW
“Moldy with a gust of Victorian underskirt.” —MB