The competition was organized by Café Imports, Banexport (their exporting partner), and the National Colombian Coffee School. There were over 500 submissions to the competition by small producers from the region. These were narrowed down to the top 30 before we arrived – then it was up to us to select the top 12 coffees that would be part of a live auction at the end of the competition.
Thirty coffee professionals from around the world – from Japan, to South Korea, to the Netherlands – flew in to evaluate the top 12 coffees. We all arrived in Bogota late Monday evening, got a few hours of sleep, and then took an early morning flight to Neiva, the capital of Huila. From Neiva, we had a bit of a frightening four hour bus ride to Pitalito – our driver seemed to think he was competing in the Indy 500, passing cars through sharp, blind turns, and definitely forgetting his blinker.
Wednesday morning, having survived the race to Pitalito, we all boarded a bus for a 30 minute ride to the National Colombian Coffee School, where the competition kicked off. We took a brief tour of the school, then we hit the cupping lab, where we divided into teams and got ready for the first cupping of the day.
The first cupping was a calibration cupping, meant to get everyone on the same page for scoring the coffees going forward. We wanted to make sure that we we evaluating objectively – solely based on the merits of each coffee. Next, we did blind cuppings of the first ten coffees of the competition. It was an intense experience – the whole room was essentially quiet, except for loud slurping, as everyone tasted and evaluated the coffees. After we all finished, we gathered in a large conference room to discuss scores and tasting notes for each coffee. Then it was lunch time, followed by an afternoon visit to a local coffee farm.
This would be our schedule for the next few days, cupping the competition coffees and other regional coffees in the morning, and farm visits in the late afternoon. The days were long, but the experience was awesome; it was truly a pleasure to learn from, and improve my skills alongside other coffee professionals.
On Saturday morning we cupped the top twelve coffees again, and ranked them 1 through 12. The top coffee scored an 88.78 out of 100–it had really exceptional flavor, with notes of floral, jasmine, vanilla and orange. At the auction later on Saturday, that coffee sold for $31 per pound, compared to an average specialty coffee price of $1.50-$4.00 per pound.
Going on origin trips, seeing where our coffees are grown, and meeting the farmers whose lives we impact when buying their coffees is one of the most satisfying aspects of my job. The trip was amazing – I met some great people, made some new friends, and learned a lot. It really reaffirmed my love for everything coffee.
Read more about how we handcraft our coffee.