Natural Beauty

Natural Beauty

30 October 2017

Here I am in Bogota Colombia.

And I just want to say thanks.   

I have just tasted one of the most extraordinary coffees in my thirty-six year long coffee career.  It just so happens this is the number two coffee in the upcoming Colombian Cup of Excellence auction.  It is tasting experiences like this which stand out like beacons for many coffee veterans who as youthful and enthusiastic twenty-somethings tasted an unexpected, yet intriguing coffee of some sort or another. 

It is these kind of experiences that fire imaginations, romance us and set us on, as in my case, four decade long careers in the pursuit of this beguiling mistress: coffee.  It is this kind of experience that hordes of twenty and thirty-somethings have been exposed to over the last decade or so that is changing the global nature of coffee for good.

Without knowing any of this at the start of yesterday morning, a group of us set out to taste some coffees at the Bogota offices of Lohas, the exporter responsible for uncovering this most outstanding coffee.   The first table of fourteen coffees was full of pretty traditional washed Colombian organic coffees.  For the most part clean and subtle with variations and hints of characteristics you normally expect in these kind of coffees.  Good exemplars of their type.

The majority of the next table of fourteen coffees were pretty similar.  Then all of a sudden we taste a coffee that traditionally you might only taste in a good Ethiopian coffee tasting.  It is highly fermented, similar to many powerful yet controlled natural-processed Sidamos.  This is a coffee that twenty years ago would most probably have been rejected as defective and yet today it has a taste profile that many young coffee professionals embrace and covet.  

Then comes the pièce de resistance.  The final coffee on the final table.  It was as subtle as a sledgehammer; as strikingly powerful as a Van Gogh sunflower painting, It was like this coffee had been injected with pure bergamot oil.  It was the most striking expression of a Geisha coffee I have ever tasted.  

Over the years I have been very fortunate to taste Geishas with Rachel Peterson at La Esmerelda estate in Panama, who along with her family have largely been responsible for uncovering this outstanding variety of coffee.  I have also tasted it at Specialty coffee competitions, and even travelled to its birthplace Ethiopia, to taste it as an heirloom variety there.  I have also tasted it with Will Young from Campos coffee in Sydney, one of the first people to bring the Geisha taste experiences to an Australian audience, and who as it happens, is the current Board Chair of Cup of Excellence.  In fact, in a very neat coincidental turn of events I was responsible for introducing Rachel as a grower, to Will as a roaster who was using Rachel’s coffee but had never actually met her previously.

I say all this to put some context to my opening comment: “I have just tasted one of the most extraordinary coffees”.

It is extraordinary because the intrinsic Geisha varietal flavour shines through so intensely and powerfully.  It is like as I say, a Van Gough masterpiece of intense and striking colour.  All the previous tastings of this varietal I have experienced have been, to continue the art analogy, more like a Seurat: another master of post impressionism who displayed colour and genius but like the bathers of Asnières,   it is a much paler version of reality.

This Colombian grown, natural processed Geisha has the flavour smeared on by a feverish spatula in thick slabs and layers of gorgeous colour.  It has the electrifying intensity of a Van Gogh self-portrait.

The fact that a Cup of Excellence jury can select a coffee so strikingly different as this one, is an absolute credit to them.  The evolution of Cup of Excellence from where they run both a washed/pulp natural competition and a natural process competition in Brazil, to this coffee being selected in a traditional washed origin like Colombia is a huge step forward for the sophistication of coffee. 

Colombia as our host Juan explains, has had its challenges.  He still remembers his childhood in Bogota with the sounds of bombs exploding during the notorious Pablo Escobar drug war.  His father encouraged him to leave Colombia as a result and go to Japan, where he gained invaluable business skills.  Juan returned to Colombia and four years ago started the exporting business out of nothing.  He is an amazing coffee entrepreneur.  It turns out he is the vice chair of the newly formed coffee association that has bravely charted a course independent of the old-school traditional monolithic coffee federation.  
In a good move for Colombia, the federation has generously handed over the reins of the Colombian CoE to this new association of independent coffee stake-holders.

Without their brave pioneering, this coffee would never have even made it to the national selection.  Without the diligent coaxing of the head judge who encouraged the bemused national coffee tasters to think beyond their old way of thinking and evaluate coffees to include natural processed ones, this coffee would never have been exposed to an international CoE jury.

In the early days of Cup of Excellence a coffee like this one that was not defined solely by powerful acidity, would not have made it to the final table. Now we have a new coffee of incredible depth and original beauty that has surfaced surprisingly in one of the most storied and old bastions of world coffee: Colombia.  Well done and thank you Colombia.  Well done and thank you Cup of Excellence.