The coffee trade may be centuries old, but there are still significant gaps in our understanding of coffee agronomy, the coffee economy and the social impacts of coffee.  The Coffeelands Program supports original coffee research to narrow our knowledge gaps and improve decision-making on the farm, in the policy-making process and in the industry.

Two prominent recent efforts are highlighted here: research into farmworker protections and farm labor in Brazil’s coffee sector released in 2015/16 and the Colombia Sensory Trial, a rigorous and independent analysis of two leading coffee varieties in Colombia, Castillo and Caturra, conducted in 2014/15.

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In the summer of 2013, we learned that inspectors from Brazil’s Ministry of Labor found evidence that 15 coffee farms had employed workers under what the country calls “conditions analogous to slavery.” It was a shocking revelation, and one that raised lots of questions: What does “slavery” mean in Brazil in 2013?  How widespread is the practice in the coffee sector?  What does it look like?  And, perhaps most importantly, what can be done to address it?

For answers to those questions, we turned to Repórter Brasil, a longtime CRS partner and a leader in Brazil’s campaign to eradicate modern slavery.  Together with Repórter Brazil, we published the answers to those questions in a policy brief titled in Farmworker Protections and Labor Conditions in Brazil’s Coffee Sector. It includes recommendations of what policymakers, coffee industry leaders and coffee consumers in Brazil and the United States can do to help eradicate modern slavery from the coffee sector, starting in Brazil.

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We also published an eight-part series on the Coffeelands blog in December 2015 that presented some of the report’s key findings and some additional analysis.

Part 1

Modern Slavery in the Coffeelands


Part 2

Brazil and the “S-Word”


Part 3

This is What Modern Slavery Looks Like


Part 4

A Little Perspective on the Scope of the Problem


Part 5

Brazil’s Fight Against Modern Slavery


Part 6

Brazil’s “Transparency List”


Part 7

The National Pact to Eradicate Slave Labor


Part 8

Final Thoughts (For Now) on Modern Slavery in the Coffeelands

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The Colombia Sensory Trial was a cross-sector collaboration coordinated by CRS and joined by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture, the Sensory Analysis Center at Kansas State University, the World Coffee Research program at Texas A&M’s Norman Borlaug Institute, and cuppers from eight influential coffee organizations: Counter Culture Coffee, Federación Nacional de Cafeteros, George Howell Coffee, Intelligentsia Coffee, Keurig Green Mountain, Red Fox Coffee Merchants, Starbucks and Stumptown Coffee.

The Trial enlisted all of these organizations to contribute to rigorous, independent research on the comparative cup quality of Castillo and Caturra samples collected from 25 farms in Nariño during the 2014 harvest.

The purpose of the Colombia Sensory Trial was to deliver actionable information that improves decision-making about varietal selection, purchasing practices and promotion on the farm, in the marketplace and in the policy-making process.

This page consolidates all the content related to the Trial that CRS has generated, alone or in collaboration with its partners.

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Nordic Roaster Forum | Colombia Sensory Trial

This presentation to the Nordic Roaster Forum was the fifth, final and most complete of all the Colombia Sensory Trial talks delivered in 2015.  It includes not only a summary of Trial results and an analysis of the implications of those results for growers, policymakers and coffee buyers, but also a thorough presentation of the context in Nariño, Colombia, that gave rise to the research.

November 2015. 

Running time, including Q+A: 1:01:38.


SCAA Symposium | A Simple Question: Caturra or Castillo?

In this video, CRS Coffee Program Director Michael Sheridan presents the preliminary results of the Trial to the  SCAA Symposium in Seattle: average cupping scores awared to Castillo and Caturra samples by eight well-regarded cuppers across two panels held at Intelligentsia Roasting Works in Chicago and the implications for growers and industry.

April 2015. 

Running time: 22:59.


Re:co Gothenburg | Castillo and Caturra: Exploring the Differences

In this address to Re:co Symposium in Gothenburg, CRS Coffee Program Director Michael Sheridan builds on his talk at SCAA Symposium in Seattle, delivering important clarifications, presenting new sensory data generated using the WCR Sensory Lexicon and expanding on previous analysis of the implications of the findings for growers, industry and policy.

June 2015.

Running time: 20:43


The SCAA Event | What Difference Does Variety Make?

Participants in the Colombia Sensory Trial discussed the preliminary results during a panel at the 2015 SCAA Event in Seattle titled “What Difference Does Variety Make? Notes from a Sensory Trial in Colombia.”  This post to the Coffeelands blog includes interviews with each of the panelists: Mark Lundy, Senior Researcher at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture, Luis Fernando Samper, Communications Director for the Federación Nacional de Cafeteros, World Coffee Research Executive Director Tim Schilling and Intelligentsia Vice President for Coffee Geoff Watts.

April 2015

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RESULTS: Discussion and Implications

These posts, published after the Trial’s lab work concluded, explore some of the key findings of the Trial and their implications for growers, buyers and policymakers.


A Simple Question: Castillo or Caturra?  This post summarizes what Michael told the SCAA Symposium about the Colombia Sensory Trial (and what he didn’t but should have).  (9 April 2015)

Equal. Different.   The eight rock-star cuppers who evaluated the Trial samples using the Q standard during two panels at Intelligentsia Coffee Roasters told us the varieties were equal.  The highly trained assessors who applied the new WCR Lexicon to those samples told us they were different. (16 June 2015)

G < (E + M) This post introduces the G (Genotype) x E (Environment) x M (Management) framework and shows how the Trial’s results suggest that, for growers choosing between Castillo and Caturra, where they are growing coffee and how they are managing it may be more important than what variety they have planted.  (9 June 2015)

Mapping G < (E + M) Visual representations of the idea that G < (E + M)–scatterplot graphs generated by the researchers at Kansas State University’s Sensory Analysis Center who applied the WCR Lexicon to the Trial samples. (23 June 2015)

The Coffee Variety Conundrum Coffeelands contributor Kraig Kraft is based in Central America, where he suggests the questions about varietal selection addressed by the Trial are as relevant as they are in Colombia. (20 April 2015)

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DEBATE: The Future of Caturra

The Coffee Review co-founder Kenneth Davids contributed an article to the March/April 2015 issue of Roast Magazine titled “The Geshas and the Rest” in which he suggests Caturra may not be good enough to separate and sell as a varietal lot.  When we published a reflection on the implications of the article on the Coffeelands blog, Virmax Managing Director Alejandro Cadena rose in spirited defense of what was once Colombia’s leading coffee variety.


The Variety Play (And the Future of Caturra) This post explores the growing trend toward single-variety lots and Kenneth Davids’ suggestion that Caturra may not have a role to play in the single-variety marketplace. (24 November 2015)

In Defense of Caturra: A Conversation with Alejandro Cadena.  A pioneer of the microlot model rises in spirited defense of Caturra, which he considers an A-list variety.  This post is an abbreviated version of our conversation with Alejandro.  Read the unabridged responses to our questions here (27 November 2015)

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ORIGINS: Where the Colombia Sensory Trial Came From

Colombia’s Other Eradication Campaign.

The series that started it all.  The cheeky title of this seven-part series juxtaposes Colombia’s long-standing and very deliberate efforts to eradicate coca with the more recent policies of the country’s coffee institutions, which may be contributing unintentionally to the eradication of the traditional coffee varieties that made Colombian coffee famous.  Our work on this series helped us identify the need to deliver independent information about possible tradeoffs between cup quality and yields in the varietal selection decision to growers and green coffee buyers alike.


Colombia’s Other Eradication Campaign–An Introduction (21 January 2013)

Coffee Leaf Rust Opens the Door for Castillo (23 January 2013)

Castillo’s Origins (25 January 2013)

Farmer Perspectives on Castillo (28 January 2013)

Financial Incentives for Castillo–Colombia’s Exemplary Renovation Loan (29 January 2013)

Saving Colombia’s Endangered Coffee Varieties (30 January 2013)

Colombia’s Cultivar Question–What Can We Learn? (5 February 2013)


In the months following this series, our thinking about the Trial continued to evolve–that evolution is evident in the posts mentioned below.

New Year’s Resolutions from the Coffeelands The three resolutions we published in this post included the first public mention of what came to be known as the Colombia Sensory Trial.  (7 January 2014)

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In the months following the “Colombia’s Other Eradication Campaign” series, and especially beginning in January 2014, our thinking about the Trial continued to evolve.  That evolution is evident in the following posts; the first three describe the approach of the Colombia Sensory Trial in general terms.  It isn’t until the last, published after the Trial’s first panel was underway, that we published something resembling a research methodology.


New Year’s Resolutions from the Coffeelands The three resolutions we published in this post included the first public mention of what came to be known as the Colombia Sensory Trial.  (7 January 2014)

The Castillo-Caturra Cage Match This reflection examines what is really at stake in the Colombia Sensory Trial using language that draws on the great tradition of lucha libre.  (27 January 2014)

Colombia Sensory Trial When we finalized the design of the Trial, formalized our partnership with WCR and confirmed most of the panelists, we published this post describing how what was originally designed to be a small, private affair became a bigger, more public one.  (14 July 2014)

And So It Begins.  This post, published as the first panel at Intelligentsia Roasting Works in Chicago got underway, includes this link to the research methdology(1 October 2015)

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Separate from the Colombia Sensory Trial, CRS invited a small group of longtime friends and allies in the specialty coffee community to cup Trial samples in their own labs.  The results were not included in the Colombia Sensory Trial as we could not control for differences across labs on a range of variables: roast date, roast level, storage, water temperature, water quality, etc.  We did, however, publish interviews with a few of these notable roasters on the blog.


The CRS Colombian Varietal Cuppings–An Introduction (3 November 2014)

Counter Culture–An Interview with QC Director Tim Hill (4 November 2014)

Tim Wendelboe (11 November 2014)

Intelligentsia–QC Director Chris Kornman and VP/Coffee Geoff Watts (20 November 2014)

Stumptown–A Conversaton with Green Buyer Adam McClellan (2 December 2014)

George Howell (9 December 2014)

The CRS Colombian Varietal Cuppings–Adjournment and Final Thoughts (17 December 2014)

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The Colombia Sensory Trial was supported
by a grant from the Howard G. Buffett Foundation.

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