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The 2013 Colombia Sourcing Trip (Part 1)

by Mike Perry

I just returned from Medellin where I was invited to be a cupping judge for the Antioquia Government who has six coffee hunters searching for the best coffee in the state of Antioquia. While there I joined friends Chuck of Birdrock and Jeff of Portola to launch Roasters United, a joint effort to find the Best Micro Lots in all of Colombia. This will be a competition cupping paying over $3.2 million pesos in prize money plus top prices to farmers, allowing them to remain sustainable and us to get first selection to these great coffees.

Part 1
After a long day of travel to Colombia, I arrived in Medellin after midnight and my hotel after 1 am. After an early breakfast I joined the others to judge and cup the best coffee in Antioquia. Six coffee hunters searched all of Antioquia for the best they could find from Estates, Co-ops and small producers. In all, 34 coffees made the final cut and awaited our opinions. We cupped three tables before lunch and one more after.
Following the cupping, the Government auctioned off the lots one by one. In general, most of the lots were of the Castillo variety of bean, not the most prized. There were a few Caturra variety lots for auction and my favorite was one of them. In fact, it was the favorite of most every cupper at the event. During the auction lots were sold to buyers from several different countries but I waited for my favorite. The process was one where the lots were listed in a book with info of the farm and farmer but we did not know where it was on the cupping tables until the individual lot was announced and auctioned. When my lot became available I discovered it was 275 bags and more than I wanted to get from one farmer. Fortunately for me, because of the high minimum bid requirement and large lot size, all the buyers stood on the sidelines and the lot was not sold.
In all, it was a great competition but my friends Chuck and Jeff and I were all a bit discouraged that none of us got the lot we wanted (#34, the last and final we cupped that day), so after the auction we went down the street for a drink before the Government dinner. Somehow one led to another, and when it was time to leave someone ordered another round. By the time we got back to the hotel to meet the group and head to the unknown dinner location, everyone was gone and it appeared we were going to miss it. Suddenly, one car stopped in the street and called our names. It was Melissa, one of our hosts who had waited for us but had just given up hope and was driving away when she saw us and stopped. We would get dinner after all.
Because we were late, we were put at one end of a long table next to a farmer who did not speak English plus his sister who did. During our conversation we found out they had a lot in the cupping and auction but it had not sold. As we continued to talk we learned they had lot #34, the one we all liked best. Because it was our favorite, they invited the three of us to visit their farm the next day, promising to take us to the meeting point for the next night in the town of Bolivar as that is where they lived.

In Part 2, I will discuss the visit and our paper napkin contract that resulted……. Mike

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