Colombia CoE #3 Bourbon
- August 2019
- Written by : Geoff Watts
Vice President of Coffee / Coffee Buyer
The Olympics of Coffee
The Cup of Excellence, or “CoE,” is the coffee industry’s most prestigious and professional quality competition. Since its first contest in 1999, it has established itself as the gold standard for coffee quality events and developed an international reputation for its transparency and transformative impact. There is no other coffee competition in the world that comes close to the rigor and discipline of a CoE. Every coffee goes through a minimum of five separate rounds to reach the final. In the course of a competition more than one hundred cups get tested. It is, by several orders of magnitude, the most thoroughly vetted coffee you will every encounter. Even a single defect can cause a lot to be eliminated from the competition, and more than three dozen individual tasters from different countries need to agree on a coffee’s extreme quality for it to make it through to the end of the competition. From up to 800 entries or more, only 20-30 coffee make it to the auction. It is extremely hard to win a CoE.
The CoE competition is operated by a non-profit organization called The Alliance for Coffee Excellence (ACE), which was created as a vehicle to catalyze positive change in the coffee industry. Since its inception, its work has always been rooted in the notion that quality is fundamental to creating value for growers. The ACE mission — “discover and reward exceptional quality coffee farmers” — has guided its evolution over the past 20 years. In that time, it has helped thousands of individual farmers enter the specialty market and establish lasting relationships. Along the way, it has fostered an international community of quality-focused coffee roasters who help support the mission.
The impact ACE has had on the specialty coffee industry is immense. By some estimates, it contributed hundreds of millions of dollars in additional revenue to coffee farmers in Latin America alone over the span of a decade. But arguably the more powerful and lasting result of its work has been to change the conversations in the industry about both the value of quality and its provenance.
Prior to the establishment of the CoE, the global specialty marketplace relied largely on assumption when considering what a pound of incredible tasting coffee was worth, following obsolete tradition when seeking to locate the best qualities in each producing country. The fact that some regions — like Antigua in Guatemala or Matagalpa in Nicaragua — were consistently achieving higher premiums for their coffees was a result of historical circumstance and colonial-era consolidation of privilege rather than any real intrinsic quality advantage. CoE provided the industry’s first truly blind and equal-opportunity platform for coffees to compete on their merits rather than reputations, and in doing so was able to lift entire regions out of the shadows and onto center stage.
Thanks in part to the work of ACE places like Dipilto in Nicaragua, Huila in Colombia, and Huehuetenango in Guatemala have become known worldwide as hotspots for quality and go-to sources for buyers looking for extraordinary coffees.
To read an independent assessment of the impact of COE, click HERE.
La Pantera Rosa
The color of the year appears to be pink. If you were fortunate enough to taste our previous release, a gem of a coffee from a farm called La Miel that took 15th place in this year’s Colombia CoE, you know what I’m talking about. The legend of the Pink Bourbon is growing at a furious clip, and word of its quality potential is spreading quickly throughout coffee farming communities in Southern Colombia.
It should probably not come as a surprise then that the third-place winner in this year’s contest (and one of the most exciting coffees we’ve tasted this year) is yet another demonstration of this variety’s dramatic capability. What is surprising is that it came from a relatively low elevation as compared with some of the other winners.
El Chaferote is located at 1600 meters above sea level, tucked behind a small grove of forest, peering down over the edge of a cliff that faces the raging Magdalena river. It is an enchanting farm with a character I haven’t often encountered in Colombia. To get there requires commitment: it is located some 500 meters down a small winding footpath that can get quite muddy and slippery.
Luis Gerardo Bravo Ordoñez lives there with his extended family and cultivates not just coffee but also fruits, berries, beans, tomatoes, and other vegetables, both for his own consumption and for additional income. He’s one of the most immediately charming farmers I’ve met in years, with a charisma and genuine warmth that is evident on first encounter.
During my most recent visit to our smallholder sourcing project in San Agustín, \we spent an afternoon together. By the time I left, I was already convinced that I’d do all I could to ensure we have the opportunity to work together for years to some. The connection between human character and quality of one’s work is real. The best coffees often come from people who care — about the people around them, the environment they live in, and the things they produce. This is not the first time he’s won a prize for his quality, and surely won’t be the last. When you drink this mighty elixir, bursting with life and tropical fruit notes, remember the name: Luis Gerardo Ordonéz of El Chaferote has created a priceless diamond of a coffee.