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NEW CROP Colombia's.

Colombia is the paradox of specialty coffee. Its 100% Colombia campaign, initiated decades ago and still rolling, is a model of successful coffee organization, institutional persistence, and savvy marketing. Colombia remains the world's only premium single origin able to compete successfully in the world of commercial roast and ground canned coffee. And the Colombia Federation of Coffee Growers is among the world's most thorough-going and successful efforts at organizing and supporting small-holder coffee farmers.

For specialty coffee professionals, however, Juan Valdez is comedian Rodney Dangerfield's Latin cousin. Colombias carry nowhere near the insider panache of Kenyas, Guatemalas, even Papua New Guineas and Zimbabwes. Colombia sells well in specialty stores, but often simply because it is the only name on the board that coffee neophytes recognize.

There are two ways to look at this paradox. One way is to accuse the coffee insiders of snobbery. Specialty professionals, this argument runs, like to champion the underdog. They enjoy discovering the undiscovered, and prosper by bringing the exotic and unique to their individualist customers. A coffee origin like Colombia that successfully employs slick ad campaigns aimed at a mass market, brings alive burro and state-of-the-art multimedia to its vast booths at the annual Specialty Coffee show, and implies (until recently) that all its coffees, regardless of region or farm, taste the same, does not flatter an industry built on the illusion that every coffee is an exceptional choice of an exceptional coffee company chosen exclusively for an exceptional customer.

The alternative approach is to blame the Colombia coffee industry for not serving the specialty market. From this point of view, Colombia's remarkable success at producing large enough and consistent enough quantities of decent coffee to position it at the top of the commercial market has doomed it as an elite origin. The Colombia Coffee Federation has evolved a system wherein hundreds of thousands of small producers wet-process their coffee on or close to their farms, and deliver it to collection points and eventually to mills operated by the Federation, where the coffee is sorted and graded according to rigorous, national standards. There is an inherent leveling effect in such an arrangement. One farmer's wet processing and microclimate may be exceptional and another's may be mediocre, but both end up mixed in the same vast sea of coffee bags in which the only discriminations are the broad ones imposed by grading criteria.

In fact, until last year the only viable specialty coffees to come out of Colombia were developed by private mills and exporters operating largely outside the institutional structure of the Coffee Federation. These "privates" often supply coffees from single farms and cooperatives or from relatively narrowly defined growing regions. They may offer coffees produced exclusively from traditional, heirloom varieties of Coffea arabica like typica and bourbon, rather than from a mixture of varieties including newer hybrid cultivars.

In 1996, with characteristic institutional determination, the Federation decided to develop some of its own specialty coffees to add to those produced by the private mills. According to Alejandro Renjifo, the energetic, engaging man recently hired to head its new specialty program, the Federation was motivated partly by pride. He and his colleagues are out to prove that Colombia and the Federation can compete successfully in the specialty arena as well as in the mass market, and that Colombia can produce specialty coffees the equal of the world's most distinctive and exclusive origins.

With the very gracious support and assistance of the Federation, the Coffee Review board was able to cup five of the Federation's new specialty coffees together with eight private mill coffees, including one certified organic. For those unfamiliar with the Coffee Review cupping procedure: Green coffee samples are brought to an identical degree of roast and sent, identified only by number, to 14 professional cuppers. Although panelists are aware of the overall origin of the samples (Colombia, Kenya, etc.) the more precise origin and other details about the coffee are revealed to them (and to me) only after we have cupped the coffees and recorded our reactions. The panelists' reports provide the basis of Coffee Review's evaluations.

The questions posed by this particular cupping are twofold. First, based on this small sampling of 1999 crop Colombias, how do the new Federation specialty coffees stack up against a selection of coffees from private mills? And how do all of these Colombias, Federation and private, compare to other elite specialty origins worldwide? Can the Colombian system, designed to produce large volumes of consistent, decent-quality coffee, change gears sufficiently to selectively produce a range of distinctive specialty coffees?

The results appear to dramatize the difficulty of the task facing the Federation. Almost all of the private mill coffees received higher ratings and more praise than the Federation coffees. One reason may have been timing: in order to meet our cupping deadline the Federation rushed their coffees to us, without the usual several weeks of conditioning or reposo that tends to round out flavor. All should at least modestly improve by the time they are shipped to importers. The five Federation specialty coffees all are produced from the traditional typica variety, but, curiously, three were grown at somewhat lower altitudes than is usual for the best Colombias. Perhaps the lack of reposo or the moderate altitude contributed to the main weakness of some of the Federation coffees: thinnish body and a lack of dimension or power. The best did demonstrate an attractive balance of sweet and dry tones and interesting nuance.

As for the issue of Colombias versus other specialty coffees, comparing various origins against one another is always tricky and redolent with caveat. Panelists' expectations differ, range of samples differ, crop years differ. In terms of numbers, however, these Colombias achieved better average ratings overall than any origin the Coffee Review panel has cupped except last year's Kenyas. There were interesting coffees here, and good ones. Certainly both the highest-rated Cafe Capricho and Expocafe Oporapa were distinctive and distinguished.

And, despite a couple of exclamatory objections on the cupping forms, none of these Colombias displayed the bad defects that occasionally erupted in some of the other Coffee Review cuppings. On the other hand, within a certain narrow band of response, several samples were subtly but disturbingly inconsistent. Out of five cups of a given coffee, for example, one or two might display impressive sweetness, complexity and a pleasantly fruit-toned acidity. But two others from the same sample might come up sweet but rather inert, and one or two more slightly off-tasting. All of which suggests the difficulty inherent in attempting to develop specialty coffees from a broad range of small producers, all of whom do their own wet-processing with varying degrees of dedication and skill.

Finally, I find myself impressed by the systematic, dedicated approach taken by the Federation in its effort to redirect a portion of its production toward specialty. Over the long run, system and dedication tend to prevail in the world of coffee. Each of the new Federation specialty coffees has a worthy human story behind it, and all deserve eventual success.
 CAFE LA VEREDA
Aroma 5
Acidity 6
Body 5
Flavor 5
Aftertaste 5


Origin: Caldas Department, central Colombia. Traditional market name: Manizales.

OVERALL RATING: 77

Notes: One of the new Colombian Coffee Federation specialty coffees. From any number of over 700 small farms. Grown in full or partial shade from trees of the traditional typica variety at elevations ranging from 5,500 to 6,500 feet.

Blind assessment: A full though monotone coffee with a fruity but rather inert sweetness. Two panelists suspected from the flat profile that the coffee was from last year's crop ("Oldish; past crop?"). In fact, this is a new crop coffee. I also suspect storage problems of some kind: The "sourish undertone" that one cupper complained about tasted like bagginess to me, a fault that often comes from contact with moisture after processing.
 CAFE AMAZONICO
Aroma 5
Acidity 5
Body 6
Flavor 5
Aftertaste 5


Origin: Southeastern foothills of the Andes overlooking the Amazon basin, Caqueta Department, south-central Colombia.

OVERALL RATING: 77

Notes: One of the new Colombian Coffee Federation specialty coffees. From any number of 1,800 small farms. Grown in full or partial shade from trees of the traditional typica variety at elevations ranging from 3,300 to 4,000 feet, a relatively modest height for a Colombia coffee.

Blind assessment: "Inconsistent, dull sweetness," reported one cupper, which pretty much summed up consensus on this coffee, although a couple of panelists admired its soft fruit, peach-like tones. Three of us detected an outright defect, probably hard ferment.
 CAFE GUANES
Aroma 6
Acidity 6
Body 6
Flavor 6
Aftertaste 5


Origin: Santander Department, central Colombia. Traditional market name: Bucaramanga.

OVERALL RATING: 78

Notes: A private mill coffee exported by Rafael Espinosa. From a cooperative of 25 farms. Partly shade grown from trees of the caturra variety at an elevation of approximately 6,000 feet.

Blind assessment: I have to assume that our sample of this generally understated, rich, but rather inert coffee was dramatically inconsistent. I detected a teasing, off-again, on-again defect in my sample, probably hard ferment. I wasn't alone: "dusty; something funky," wrote another. Others found their sample simply bland or "non-descript." Two admired their samples, however, responding positively to the round, rich promise of the clean upside of the profile.
 CONDOR DEL OBISPO
Aroma 5
Acidity 6
Body 6
Flavor 6
Aftertaste 6


Origin: Cauca and Huila Departments, southwestern Colombia.

OVERALL RATING: 80

Notes: A private mill coffee exported by Exportadora de Cafe Condor. From any number of 160 - 200 family farms. From trees of the traditional typica and bourbon varieties grown in full shade at elevations ranging from 4,400 to 6,500 feet.

Blind assessment: A wildly inconsistent coffee. A taste defect, probably ferment, ran intermittently through the sample, popping up here and there with varying degrees of intensity, ruining a sweet, bright, nut-toned cup. Five panelists considered the defect sufficiently pervasive to dismiss the sample. Five more objected more generally, their complaints ranging from "rough" to "unrefined."
 CAFE TOLEDO
Aroma 5
Acidity 6
Body 6
Flavor 6
Aftertaste 6


Origin: Norte de Santander Department, northeastern Colombia. Traditional market name: Cucuta.

OVERALL RATING: 80

Blind assessment: "Dull, flat, and dry," complained one panelist. "Dirty background," wrote another. A heavy, monotone coffee with authority, but lacking resonance and range.

Notes: One of the new Colombian Coffee Federation specialty coffees. From any number of over 2,000 small farms. From trees of the traditional typica or the caturra variety grown in full shade at elevations ranging from 4,900 to 5,700 feet.
 PIE DE MONTE ESPRESSO
Aroma 4
Acidity 5
Body 6
Flavor 6
Aftertaste 6


Origin: Eastern slopes of the Andes in Norte de Santander, Arauca, Boyaca, and Casanare Departments, east-central Colombia.

OVERALL RATING: 80

Notes: One of the new Colombian Coffee Federation specialty coffees, recommended for presentation as espresso. Grown in full shade from trees of the traditional typica variety at elevations ranging from 3,300 to 4,000 feet, a relatively modest height for a Colombia coffee.

Blind assessment: The subtle balance of sweetness, acidity and softly ingratiating fruit notes are promising for espresso. The thin, underdeveloped body and herbal and grassy notes are not. Grassiness is a typical sign of a coffee rushed from processing to cupping table. Perhaps, with longer repose, this coffee will round out and lose its green edge.
 CAFE SIERRA NEVADA
Aroma 6
Acidity 7
Body 6
Flavor 6
Aftertaste 7


Origin: Slopes of the Santa Marta range, Magdalena Department, northeastern Colombia.

OVERALL RATING: 81

Notes: One of the new Colombian Coffee Federation specialty coffees. Grown in full shade, predominantly from trees of the traditional typica variety, at elevations of 3,300 to 4,300 feet, a relatively modest height for a Colombia coffee.

Blind assessment: Distinct chocolate or sweet cocoa notes provide the main intrigue in this soft, fragrant coffee. "Buttery toffee, love it!" exclaimed one panelist. The rather thinnish body is probably what relegated this nicely nuanced coffee to the middle of the ratings.
 CAFE ORGANICO MESA DE LOS SANTOS
Aroma 6
Acidity 6
Body 7
Flavor 6
Aftertaste 6


Origin: Santander Department, central Colombia. Traditional market name: Bucaramanga.

OVERALL RATING: 82

Notes: A private mill coffee exported by Telmo J. Diaz. From a single family farm. Certified organically grown in full shade from trees of the caturra variety at elevations of 5,000 to 5,200 feet.

Blind assessment: An intriguing, complex nuanced coffee that suffered from inconsistency. Panelists responded positively to its richly nutty aroma and sweet floral and fruit notes. A disturbing astringency surfaced in some cups, however, depressing the final rating.
 TULUNI SUPREMO
Aroma 7
Acidity 6
Body 6
Flavor 7
Aftertaste 6


Origin: Tolima Department, south-central Colombia. Traditional market name: Chaparral.

OVERALL RATING: 82

Notes: A private mill coffee exported by Cafetera de Chaparral. From a number of small farms. Partly shade grown from trees of the traditional typica variety at an elevation of approximately 5,200 feet.

Blind assessment: Lots of praise for the fruity nose, but the cup failed to excite and the aftertaste disappointed. Overall, panelists found little to either condemn or admire. I felt the coffee had been cleanly processed but still emerged flat.
 CAFE VIRGEN DE ORO
Aroma 6
Acidity 6
Body 6
Flavor 6
Aftertaste 5


Origin: Antioquia Department, north-central Colombia. Traditional market name: Medellin.

OVERALL RATING: 82

Notes: A private mill coffee exported by Exportadora de Cafe Condor. From five farms. Grown in either full or partial shade from trees of the traditional typica variety at elevations of 4,000 to 6,200 feet.

Blind assessment: A promising coffee shadowed by inconsistency. The good cups: sweet, full, deep, but alive with a pleasing shimmer of acidity. The bad: full and sweet but monotoned, flat, with a disturbing hint of astringency in aftertaste.
 DON PEDRO SUPREMO
Aroma 5
Acidity 7
Body 7
Flavor 7
Aftertaste 7


Origin: Valle del Cauca Department, southwestern Colombia.

OVERALL RATING: 83

Notes: A private mill coffee exported by Guillermo Botero Mejia. Partly shade grown from trees of the traditional typica variety at an elevation of approximately 6,000 feet.

Blind assessment: This complex, fruity, softly intense coffee unleashed a torrent of description from the panel. On aroma: "sweet cocoa, dried cherries;" "very strong & fruity." Descriptions of acidity included sweet, floral, fruity. Body: buttery yet light. Cup: fruity, sweet, "strong honey notes, very nice, very different." The odd intensity of this coffee, arresting yet restrained, disturbed two panelists: "Some may call this coffee pleasingly complex, but I find it a little wild," declared one. Count me in the pleasingly complex camp. I loved this coffee.
 CAFE CAPRICHO
Aroma 6
Acidity 7
Body 7
Flavor 6
Aftertaste 7


Origin: Cauca Department, southwestern Colombia. Traditional market name: Popayan.

OVERALL RATING: 85

Notes: A private mill coffee exported by Cargill. From a cooperative of 15 small farms. Partly shade grown from trees of the traditional typica variety at elevations of 5,500 to 6,000 feet.

Blind assessment: A striking one-third of the panelists described the aftertaste of this sweet, clean, fruit-toned coffee as "resonant," a seldom-chosen term. That response may suggest why this coffee scored the second-highest rating in the cupping despite its limited nuance. It displayed impressive dimension, an echoing space around and behind initial sensation.
 OPORAPA
Aroma 6
Acidity 7
Body 6
Flavor 7
Aftertaste 6


Origin: Southern Huila Department, southwestern Colombia.

OVERALL RATING: 86

Notes: Exported by Expocafe, the national cooperative association. From 30 small farms. Partly shade grown from trees of the traditional typica variety at elevations of 5,200 to 6,000 feet.

Blind assessment: A complex, subtly nuanced coffee, light-bodied but softly and sweetly acidy, embellished with fruit and pronounced chocolate tones. I tasted papaya in the finish. "Deep & lush," wrote one panelist on aroma. "Slight tobacco. Leafy." Apparently balance and seductive grace notes carried this delicate coffee to the top of the ratings.

Kenneth Davids has written a number of highly influential books on coffee, among them are Coffee: A Guide to Buying, Brewing and Enjoying and Espresso: Ultimate Coffee. In May of 1996, he received the SCAA's "Special Achievement Award for Outstanding Contributions to Coffee Literature."
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Title Annotation:specialty coffee
Author:Davids, Kenneth
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Article Type:Statistical Data Included
Geographic Code:3COLO
Date:Nov 1, 1999
Words:2707
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