Colombia 2007 – Armenia

November 16th, 2007

Occasionally being jetlagged can be a good thing.

Anette and I arrived into Bogota on Sunday evening, and collected by our host – Luis Velez – and dropped at our lovely hotel with the worrying news that in order to catch the 6.15 flight to Armenia we would need to be up at 4.30am. Thankfully we slept
straight away and the as we were still 5 hours ahead internally it wasn’t too painful to wake up then.

Four of us travelled to Armenia – Anette and I, Martin Velez (Luis’s son) and the Mexican barista champion Salvador Benitez. The flight across is surprisingly short, possibly the shortest I’ve ever had – you only just get up to cruising altitude before you plummet back to earth. In Armenia we were hosted by Jaime Raul from Agrado. Agrado is an extremely interesting place. It is the focal point for the coffees in that region – Quindio – and the local FNC organisation have decided that for Quindio the only way to go is towards quality. So at Agrado – a medium sized farm – they have set up an impressive cupping lab and research facility. I’ve never seen anything like it. Talking with Jaime Raul gives you a very different perspective towards coffee. He dislikes the idea of a coffee chain, a very linear path for coffee to take. He would rather that the ends of the chain met to create a circle through which knowledge is traded and coffee improved. It was great to wander amongst the trees on the farm and taste the cherries at different stages of ripeness (the difference is amazing!) It was important for me to better understand the raw materials and the growing and picking.

Anette amongst the trees

Anette amongst the trees

Jaime Raul also turned my focus onto coffee pickers. The quality of the crop that they pick determines so much, but picking only the ripest cherries is hard work especially when you are paid by weight and there will always be some level of temptation to pick indiscriminately. At Agrado they not only pay a premium for a better quality harvest but try to look after the pickers as much as possible and get them as involved in coffee as possible. I don’t know of anywhere else in the world that provides espresso and cappuccino from a Linea in their lab for free to all the pickers – brewing coffee from the trees they harvest.

La Marzocco Linea at Agrado

La Marzocco Linea at Agrado

We toured the farm a little and then had a beautiful coffee break. They have a large section of bamboo forest and in the middle, down by their water source, they have built a place to sit and have coffee. The lab hosts growers from all over the region – to teach them to cup, to teach more about agronomy and when groups visit they all head down to this patch to drink coffee and talk about what they taste. It is probably the most incredible place I’ve had a cup of coffee.

Coffee break at Agrado farm in Armenia

Coffee break at Agrado farm in Armenia

We spent most of the afternoon cupping – first coffees from other regions, some familiar (like Huila) and some not. We did three flights, and then we played with the espresso machine for a while. One of their staff was practicing as she planned to enter the National Barista Competition this week. After that we cupped more coffees – this time from Quindio and there was some really lovely stuff on the table. I confess it was not a region I knew much about, but I think their drive towards quality is paying off and it is a name that will become well known in the next few years.

Anette and Jaime Raul at Agrado

Anette and Jaime Raul at Agrado

After this the rain came – the huge, torrential rain that we never get in the UK, and we headed back through the washed out roads to our hotel in Armenia. The next morning we went to the local FNC headquarters to talk more with them about driving towards quality in Quindio and to get our reactions to Agrado. From there we headed over to Almacafe to see the parchment coffee being processed. I’d seen something similar in El Salvador but you always learn something new and it is always interesting.

Parchment warehouse at Almacafe

Parchment warehouse at Almacafe

We also cupped in their lab a little too – Anette’s razor sharp tastebuds picking up a little phenol in a couple of cups, though it wasn’t very strong. I wish I was better at defect cuppings! (Something we did a little more of in the afternoon). Having stolen fruit from a tree growing outside the warehouse we headed back to Agrado to cup some more and also see some processing that they do there.

Cherries being weighed and checked at the mill

Cherries being weighed and checked at the mill

I had missed the harvest when I was in El Salvador so this was the first time I had seen processing of coffee cherries up close. As much as you can understand from books and pictures nothing beats seeing unripes float, or watching a pulper squeeze the seeds from the flesh. They do quite a rigorous pulping and selection before the coffee hits the fermentation tanks at Agrado, but the coffee they end up with is great. The are also constantly using their own crop for experiments – be it different drying methods or different shade systems. They log everything with great detail at the cupping table. I find it very exciting and promising for coffee in the future.

Pulping coffee

Pulping coffee

And this was all we had time for – we had to head back to the airport for another bumpy hop across the mountains to Bogota so we could land in more torrential rain! Up next will be a post about the barista competition happening here. I am judging and Salvador and I did some demonstrations but I will post more with pictures soon.

I know I’ve missed a load out but I will try and update when I get the chance!

There are more photos at Flickr or have a browse below:

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