On the 11 of November we finished the roasting day, cooled down the roaster and headed to Heathrow airport to fly overnight to the capital of Colombia, Bogotá. The eleven hour flight was bumpy but made quick once the exhaustion from the roasting day kicked in and put us all to sleep. Soon we were landing into a Bogotá covered in darkness and just about to turn to 3 am. From that early Tuesday morning we wouldn’t stop until our flight home late Saturday night. Over the week we took another four flights across the country and spent almost 24 hours driving over mountains and through valleys to meet producers, taste coffee, and build our Colombian coffee program for 2020.
The week started tasting coffees with our partners Caravela while still in Bogotá. Coffee tasting is called cupping in the industry, and is not unlike a caffeine-fuelled wine tasting. You taste through many different coffees from different producers, different sections of farms and processing methods. You taste through while scoring the coffee, a skill refined during the process of becoming the coffee world’s version of sommelier, the Q Grader.
The blind tasting of a lot of different coffees is so important. Without preconceptions or biases, we can find new producers to work with and discover gems that we otherwise wouldn’t have. That’s what happened this time:there were new producers and some we have worked with before, but all the lots were new to us. We created a list of the people whose coffee most excited us and then headed back to the airport to fly to the coffee regions.
After a forty-five minute flight we landed in the city of Neiva and jumped in something from the 80’s that looked like a mix between a rickshaw and a van that had millions of miles in its past. Blasting Colombian polka music the driver pushed the pedal down and started on the road out of town. The way was bumpy and the rickshaw bounced as we left the lights of the city and started a slow climb up the mountain. Somewhere near midnight we arrived at our hotel to some warm rice and a thankfully comfortable bed.
Waking up we saw what the night was hiding when we arrived. We were surrounded by mountains and forests. Opening the door to the outside was like opening a door to paradise. Peacocks roamed the lawn and a choir of song birds sang around us. The exhaustion of the days before melted away, replaced with the feeling of comfort at seeing somewhere so beautiful.
Our first farm, Mauricio Shattah’s La Negrita, wasn’t far. Mauricio is a growing legend in the world of coffee, and even though he has only been a producer for just over a half dozen years he is now at the forefront of innovation. His anaerobic gesha coffee is special to us, and I used it last year to achieve silver in the UK Barista Competition. Jumping out of the car it was a reunion of old friends as our partnership in coffee goes back years.
Spending the day at Mauricio’s farm was an incredible experience, and eye opening in how he challenges the orthodoxy of coffee and pushes the flavours we get in the cup into unique, bold places. On his farm we cupped through more coffee, including much of his experimental Gesha. The coffees there were just finishing production and will be shared on our bar once they crossed the ocean early next year. Mauricio is creating a place that mixes a deep care for the farm’s ecosystem with a revolutionary view on how to handle coffee after it is picked. His coffee is truly among the world’s most exceptional.
Leaving Mauricio’s was a hard goodbye. Once we piled into the truck to start the six hour drive to our next hotel, we couldn’t stop talking about the unique work he was doing and how infectious his passion for creating new and innovative coffee experiences is. Although we had just seen each other, as soon as we had Wi-Fi I couldn’t resist starting our endless conversation about coffee up again and making plans to share his next great work with all of you back home.