When I read this article by Kenneth Davids in The Coffee Review assigning Caturra to the second tier of varietal quality, I thought immediately of Alejandro Cadena, whose pioneering Colombian exporter Virmax who can stake a solid claim to intellectual and material authorship of the microlot model.
Why did I think of Alejandro? Because when he visits coffee farms Colombia, he wears a tee shirt with this messsage emblazoned across the chest.
Today I talk with Alejandro about the coffee variety he loves. It should come as no surprise that he rejects both The Coffee Review assertion that Caturra has second-class genetics, and my suggestion here that current incentives for Caturra may not be sufficient to save it from extinction.
The questions and answers below are the ones I consider to be the highlights of the conversation. You can downlowad the full transcript of the discussion here.
We interrupt our series on of interviews on the CRS Colombian Varietal Cuppings to bring you an important reflection on the future of Caturra.
Are its days numbered?
Today, a conversation with Intelligentsia QC manager Chris Kornman and coffee buyer Geoff Watts regarding Colombian coffee varieties—the third weekly installment in my series on the CRS Colombian Varietal Cuppings.
Earlier this month, Chris and QC Lab Assistant Amanda Seaver staged the CRS Colombian Varietal Cuppings at the Intelligentsia Roasting Works in Chicago. Six different Intelligentsia cuppers participated. They did not have a decisive preference for either variety.
Intelligentsia’s most experienced and best-known cupper, the great Geoff Watts, did not participate in the CRS Colombian Varietal Cuppings but did cup all 22 sample pairs during the first Colombia Sensory Trial panel, also hosted by Intelligentsia in Chicago. He preferred Castillo, and not by a small margin.
Tim Wendelboe is a former world barista champion and one of the world’s premiere coffee celebrities. When he is not busy roasting coffee, he may be serving it at the coffee bar that bears his name. Or sourcing it as a partner in Nordic Approach, the Oslo-based importer promoting transparency in trade. Or writing books about it. (His first book, titled Coffee with Tim Wendelboe, was well-received by leading food writers.) Or developing sleek new products like this to brew it. Or traveling to origin to visit with the growers from whom he buys it.
He has been visiting Colombia since 2007, and late last year released a book about his relationship with Finca Tamana in Huila, currently his sole source of Colombian Coffee. As I write this, he is visiting the farm and working on a top-secret new project there that he will unveil in 2015.
Despite everything he has going on, Tim made time to participate in the CRS Colombian varietal cuppings. Last month he cupped sample pairs of Castillo and Caturra variety coffees taken from 21 farms we work with in Nariño as part of our Borderlands coffee project. Today we discuss the results, which are summarized in the graphic below, as well as his view of hybrids more broadly.
Counter Culture Coffee is a roaster that needs no introduction. Its innovations in coffee sourcing, quality and sustainability have outsized influence in the coffee industry. Counter Culture is, in short, a tastemaker. And Counter Culture likes Caturra.
As part of the CRS Colombian Varietal Cuppings, Counter Culture’s QC Director Timothy Hill cupped 22 sample pairs (each pair consists of 1 Castillo sample and 1 Caturra sample taken from the same farm) twice in his lab in Durham. He also cupped those samples as part of the first Colombia Sensory Trial panel in Chicago.
Across the three cupping events, he preferred Caturra by a ratio of more than three-to-one.
When he preferred Caturra, he preferred it by wider margin than when he preferred Castillo.
He felt that the best coffees were consistently Caturras and that the worst coffees were overwhelmingly Castillo.
Perhaps most importantly, the average score he awarded to Caturra was over 85 points while the average Castillo was under 83; the company buys coffees that score 85+ but doesn’t buy coffees <83.
Today I talk with Tim about the results of the cuppings, summarized in the graphic below.
Readers of this blog will know that we have partered with World Coffee Research (WCR) and some of the brightest lights in specialty coffee, research and philanthropy on the Colombia Sensory Trial–a side-by-side sensory comparison of Castillo- and Caturra-variety coffee samples taken from farms in Colombia growing, harvesting and processing both under virtually identical conditions. The sample pairs that are part of the Colombia Sensory Trial are being cupped at two centralized events to control as many of the variables as possible that may affect cupping results. The results of that process will be analyzed by researchers and practitioners and presented during the 2015 SCAA Expo in Seattle.
Parallel to that process, CRS has also made available smaller flights of sample pairs from the same farms to select roasters in the United States and Europe for cupping in their own labs. The results of these decentralized cupping events will NOT be included in the Colombia Sensory Trial analysis, but will be reported each week here over the next few months, beginning tomorrow.
Today I explain the format for the CRS Colombian Varietal Cuppings.
Late last week I published this post on the preliminary report of the blue-chip presidential commission assigned to analyze Colombia’s coffee institutions and recommend reforms. The following day, Juan José Echavarría, the former Colombian Finance Minister and trusted economic advisor to President Juan Manuel Santos who leads the Misión del Café, gave this interview to Radio Caracol in which he broke down the 10 key points of the commission’s work. I summarize them below.
Last week, in an interview published here, SCAA Executive Director Ric Rhinehart held up Colombia as a shining example of a country in which public investment in the coffee sector has helped to make the coffee trade more inclusive, profitable and sustainable. This week, a presidential commission in Colombia asked to analyze the country’s coffee institutions and recommend reforms to make them more inclusive, profitable and sustainable issued its preliminary findings. Turns out, it wants to tear those institutions down to the studs and rebuild them with a leaner, more contemporary architecture. The official response has been fast and furious. The debate is charged, and the future of Colombian coffee hangs in the balance.
Last week I participated in Let’s Talk Coffee, importer Sustainable Harvest’s annual value chain event, for the fifth time. The content of the event was broader the caliber of the speakers higher than at any other LTC event I remember. But the best presentation of the event—the one that still has me thinking the better part of a week later—was not a presentation at all. It was three related comments made in rapid succession by SCAA Executive Director Ric Rhinehart during the event’s opening panel discussion on the state of the coffee market:
- the coffee sectors Brasil, Colombia and Vietnam are emblematic of what happens when the government gets into the game,
- Panama’s coffee sector, by contrast, is emblematic of what happens when the government stays on the sidelines, and
- Panama’s coffee sector is beautiful for a certain kind of grower and terrifying for another kind of grower.
Today I interview Ric regarding his comments and their implications for growers, governments and industry.
CRS is seeking coffee professionals for ongoing projects in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia and Uganda.
CRS is continuing to search for a Chief of Party to lead the Bora Ya Kivu Specialty Coffee Program in the Kivu region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The project, funded jointly by the Howard G. Buffett Foundation and USAID, is creating market-based opportunities in an area previously known less for coffee than relentless armed conflict. If you speak French, know coffee and have experience managing projects in Africa, this an extraordinary opportunity to help lead the emergence of one of specialty coffee’s most exciting new origins. (This the same origin that won the 2014 SCAA Sustainability Award and is producing so many superlative coffees that specialty buyers are tripping over each other for access.) Learn more about this opportunity and apply here.
In Ethiopia, where we are working with cooperatives on a range of collaborative efforts all along the coffee chain, CRS is recruiting qualified volunteers for the following opportunities:
- Coffee waste management–assess environmental impacts of coffee milling operations and identify possible uses and by-products for coffee waste.
- Coffee quality improvement–the Kelaltu-Husa-Gola Multipurpose Farmers’ Cooperative (KMFCS) in Abaya/Oromia seeks qualified support for coffee quality improvement.
- Coffee milling upgrades–provide technical guidance on upgrades to post-harvest coffee processing, with a particular focus on cup quality. There are three separate volunteer opportunities in Sidama with cooperatives that belong to the Sidama Coffee Farmers’ Cooperative Union:
- Gidibo and Shecha Multipurpose Farmers’ Cooperative (GSMFC)–Aleta Wondo/Sidama
- Kege Multipurpose Farmers’ Cooperative (KMFC)–Dale/Sidama
- Waycho Multipurpose Farmers’ Cooperative (WMFC)–Dale/Sidama
In Uganda we have opportunities for two breeders/experts in coffee propagation.
If you apply for any of these opportunities, please tell my colleagues in HQ that you read all about them here on the CRS Coffeelands Blog!