Huila is truly the home of Osito Coffee - it is where we started and where we continue to put our greatest focus. While we work with coffee farmers across Colombia, it is this magnificent variety of coffees in Huila that keeps drawing us back time and time again. With Jose and our team in Colombia on the ground, we are able to maintain the relationships with coffee producers that are at the heart of our business. We literally couldn't survive without these farmers. What’s more, we know full well that roasters and farmers alike want to connect in person and feeling that the global situation is safer than it's been in the past we decided to launch a brand-new quality competition called Copa de Occidente! The competition took place at the end of October 2021 and we couldn't be prouder with its’ reception.
Occidente, as some of you may realise, means West. While our Copa Suacena focused on the area of Suaza and the Divino Nino producer group; this new competition was to pay our dues to the great producers we work with in the Western parts of Huila. In the end, we received 42 submissions from farms in La Plata, El Pital, Nataga, Paicol, and even one lot that snuck in from just across the border in Cauca Department. It was truly fantastic to try each and every lot and to really appreciate just how different each producer’s coffee is.
Debriefing after cupping.
With judges from the US, Canada, the UK and Japan, we meticulously cupped and re-cupped the entries. We all flew into Bogota and then down to Garzon (via Neiva). Rather than try to cup in Osito’s receiving center, we hired a venue outside of town with lots of space and airflow – and some beautiful views. All lots were coded to ensure no one could be biased and we spent time cupping together as a team to become calibrated. For this competition we used the standard SCA scoring sheets and in order to ensure no anomalous scores skewed the final results, we excluded both the highest and lowest scores from each round of cupping. However, over the even the first day or so we saw that this had very little impact, as the team were very well calibrated. After cupping each of the entries, we choose a top twenty and then from this top twenty came the top ten lots. Importantly, the final scores were actually an aggregate of the given coffees’ performance over all the cuppings. So, the top scoring lots had to perform well not once, or twice, but three times. Consistency is something we should prize as much stand out flavours.
If you've ever taken part in a cup competition you'll know full well that to have almost a dozen cuppers agree that a coffee is over 88 points is incredibly rare, but we did find those coffees and we are really excited to share some of them with you.
So, who were the winners?
- Jose Fredy Rodriguez, La Plata, Huila
- Luis Gildardo Lopez, Paicol, Huila
- Rolando Pizo, La Plata, Huila
- Ivan Camilo Lopez, Paicol, Huila
- Leonela Rivera Zúñiga, Nátaga, Huila
- Gildardo Lopez Hoyos, Paicol, Huila
- Boris Andres Molina Urriago, El Pital, Huila
- Yilber Pajoy, La Plata, Huila
- Arcesio Rodriguez, La Plata, Huila
- Noe Urrea, La Plata, Huila
Of these ten, five of the producers came from the Martir group that we work with in La Plata, including the winner Jose Fredy Rodriguez. We also had a winner from the La Flora group (Boris Urriago), as well as a father and two sons from Paicol - the Lopez Hoyos family – who managed to each land a place in the top ten! What was especially exciting for us is that the winning lot comprised of Caturra and Colombia varieties - showing that with good farm care and processing, it is not only rare new varieties that shine at quality competitions.
The winner: Jose Fredy Rodriguez
The competition was, in fact, full of unremarkable coffee varieties: only three lots of Pink Bourbon, two blended lots that included Typica, one that was fully Typica and two Tabi lots. I mention this not to be dismissive or suggest in anyway the competition was uninspiring or the coffees plain. Quite the opposite! The coffees we tasted covered a great breadth of profiles; with floral lots, coffee brimming with exotic fruit notes and lots that had a heady combination of caramel and pulp driven sweetness. What this points to once again, is that variety is no sure route to quality. It is through the care these farmers show to their land, their considered processing methods and their chosen varieties that they achieve these unique profiles.
When visiting the winner, Jose Fredy’s farm, which he shares with his two brothers, I was really blown away by his focus on processing. After harvesting ripe cherry, Jose leaves the coffee in a sealed container for around 24 hours. Then the coffee is pulped and placed into separate containers for a dry fermentation of 36 hours, after which the coffee is washed and dried for around 2-3 weeks. This type of ‘anaerobic’ washed coffee was evident at many of the farms we visited and its prevalence was thanks in large part to Didier Javier Pajoy, who is one of the founders, leaders and technical post-harvest processing experts for the Mártir group of which Jose Fredy is a part. Going from farm to farm in the mountain ranges of La Plata, again and again we saw these blue sealable containers being used for cherry storage and dry fermentations. We also saw farmers who were meticulously recording the exact times and weights of their coffee as they processed each lot from cherry to parchment coffee. Sensing that producers want to know more about producing techniques, the staff agronomist at Osito is also experimenting with new methods and techniques which in time we will share with those producers who want to further their understanding of this topic. Truly, Colombian farmers in the West of Huila (and arguably in every region) are growing bolder in their processing experiments and more confident in knowing what works for their coffees and the profiles they want to achieve.
Possibly the worlds smallest processing set up?
The first Copa de Occidente was a special moment for so many reasons: a chance to celebrate the hard work of the producers who work with us, an experience of being able to travel again and a rare moment when the whole Osito team came together. It may come as a shock to a few of you but I’d only met Kyle Bellinger once in person before our trip to Colombia. However, as many of you know, Osito’s values and effort speak for themselves and even without the ability to meet face to face, it was these values that drew me to work with Osito. The Copa de Occidente only cemented my belief that Osito is doing something special in this industry and truly putting farmers first.
As a final note, we wanted to acknowledge that deciding to travel again to Colombia as a group was a hard decision. We took all the precautions necessary and we all tested negative before arrival and before departure. Considering the health of both producers and roasters will always be part of our decision around travel for the foreseeable future.