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Cup of Excellence

Isn’t economy air travel glorious? Who cares! We got to escape the horrid winter cold, visit some amazing locales and meet dedicated and passionate coffee people! We flew in to Guatemala City at dusk.

Travelling with myself (Roaster) and Andy (Owner, Green Bean Buyer) this time was Brett (Ex-manager at Crafted, national barista competitor, Head of our upcoming Tasting Bar), as well as Shawn and Jay of Rooster Coffeehouse, certainly one of the best places to grab great coffee in Toronto.

The first morning we were greeted by Nicholas Hammond of CAFCOM (a supplier of Guatemalan coffee) and owner of Finca Catalan de Las Mercedes, or “Catalan” as he likes to call it. Accompanying Nicholas for a great deal of this trip was Angie, his fiance. Nicholas is 26 years old and has a degree in agricultural engineering, so he is driven and knows what he wants to achieve. A perfect fit for us here at Pilot.

The first place he took us to was a wet mill (or beneficio) that he oversees in Acatenango, called “Puerta Blanca”. I have no idea what that means. (OK it means “white door”) This is also the mill where Nicholas washes his own coffee. It mills around 1500 lbs of cherry each day. At this location and altitude (around 1500m) the coffee undergoes a 12 hour fermentation, and the drying time is around 9 days. There is not much patio space so there are also mechanical dryers, using wood as a fuel source. The pulping equipment and washing channels get covered in chalk powder during downtime to prevent the growth of bacteria. The pulp waste from the cherry is collected and given to local farmers as fertilizer.

The first thing that always strikes me when going to a wet mill is the smell. It is unmistakable and oddly comforting and difficult to describe. In any event it is always a pleasure to see what happens to coffee before it reaches your cup; the wet milling process is just one small part of a larger chain.

Next we were taken to Catalan, over 2000 meters above sea level. And let me tell you: I was instantly in love with the place. I had never seen such healthy-looking trees! And so much gesha! This is right when Nicholas told us that the 25 bags of Catalan we received this past fall was a blend of all the farm’s varieties. We had suspected as much when our initial cupping revealed bursts of jasmine unlike a typical Guatemalan coffee.

The farm is at such a high elevation that leaf rust thankfully does not pose a threat; instead frost is a risk one runs into at this height. Also there is a slightly higher risk of UV damage, but the effects of that are not fully understood; and in any event the entire farm has shade trees (as does something like 98% of all coffee grown in the country). Nicholas uses both Ingas and Gravilea for shade, and also has a few avocado trees around.

His farm is surrounded by 600 acres of natural reserve and Nicholas does his best to preserve what he can: whenever he reclaims land for more coffee, he replants trees elsewhere. He also gives portions of his land over to his employees to plant whatever crops they wish for food. Corn is most common. He has 5 year-round employees and up to 100 during harvest. A good year can see Catalan producing up to 150 70kg bags of green coffee, but you really have to wait for it: again because the coffee grows at such a height, the harvest won’t complete until April.

What we are really excited about is the massive potential at Catalan. We are interested in securing the entire lot from Nicholas this time around, and not only that, but he is also going to separate the coffee by variety! So this time we will be able to offer three coffees from the same farm: Red Bourbon, Yellow Bourbon and the aforementioned Gesha. This is a first for us and a first for Nicholas, and we are honoured to be able to join him in this journey. He has bigger plans for Catalan in the future as well: he wants to build a wet mill on site so that he will have more control over the processing, and also to experiment with fermentation, soaking, pulping and drying.

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During Columbia’s Cup of Excellence Auction this year, there was one coffee in particular that received an exceptional number of bids.  The farmer responsible for this lot is Arnulfo Leguizamo.  Not only did his coffee win First Place, it also achieved the astonishing score of 94 points.  Scores this high are rarely seen in the coffee world, and through this win, Arnulfo Leguizamo’s small quarter hectare crop fetched over US $100,000.  Can you imagine the emotion when Arnulfo found out he won?  From Wired Magazine’s Frederick Kaufman, who was at the ceremony:

“When I finally get the champ’s attention, I ask what will he do with all that dinero heading his way, and he looks over the teeming crowd, eyes moist with emotion. Perhaps he is recalling how, high in the mountains of Teruel, he harvested his Caturra, washed the cherries with cool spring water, and dried them in the sun, as did his father, as did the ancients.

“Thank God and the Virgin Mary,” Leguizamo says.”  

We were fortunate to acquire some of the this lot and are excited to not only share the results of Arnulfo’s hard work and dedication with you, but the amazing story behind it all.  We have been supporters of the Cup of Excellence since we first opened our doors, not only purchasing/bidding on COE coffees, but by participating on the international jury for the last 2 years.

We have a very small quantity of this coffee, and this will only be available by pre-purchasing your half pound for $35 at Te Aro/Crafted or online.  Once it’s gone, it’s gone!!

Notes on this exceptional Farm as well as Tasting Notes:

Mr. Arnulfo Leguizamo is 46 years old, son of a coffee farmer born in the municipality of Teruel, Huila. In his youth he studied several mechanical activities and after doing a lot of work in an urban environment, he decided that his future was in the field – dedicated to work with coffee. He started by planting half of a hectare in the property of his father in Teruel. He traveled to the municipality of San Agustín 23 years ago, in order to know the mystical sculptures at the Archeological Park. Nevertheless, the climate, the warm people and mainly the wealth of earth caused him to fall in love with this municipality where he met Mrs. Aura Rita Bolaños his wife and the mother of his four children: Mayeli, Joh Edison, Diego Felipe and Hamer Duvan. He began with 1 hectare, an inheritance of his wife, and after a while he bought 3 more hectares that he planted little by little with coffee. His farm is called “Primavera” and it is located in the village “El Tabor” at the municipality of “San Agustín”. Is cultivated with Caturra varietal and is being renovated to integrate the variety Castillo.

He has been a Rainforest Alliance Certified farmer for 4 years, and he is committed to the protection to the environment. He is protecting springs and birds, he is recycling trash, and he doesn’t spray out chemical products. These principles are because of his sons – he wants to keep his place at least without contamination or pollution so they can live and eat there in the future in a healthy way.

His principals for the production of coffee are based on the quality; he says “I have to do things with love, dedication and with the support of my wife and my children. The advantages of this land where my farm is located are a secret but mainly because of the high altitude and the right temperatures we produce coffee with the best attributes for its taste. It is important for us to harvest only ripe-red cherries and process on time. We have to wash coffee well with clean water and dry it under sun and air for that we use the system: ‘Casa Elda’.”FARM:  Primavera

FARMER:  Arnulfo Leguizamo

REGION:  San Agustin, Huila

ALTITUDE:  1841 m

VARIETAL:  100% Caturra

PROCESSING:  Washed

NOTES:  Jasmine, tamarind, apricot, wild honey, lime blossom, cherries, vanilla, sugar browning, elderberry blossom, vibrant, red fruits, floral, wine, caramel, floral, bergamot, lemongrass, lychee, raisins, tea-like, kaffir lime, tea rose, tropical fruits, passion fruit acidity, stone fruit, white peach, effervescent, creamy lingering, syrupy, notably sweet from beginning to end, persistent

I have just returned from the Cup of Excellence in Nicaragua.  This was Nicaragua’s 10th year participating in the COE.  Despite this only being my second time participating in the COE, it feels like a bit of a reunion when the panel comes together and it’s nice to build these intercontinental relationships that continue long after COE is over.

Experiencing the hospitality in Matagalpa was humbling.  Every evening we were hosted by either farm owners, exporters and other sponsors…and different high profile farmers or politicians would give speeches about the coffee industry.  Listening to the speeches during the evenings, only reinforced that I really need to learn Spanish, and I’m not sure the language application on my iphone is cutting it.

By the time we had arrived for COE, the National Jury had done an amazing job narrowing the 400 coffees entered to 60, leaving us with some stunning coffees.  We narrowed down the 60 coffees in 2 days, which is the most coffee cupping I have done in such a short amount of time.  The International jury narrowed it down to 29 coffees, and the next few days after that, we brought it down to 27 stellar coffees.

The awards ceremony was huge – there were around 1000 people waiting to hear the results, and then we all sat down for dinner together.

After COE wrapped up, I was lucky enough to tour one of Erwin’s farms.  Driving around 40 minutes out of Matagalpa, we arrived to the most amazing coffee farm I have visited.  Not only was the farm lush, green, full of waterfalls, and beautiful landscape, but this farm has several different varietals of coffee and I had the rare opportunity to cup a Yellow Pacaramara, which was an outstanding 90+ coffee.

I was fortunate to meet some great farmers while I was away that I hope to build relationships with in the futrue.  I also found it interesting to talk to the farmers about how the fluctuating coffee prices and the low harvest affect them.  For example, I met a farmer who had an outstanding COE coffee but he wasn’t able to participate so that he could honour all his contracts – one very lucky roaster will be receiving that coffee soon.  And from knowing his reputation, it would have probably made it into the top 10.

Overall, COE in Nicaragua has created a huge amount of awareness for their coffee.  Every year, Nicaragua is experiencing tremendous growth in their coffee exports and they are fetching better prices for their coffees.  I’m looking forward to going back next harvest and our customers can look forward to seeing more coffees from Nic. on our shelves.

The International Competition has started in Nicaragua.  I am 1 of 17 international judges this year – the other judges have come from the US, Asia, and Europe.

We’re staying up in the Northern area of Nicaragua in a beautiful spot called Matagalpa.

I’ll post some pics as the competition moves along.

Today we calibrated and over the next few days, we will be cupping 60 coffees.