It’s been a busy, eventful and educational last few weeks at the Collaborative with our jurying at Best of Panama, participating at both the Specialty Coffee Association of America’s (SCAA) annual event in Portland and Omar Viveros’ and Giancarlo Ghiretti’s visit from Colombia.
With everything said and done, it’s now time for us to communicate with you all about these happenings because much work has been done over these last weeks to establish relationships, build upon existing ones and to learn more about how specific partners are contributing to this community of quality-focused coffee professionals.
When we talk about partners we are not only referring to original cherry producers or end coffee buyers/roasters. There are many people along the way that contribute skills, knowledge and equipment to the green coffee a roaster receives. The number of partners that contribute depend on many things: geography, the particular skillset of a farm owner and the equipment/facilities available on his/her farm, how a miller and/or exporter works with both producers and the coffee, etc., etc. So while the work done on the initial product, from agricultural practice to picking, is of utmost importance, the work done after picking up until the coffee is delivered is almost, if not just, as important. Thus it isn’t enough to have great relationships with just cherry producers or coffee farm owners; a coffee buyer must be able to trust those milling and exporting coffee.
Right now we are buying from approximately eight coffee producing countries and are looking to reestablish buying relationships in one or two more. Within these eight countries, we are buying coffee from a minimum of 70 individual cherry producers. So even if we have the chance to visit each and every one of these partners in a given season, it is not possible to get all the work done in those short visits as is necessary to establishing and maintaining meaningful contact. The regular contact and work done with each of these producers is one of the many reasons our exporting partners at origin need to be acknowledged.
I had the privilege of meeting the majority of our export partners at this year’s SCAA event in Portland. I’ve “met” and worked with them a lot over the last few months through email but nothing replaces face-to-face contact. I learned much from these meetings and conversations, amongst which were: 1. A bit of context about the producing region each exporter works within; 2. How each exporting partner works with and views the relationship between cherry producer and exporter; and 3. Where they would like to see the industry go and how they plan on innovating and growing within their own region and context to see through this vision. In some cases we were able to talk about more but these were the most significant parts of the conversation for me, as a communicator and facilitator between/amongst partners throughout the coffee chain.
Robert has been working with these partners for several years and has assessed the work and merits of them. This made it easier for me to just talk with them about the current season and to begin planning for the next. All of us are excited – many ideas flew about during those four days. Now that we’re all back home, it’s time to work on these ideas. The work has already tangibly begun with our partners in Colombia.
Omar’s and Giancarlo’s Visit
Omar Viveros is a cherry producer who we’ve been buying coffee from with the help of Virmax, our exporting partners in Colombia, over the last two years. He is a producer who works hard, is innovative, is becoming a model for neighbouring producers and simply produces clean, excellent coffee. Virmax work with the most quality-focused coffee producers in Colombia and even amongst these dedicated producers, Omar stands out.
A few days after SCAA ended, Omar and Giancarlo Ghiretti, one of Virmax’s founders, travelled to Oslo to lecture at Kaffefestivalen (the annual Norwegian coffee show) in Haugesund and so Omar could meet some of his end customers and see how his coffee is brewed in coffeebars in Norway. Omar’s visit was educational for everyone who participated. For us at the Collaborative, a lot was learned about what it takes to produce excellent coffee in Pitalito. For Omar, it was inspirational and instructive to see how the many things he chooses to do on his farm have an impact on how the final consumer experiences his coffee. He also had the chance to see what is done in between, during the roasting process, at KAFFA.
Amongst the many things the Collaborative learned during Omar’s visit, the following details kept reemerging as practices Omar follows to ensure the highest quality in his coffee:
- He pays his pickers well and provides bonuses in order to keep them. Once a good picker is found – someone who understands what a ripe cherry looks like and consistently picks ripe cherries – you don’t want to let that person migrate elsewhere.
- The common practice in Colombia is to allow cherry to dry ferment for 18-hours before it is depulped and sent for delivery. Omar has found, through experimentation, that soaking cherry in water for 24-hours provides much better temperature stability, which allows for a more even fermentation process.
- Omar’s drying facility is constructed so that some areas have more or less shade, so that coffee can be rotated at specific times, for an optimal drying process.
- Omar is constantly looking for new ways of doing things to improve quality. He follows through on the advice of Virmax’s agronomists and is a member and participates in a growers’ association that provides education and training.
As a result of educating himself, experimenting and listening, Omar has learned that certain varieties cup better, thus receive higher scores and prices, than others. Currently his farm is half made up of the Caturra variety and the other half is made up of the Colombia and Castillo varieties. The Colombian government promotes and encourages the planting of Colombia and Castillo because they are “hardier” plants. But (without getting into a long debate about it) Caturra cups better. We’ll leave it at that for now because not enough is understood/known about this topic for us to make statements about the whys and hows of this.
We will write more about Omar’s visit. He and Giancarlo lectured at both Kaffefestivalen and at KAFFA about what it takes to be a great coffee producer in Pitalito. When we described the work we do to Omar, he wanted to find ways that he can engage more. One of his ideas is to livestream activities on his farm, so we’ll be working on how to do that over the coming weeks.
Upcoming at the Collaborative
This month, we receive shipments from Kenya, Brazil and Guatemala. We are cupping in Gothenburg today and are arranging cuppings in other locations, which are yet to be determined.
Until next time,