Day 1 - Nov. 06
Yesterday was all travel to get to our hotel in Bogota, via Miami. Arrived and was notified by Kyle that there would be a bike race on the main road leading from Neiva to Garzon, so we may all need to rebook our flights to Neiva for later. By the time I made it through emigration, Kyle had updated me again that we’d stay on the same flights and find a route through.
So, early morning for us all to get to the airport by 5:00am to fly out to Neiva. Neiva is the largest city in Huila and is at a very low elevation, so the humidity and temperature change from Bogota (which is moderately high and temperate) is quite drastic. You can feel the weight of the air as you step off the plane.
We met up with Yoshi and Takaki from Junction in Fukushima here at the Neiva airport, boarded our bus and started making our way out to Garzon. I’m not sure if it’s the backroads that were routing around the bike race, or just the nature of navigating the terrain up to Garzon, but the roads were quite winding — oftentimes on the edge of a hillside. The terrain is beautiful though. In between small towns, we’d drive through large swaths of mountainous land overlooking the Magdalena River and various geological features. Goats, Cows, and various cattle all along the way. We made one stop at a small hotel restaurant(?) somewhere along the way for breakfast. Rice, plantains, eggs, and cheese-stuffed bread rolls.
After a few hours in the bus, and dozing off for the periods when the road was a little bit less windy, we made it to Garzon and our hotel, La Casona. The hotel is beautiful and splits time between hosting events, guests, and growing its own agriculture. I haven’t quite taken a tour of what all is grown on site here, but there’s quite a few native fruits, citrus, and a lot of teak.
We got settled in a bit and got to brewing coffee that the group was long awaiting. I brought over some Ticuna Lactic Pink Bourbon — I thought it would be fitting to share this coffee as Kyle and José sourced and processed this coffee personally, and Kyle got to brew this on Chemex and share with the group. It is quite a wild experience being on the lands where the coffee is grown, working with the people who helped produce it, and being able to bring it back to them and enjoy the product on the soil that grew it.
Also got to drink some Bookkisa washed that subtext had brought to share that Osito also sourced.
Had lunch at the restaurant here, and we’ll be setting up the first cupping of the day here shortly. Today, we’ll just be going through “calibration” — the structure has yet to be revealed, but this will be crucial time for us all to calibrate to each other, learn the expectations for what we will be looking for and grading for specifically, and make sure that we all are dialed in and performing our best for these coffees.
Chris Feran had some flight cancellations and finally made it to the hotel solo after a long overnight travel and we were able to get our calibration cupping rolling.
Three identical tables were set up with 10x samples and we split into groups to work through a table. We analyzed aroma, added water, and the analyzed taste, logging notes and cup scores. We were pretty much able to take as long as we needed to analyze and gave everyone a good bit of time to consolidate their scores and submit them through a google form.
David consolidated the scores, averaged them out, throwing out the high and low, and ran everyone’s notes into chatgpt to consolidate the notes, and we sat in a circle chatting through scores and the coffees on the table were revealed. Overall, everyone seems to be pretty dialed in together and had a pretty consistent score reference, barring a couple outliers here and there. Personally, I feel pretty consistent with the group but on the calibration table at least, though I probably am a bit too forgiving on some of the lower end coffees (or maybe the rest of the group is too harsh).
Finished the evening with a quick night swim to cool off before heading back out to finish the night with dinner and a few Cuba Colombias (the local beer).
Had an opportunity to finish the night chatting and having some brews with Kyle Bellinger, Chris Feran, Cassie Ash, and Matt (from Carrier Roasting). Definitely nice to have some chill time with them chatting business, challenges of the industry, and just getting to overall spend a bit of time together, and I look up to all of them for what they do in the industry and the passion they have for doing things well.
Tomorrow we’ll be starting the actual competition, with 4x tables on day 1, 3x on day 2, 2x on day 3, and the final top 15 table on day 4 along with the closing ceremony.
#1 Divino Niño Type 2 (old lot) avg score : 84.87
#2 Palestina Single Producer Pink Bourbon avg score : 86
#3 forgot avg score : 85.39
#4 Single Producer La Plata - Pink Bourbon avg score : 86.31
#5 El Rubi Community Lot avg score : 85.03
#6 San Augustine Gesha Oscar Hernan Garcia avg score : 87.1
#7 San Augustine Castillo Acio Rey Alinas avg score : 86.31
#8 Suaza Gesha - Julio arces (roast defect) avg score : 78.95
#9 Pink Bourbon - Palestina Jose Garcia Martinez avg score : 86.58
#10 La Plata - Samuel Rodriguez Caturra, v.colombia avg score : 85.18
Notable Moments :
- Kyle & José brewing Ticuna Pink Bourbon in Colombia.
- Solo night swim overlooking the beautiful Colombian hillsides, seeing a storm rolling in the distance.
- Cheesy Arepas and fresh juices (maracuya, chihuahua, & raspberry) at the traveler’s rest
- The flowers at the hotel are incredible.
- Lots of people had frogs in their cabins falling off the walls throughout the night. *plop*
- David found bat poop in his bed, so that’s good.
- Beers with Kyle, Chris, Matt and Cassie.
Day 2 - Nov. 07
Our first table of the day was set for 8am, so we started the day early to get breakfast in the hotel restaurant first thing. Fresh juice is the typical way to start the day here in Colombia (today’s was fresh watermelon). Also had some juevos rancheros, which was a bit different than any other I’ve had — slices of pretty mild chorizo, cheese, corn, and eggs. Regardless of the fact that pretty much everything imaginable grows here (and so much of it right here on site!), it’s not typical to use much vegetables or citrus or herbs for cooking and a lot of the food is fairly bland, fried, cheesed, and sugared, and the most common vegetable to find in your food is corn. Regardless, it was nice to get something in my stomach as we’d be cupping a lot of coffee throughout the day.
Our first table started promptly at 8am. Each table is set with 10x cups with triplicates, so, throughout the day that would end up as 40x individual coffees to taste and 120x cups. The nice thing is that after each round, the staff would bring us all a little snack or treat to munch on while we discussed the previous round — this time it was a tuna sandwich with our favorite vegetable — corn! After discussion, everything was reset and we went straight into round 2, another discussion, and lunch. Things are paced out fairly nicely so there’s plenty of downtime in between sessions to get work done, reset for the next table, and just relax on site here and soak up the beautiful landscape.
Round 3 and 4 was a bit more exciting, with a pretty intense windstorm threatening to kick over the tables, and a pretty long internet outage which prevented us from being able to consolidate everyone’s notes for discussion. A producer came to visit during this time and brought along some mango and cocoa fruit to share while we waited for the internet issue to be fixed. Cacao fruit was one of the things I was really looking forward to trying so I was happy to have a chance finally! Very delicious, like creamy apple and soursop, with a very smooth and velvety texture — absolutely nothing like the taste of finished chocolate. We finished passing around our treats and consolidating cupping notes and finished our last discussion for the day.
Overall the cuppings of the day went well. My cupping scores are feeling dialed in with the group (though a bit higher than average, mostly), but I also think the group is hesitant to push scores too high. I’m gonna push a bit harder and widen my spread a bit for the next tables and see how that feels. Speaking with David and Kyle, they pretty much confirmed their feelings on peoples’ scores as well, so I think this will be beneficial and necessary to get cup score averages closer to where they should be landing.
Jose’s friend owns a restaurant near downtown so after our final cupping, we called for a bus and rode off into Garzon. They greeted us with a large table adorned with potato and beef empanadas, chicharrons, various salsas, guacamole, and tostones (smashed, fried plantains). All the food was super delicious but the tomato and onion was a much welcome sight! After dinner, they showed us more of the restaurant, which is also their home, and the barbecue pits out back — which are super impressive, clay-covered ovens, used for whole-pig cooking stuffed with onions and rice. They’ve been making pigs like this for over 40 years, apparently, and are famed for their preparation throughout the region. Finished off the night with games of ping-pong and “rana” or “frog”, which is a wooden piece of furniture with holes along the top and drawers along the front and two metal open-mouthed frogs — you toss coins, trying to throw them into the frog’s mouths, which lead to the drawers below with point totals — kind of skee-ball, kind of corn-hole. Very fun. Andrea from Osito told us there’s an even more fun version with firecrackers. Maybe we’ll get to play that one later in the week.
Day 3 - Nov. 8
Woke up today feeling quite queasy and was battling that all day. I think because the lack of availability of vegetables, the copious amounts of caffeine we’re consuming, and the rationing of drinkable water, I’ve just gotten pretty dehydrated. At any rate, I’ve been trying to drink as much water as I can and try to not let it influence anything at the cupping tables.
Before cupping today, Christina (from Osito Colombia) brought a conch to the cupping area to process a chocolate Osito was looking to source from Brazil. We got a chance to taste through this fresh out the conch — delicious and intruiging — quite olive-y, with a dark-berry fruitiness.
We cupped tables 1 & 2 in the AM, broke for lunch (which I stayed recuperating in my cabin for), and then got back to cupping. We finished up the final table of the day and cake was brought out for Didier’s birthday! Some slices were passed around and a bit of “Feliz Cumpleaños” to celebrate him and the help he’s done with the event.
For dinner, we took another bus into town to a restaurant called San Joaquin. San Joaquin seems like the place to be in Garzon — a huge outdoor restaurant with a pond running through the middle and bursting with tropical plants throughout. Really beautiful space, and HUGE. The food, once again, was not very good. Jamal had the ceviche — kind of a sweet ketchup sauce. Tim and Kyle shared a “Mexican Pizza” — lots of cheese and nacho chips on top. My stomach was feeling better for sure, but I didn’t want to push it, so I had the most plain burger they had on the menu. Came loaded with soft, soggy bacon, huge amount of processed cheese, and doused in a VERY sweet barbecue sauce. Had half of it before tapping out. I’m realizing the staying hydrated and getting proper nutrients at all is going to be the challenge for the rest of the trip.
At any rate, as far as the Copa De Oro is concerned, today we’ve fully finished cupping through each region and have sent the top coffees on to the next round. From here on out we’ll be tasting coffees again, and whittling things down further.
Day 4 - Nov. 9
Feeling much better today, and excited to go over the final round of coffees! We set up the final two tables and cupped through them promptly. The tables have been separated by region, narrowing down the top 5 from each region, but we don’t know which region we’re cupping. This has been super interesting to taste all the samples within context of the micro regions, but also not knowing what region they come from. There are definite consistencies between coffees from a region, but this also makes the coffees that stand out feel extra special. The final table of the day was super exciting — lots of dynamic flavors, Kenyan and Ethiopian-like profiles, rich, deep sweetness, and complex. We settled scores, discussed, and took a break for lunch here at the hotel before heading out to into Garzon.
We boarded our bus and headed into Garzon to visit Diego Campos and his cafe. Diego Campos was the 2021 World Barista Champion and the first World Champion from a producing country. This is a big marker for the industry and has been huge for Colombia. Diego is an important part of the Colombian Coffee Industry and the Industry as a whole, so it was really great to visit the cafe, meet him, and have some coffees served by him. Diego pulled me a delicious espresso, and the staff there churned out countless coffee lemonades — which everyone really loved. Halfway through our visit at the cafe Tim Wendelboe randomly stopped by, which was a really nice surprise! I visited his cafe and roastery in Oslo very recently, and he’s been a big influence in my personally coffee journey so it was super fun to have him show up and be able to chit chat a bit!
We all finished up our coffees and conversation with Tim and Diego, and boarded our bus to head off to the newly opened Osito Dry Mill.
This mill was a huge step for Osito, as it allows them to purchase dried parchment from producers and not have to rely on outsourcing their milling to someone else. This allows much better control, stricter regiments, and much better traceability and reliability than you can find by outsourcing the milling. Here, the coffee is organized, and then put into a huller, which removes the coffee’s silver skin, and then takes multiple paces through density tables, which sorts the coffee at different densities, but also sorts out defects, before finally passing through the optical sorter, which is the last step in sorting out all defect so the coffees come out consistent, clean, and high quality.
Finished the night by boarding the bus and heading out to Jagua, to El Embrujo Del Albadan. Jagua is known for being a “witch-town”, meaning that the town is constantly adorned with Halloween decoration, with skeletons, ghouls, fortune tellers, and witches adorning everything. For many places here, “inside” just means inside the walls of the restaurant, which has no roof. We ate our dinner at a long table in the middle of their lawn, under a mango tree, right next to the graveyard with the skeletons coming out of it. Had the witches hair, which ended up be a spaghetti pesto. 5 stars, incredible experience.
Day 5 - Nov. 10
Final day at the Copa De Oro! Unfortunately Jess from Roasted Brown in Ireland must have had a bad batch of witches hair, and was stuck in her room all day. We prepped 15 samples for the table, the top 5 scoring from each region, and began our evaluations. It was amazing to have all the top scoring coffees on the table at once — each coffee was giving distinctive and clear character that made tasting through everything really exciting. And having all the regions represented on the same table for the first time made for a really dynamic table.
The room was void of any chatter, but constant noise of slurping and various noises of busy coppers taking notes and diving deep into the coffees. You could feel the weight of everyone wanting to do a good job, as the winners would be decided here, and the results of the competition can be life changing for these producers.
We took our time and everyone logged and submitted their final scores. David aggregated the date and sent out the results. We still don’t know what the coffees are, but we did gather the winners of the day. Some clear consistency within the group, but it’s interesting to see how different people evaluated and perceived coffees differently from others, and how that reflected into their final scores. Still, all these coffees are quite deserving of recognition, and they are all winners to get this far into the competition and will certainly be purchased, regardless.
As we finished up deliberation, families began to roll in. Some on busses, many on motorbike. A barbecue of pollo, champas, yucca, potato, blood sausage, and chicharron was served — a celebration lunch for sure. Cervesas and many shots of Doble Anis passed from table to table as the band played. Plenty of dancing and singing before the final number, where the Sanjuanero was performed — the local dance specific to this area — each department within Colombia has it’s own signature dance so this was very special to see first hand here.
Finally, the top five of each region were invited to the stage for their trophy and the top 5 overall were announced. It was amazing to be able to see not only how seriously each family took the competition, but you could see how much the recognition meant to them, not to mention how much the money will mean to their farm and livelihood. We took photos, shook hands, congratulated the producers as best we could, and straight back to dancing and singing into the evening.
Day 6 - Nov. 11
No coffees to evaluate early this morning, and lots of Doble Anis (a anise-flavored liquer and each department has their own preferred brand) meant we finally got a day to sleep in a bit before boarding the bus out to Suaza and Jose and Kyle’s farm, El Mirador. A bit past Suaza proper, a turn up narrow, unpaved mountain roads lead out to El Mirador, which lies just further up the mountain town where José grew up. Halfway up the mountain, the smell of coffee blossoms fill the air, which means the farms here are experiencing a very strong flowering — this is a sign that in about 9 months, the farms will have a solid harvest.
Arriving at El Mirador, I was immediately struck by the beauty of the land. The coffee trees are more naturally and loosely planted, rather than a more industrialized and systemized rows formation. From the farm, you can see clear across to the other hillsides and down through the valley, and the aroma from the blossoming coffee trees is fills the air. Throughout the farm, banana trees are planted, which not only provides a second source of income and food for the family, but provides ample shade for the coffee and cacao trees.
We walk for a while around the farm, exploring the coffee and cacao trees, smelling the blossoms up close, and tasting fresh cherries straight from the branches — definitely a dream of mine for a long time and a really special experience. Jose and his farm manager (a local man from an indigenous people group) showed is their drying beds, which are all built on parabolic shade raised beds and covered, allowing ample coverage from sunshine and keeps the coffee at a stable temperature for drying, along with their wet milling station. They built the wet milling station years ago under guidance from the Colombian Coffee Federation, with a mill attached to the second story roof that leads down to two tile-lined fermentation vessels. Nowadays, they prefer to ferment in plastic barrels with a covered airlock — easier maintenance, moving, cleaning, and a more controllable environment, so they mainly use the tanks now as a float tank for sorting out the less dense coffees. Jose floated the coffee, sorted, and then added this lot to the fermentation vessel, finishing with water and 2% by weight of salt. This salt addition inoculates the environment and provides a healthier fermentation liquid promoting lactic acid build up, which gives the coffees a sparkly cleanliness.
After walking us through his processing, we sat down for lunch on the farm overlooking the rows of cacao and coffee trees. They served us sancocho (a chicken stock soup, wood-fired chicken, yucca, a local corn variety, rice, and probably the best guacamole I’ve ever had in my life — amazing. This was the first year that the recently planted cacao trees were fruiting, so Kyle harvested the first cacao pod from El Mirador and split it open to share with everyone for dessert. It was sweet, acidic, creamy, with mango and lychee flavors. Absolutely delicious, and again, nothing at all like what you would expect the fruit of the plant that produces chocolate to taste like.
We made our way down off of Mirador and back to our hotel. Andrea from Osito had communicated to the groundskeeper earlier who had offered to take us up the the edge of the hotel property overlooking Jagua and Gigante on horseback — another unreal experience that just showcases how amazing this land is. We’ve been unbelievably lucky to have such amazing locale and hospitality with the people here and the experience has been unlike anything I imagined. I’m thankful to have been able to create such rich connections not only with our importing partners and peers within the industry, but also with outstanding producers who are passionate to dive deeper into the industry and pour themselves into their coffees.