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94. Nariño’s coronation

The Colombia Cup of Excellence competition held earlier this month may have marked the coronation of Nariño as the source of the country’s finest coffee.  Farmers from Nariño claimed the first six spots and eight of the top ten.  Such dominance leaves little doubt that the center of Colombian coffee has shifted definitively to Nariño.

Even though quality-obsessed roasters have been paying increasing attention to Nariño in recent years, its final ascendancy came swiftly.   Last year, the region didn’t place a single coffee at auction.  During this year’s competition – which was held in Nariño – the region claimed 17 of the 21 coffees selected for auction overall , equaling the number of coffees from Nariño selected for auction since the Colombia COE program began in 2005.

Competition for coffee from Nariño, which accounts for only 3 percent of all Colombia’s coffee production, is already fierce.  Lots of buyers chasing scarce coffee, including some truly extraordinary coffees, is a recipe for high prices.  In the current market, Nariño’s farmers are earning as much as $2.50 per pound for undifferentiated coffees, and more when they qualify for quality premiums.  Competition and prices are likely to rise after the region’s showing at this year’s COE.

No Colombian coffee has ever earned more than $21 at auction.  This year, with four coffees that topped 90 points, including a best-in-show that scored 94.92, Nariño seems poised to set a new standard.

Nariño’s auction – ahem, Colombia’s – is set for 26 October.

6 Comments

  • Wbeimar Lasso Bolaños says:

    Yo soy productor de café, trabajo en una finca pequeña de propiedad de mis de mis padres, ubicada en el municipio de San Pedro de Cartago Nariño – Colombia, en mi trabajo diario he mirado como los pequeños productores como mis padres y amigos cada día mas se esmeran por la producción de cafés de alta calidad.
    Nosotros estamos organizados en un grupo de productores que día a día busca poder trabajar por la producción de cafés especiales teniendo como principios orientadores el respeto por el medio ambiente, la equidad de género, la transparencia, la sostenibilidad del proceso asociativo, productivo y ante todo la CALIDAD DEL CAFE, porque estamos convencidos que el café es nuestro camino para tener una mejor calidad de vida.
    Yo me desempeño como catador de café y este año tuve la fortuna de estar entre el jurado de la Taza de la Excelencia Colombia 2010 y puedo decir que este es uno de los mejores cafés que he probado en mi vida.
    Espero que este logro de la caficultura de Nariño logre traer más desarrollo para los pequeños productores de café de mi departamento, para los que el café es su vida y su razón de ser.

    • A translation of Wbeimar’s comment for those who don’t speak Spanish:

      I am a coffee grower, and I work on a small farm that belongs to my parents, located in the municipality of San Pedro de Cartago, Nariño, Colombia. In my daily work, I have seen how smallholder farmers like my parents and friends work harder each day to produce high quality coffees.

      We are organized in a group of farmers that in its day-to-day work seeks to produce specialty coffees, guided by the principles of respect for the environment, gender equality, transparency, the sustainability of our organization and production, and above all COFFEE QUALITY, because we are convinced that coffee is our path to a better quality of life.

      I work as a coffee cupper and this year I had the good fortune to be on the judge’s panel for the Colombia 2010 Cup of Excellence. I can say that the coffee from Nariño was among the best coffees I have tried in my life. I hope that this achievement of Nariño’s coffee growers brings more development for smallholder coffee farmers in my Department – for farmers for whom coffee is their life and their reason for being.

    • Wbeimar:

      It is great to hear from you. Thank you for this extraordinary reflection and congratulations on being selected for the COE judge’s panel! A few points in response to your comment.

      First, Nariño’s showing at this year’s Cup of Excellence is certainly a testament to the commitment to quality that you mention in your comments. I don’t recall such thorough domination by any single region in any previous Colombian COE. Even countries with fewer producing regions don’t often have that kind of dominance by any one origin.

      Second, I am grateful to you for sharing the perspective of members of your community regarding the connection betwen quality of coffee and quality of life. As you know, this connection has been the basis for the developmental case for investments in quality in the industry and among donors. Nariño, as much as anywhere else I know of, is an important place to test this idea. On the one hand, it has a potential for quality premiums that (aside from specific varietals like Geisha and Ethopian heirlooms, perhaps) rival those of any other producing region in the world. On the other hand, it has an average farm size of less than one hectare (2.5 acres), which calls into question whether high prices for quality coffee are enough on their own to ensure the quality of life to which you and your friends and family aspire.

      I look forward to continuing the conversation on the social impact of your quality investments as your work continues.

      Thank you again for taking the time to comment and good luck!

      Michael

    • Wbeimar:

      Qué gusto tener noticias tuyas. ¡Mil gracias por tu extraordinaria reflexión y felicitaciones por tu selección como parte del jurado para la Taza de Excelencia! A continuación algunas observaciones en respuesta a tu comentario.

      En primer lugar, el desempeño de Nariño en la Taza de Excelencia 2010 da testimonio del compromiso con la calidad que refieres en tu comentario. No me acuerdo de ninguna edición de la Taza de Excelencia en Colombia tan dominada por una sola región. Aun en países con menos regiones productoras, este grado de dominión es descomunal.

      En segundo lugar, quisiera agradecerte por explicitar la perspectiva de miembros de tu comunidad sobre el vínculo entre la calidad del café y la calidad de vida. Como sabrías, ha sido la esencia del caso a favor de la inversión en la calidad entre actores diversos de la industria y agencias donantes. Nariño, tanto como cualquier otro lugar que conozco, es un lugar importante para validar este concepto sobre el terreno. Por un lado, tiene una potencialidad para premios por calidad que (aparte de algunas variedades especiales como la Geisha o variedades tradicionales Etiopíes) tiene pocos rivales a nivel mundial. Por otro lado, tiene un tamaño promedio de finca de menos de una hectárea, lo cual hace difícil lograr con tan solo la calidad del café las justas aspiraciones tuyas y de tus familiares y amigos por una mejor calidad de vida.

      Espero seguir conversando contigo aquí sobre el impacto social de sus inversiones en la calidad a medida que avanzan en sus labores.

      Mil gracias de nuevo por tomar el tiempo de hacer tu comentario, y ¡buena suerte!

      Michael

  • Michael says:

    A few weeks after I published this post, Sprudge ran an excellent, in-depth piece on the controversy that has engulfed the lot that won Colombia’s COE. Or, more specifically, the identity of the varietal that won the COE: the Federación Nacional de Cafeteros has identified it as Castillo, the varietal engineered by its research institute to produce higher yields and resist the coffee rust disease that has been responsible for a significant decline in Colombia’s production. Others insist it is a Caturra, one of the three heirloom varieties that has historically been most common in Colombia. The controversy emerges in the context of a pitched debate over which varietals are best for the future of productivity and quality in Colombia between the FNC, which is promoting Castillo, and a number of quality-focused exporters and roasters who consider Castillo’s cup quality to be deficient.

    Sprudge also published this companion piece on Colombia’s varietals in some of its best coverage of origin this year.

    Thanks, Sprudge.

  • An update from Colombia’s COE: the controversial winning lot — from Nariño — shattered the country’s previous record price, fetching $40.09 per pound.

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