Colombia – June, 2007

“There is no such thing as specialty coffee, only special coffee producers”

I stole that quote from a good friend in Colombia, but I’ll be damned if it’s not true. After a quick pit stop at the fabled Los Sauces farm in the Sotara region of the Cauca Valley just outside of Popayan, we journeyed south to the Narino province in search of finding diamond in the rough coffees. I had been in Narino just a month prior and was completely stoked to taste the potential the region has on the cupping tables. Nothing was going to stop me from getting back and digging deeper during the peak of the harvest.

After 5 hours of winding through Andean canyons with picturesque landscapes of sheer rock and luscious green vegetation, we arrived in the town of La Union, just across the Cauca border. We were only crossing a provincial border, but it sure felt like a border town. There were buses coming from all directions, truckers carrying cargo, and street food galore in this tiny mountain town tucked away at 1600 meters in the southern Colombian Andes.

We were up early the next morning to cup through several tables of samples coming from producer associations all over northern Narino. The goal at these cuppings is to identify quality coffee and pursue the producers who are making it happen. If we find 5 very good to great coffees out of 30, I’m excited. We found about 6 or 7, so I’m pumped to hit the road!

Before we set off to Cartago de Narino we had the chance to sit down with the producer groups and discuss what we are setting out to do down there. We will pinpoint the best coffees on the cupping table and find the farmers who grew them. We’ll help them improve their technique even further and therefore improve quality and we pay them a hell of a lot more money if they can pull it off. Of course, the producers were all up in arms and wildly enthusiastic to get started. Hopefully they will stay motivated and follow through after we’re gone. Anyway, it’s off to Cartago to get down and dirty on the farms! All of the farms we visited were at 1800 meters + along the side of the Chimayoy Volcano. They were in seemingly good condition, but their processing was adequate at best. Cleaner conditions and more meticulous care are needed throughout the region, but both of those are easily remedied. They need a little bit of work when it comes to picking ripe cherries as well, but I’m hoping we solved that problem on this visit. My fingers are crossed.

I have to admit I wasn’t overly happy waking the next morning after remembering the process from the day before. But, we were moving on to bigger and better things south of La Union in San Lorenzo. After another two hours in the car we crossed into San Lorenzo and made our stops at some of the finest coffee farms I have ever seen in Colombia. A couple of the San Lorenzo farmers seemed poised to place top notch coffee in Portland. Their farms were laden with healthy Caturra, Typica and Bourbon varietals along with clean processing and superior drying apparatuses.

As always, journeying through Colombia is eye opening in both positive and negative ways. This country clearly has the potential to produce some of the finest coffees in the world. I’ve said over and over again that any coffee producer with proper altitude and varietals can produce an outstanding quality. But ya’ll already know there is no such thing as specialty coffee…