feature:. Cafe de Colombia, A Bean and Its Stewards

I really got a hold on you.

An explorer searches for something. For some explorers, whether or not the something is found, it’s all about the journey.  The journey privileges the subject with experiences one couldn’t have planned and among those unknowns are cultural jewels that become memories of an idea in action.

Coffee is a journey. The thought of exploring it brings many discoveries – that of diversity in the cup, in the people, in the lands in which its grown. This diversity is a message to the willing traveler that at whichever entry point he enters into the world of specialty coffee, his appetite for a non-commoditized experience will be satiated.

These modern days coffee, finds a forum where new consumers, enthusiasts and novice professionals can find its voice at Specialty Coffee events, Symposiums, Barista competitions, brewing device championships, at spotlight events like the Good Food Awards and on panels for sustainability within niche cultural agendas like Brooklyn’s Northside Taste Talks.

Given the variety of platforms in which coffee finds an audience Café de Colombia’s new research composed in a digital campaign ‘Mind The Bean’ incited wonder about its findings including, creating a greater awareness for Colombia coffee and creating more communication about those consuming specialty. I spoke with Marcela Jaramillo from The Colombian Coffee Growers Federation (FNC) which represents Café de Colombia, on the FNC’s Bean Bang Theory, the new coffee consumer, coffee pairing, origin countries and how coffee is a culture.  Join us.

Marcela Jaramillo.: People drink coffee in so many ways and on different occasions. When we were thinking about sharing Colombian coffee with consumers we wanted to reach people who are also influencing coffee drinkers. The barista, he’s behind the bar and interacting with the consumer, talking to the consumer and sharing what the taste is. It’s important to explore influences and trends.

On taste, I wondered how exploring taste could be a lens into the layers of specialty coffee for the new consumer and the accustomed one.

Marcela: Food is a huge part of our life as coffee is. This has to do with my own experience with my husband who is a chef. You go to these amazing restaurants and have this experience but at the end they offer you coffee.  Coffee is the last point of reference, we thought about how to enhance that experience and how Colombian coffee can become an intimate part of that experience. We partner with a food organization – Food Pairing – they understand the scientific base of food pairing.

There are pairings that are traditional, like pineapple and blue cheese, which work well and like strawberry and chocolate.  Just how wine you can know through aroma using a mechanical nose we can map components of food ingredients. They have found that the best pairings happen where there is a correlation to principal aromatic components.  Coffee is a complex beverage, more than 1000 aromas go into the diversity of the Colombian coffee. We think about this and want to put the knowledge to work.

We did an analysis of six regional coffees and match the aromatic components of them. If we can cup them and cuppers can understand, they should also show up in the mapping of the aromatic components.  We were able to do that. What happens when the aromatic map happens help you to find pairings in the coffee and ingredients.

c.:  Coffee seems to need this help for new consumers those wanting to go deeper in into the aroma of the coffees, its science and how it arrives to us. How do we communicate such complexities with an audience so diverse?

m.j.: Sometimes in coffee we’re too technical and disconnected sometimes from how people live coffee. We’re trying to find ways through how people connect with coffee. Not everyone is a barista, but we work with baristas at their levels and then we understand that people are just starting into the coffee world and we work with them at that level.  It’s about how much the consumer wants to know for now and then open the door for the next layer. And, the culture, as well – it’s trying to show people the different phases of coffee.

c.: Yes, the culture. Coffee is a culture. How does culture impact coffee and telling the story of Café de Colombia?

m.j.: With Mind the Bean – a new study by FNC with an interest on Café de Colombia – it’s for people starting to get into coffee.  With the food pairings –as outlined in the research – and layers of Colombian coffee we hope we will reach the barista and those more specialized, allowing people to experience coffee in that way; it’s about sharing the story in different ways.

c.: This is highly important. Every bean has a story and every farmer is a story. Walking into coffee shops weekly for me I’m always encountering a story – at times it’s the coffee itself that stands out and others and often, it’s the people, the consumers, the ones enthused about their ritual this day and the experience they are wanting. What can you share about the culture of the farmers?

m.j.: You really don’t know coffee until you meet the growers.  Its about understanding what it takes to grow coffee, the effort behind it and the attention to detail its like a craft. Everything is done with ones hands. It takes two years from when you plant a seed, until you get the harvest. There is so much effort so much passion and faith that a grower is putting into a plan – it’s an investment and it’s interesting when you can understand it in that dimension.

c.: Origin. The word is storied. It carries so much meaning. Its sung in coffee competitions, its coveted as a journey for the coffee enthusiast and its romanticized and for good reason as it’s a place where one of the most powerful storytellers comes from. How does origin play a role in Café de Colombia?

m.j.: In origin, the growers are so passionate about what they do; it’s amazing. How they for their plants, you can see all these little details of their life, its why we share the importance of origin – its acknowledging the growers and the work that they put into what they do, you’re going to see that for yourself. Its great to understand where people live and the work they put in coffee.

When you have a chance to meet growers from different regions they all share that passion and commitment and they all have different stories. Culturally they are very diverse from the coast to the Caribbean, to the center of Colombia.  Coffee here is not only a reflection of the process and the variety but it’s also about the people and how their culture impacts how that beans taste.  When you commit to origin you are making a statement.

Upon arriving in Bogota, my first stop was a visit to the FNC – my host – where I met Marcela and other members of the team in person. Hearing their commitment to this research and the culture of Café de Colombia from sensory exercises to a small cupping, left a memorable imprint on my heart and here are some quotes from them – portrayed in portraiture above.

“Almost anything around you can come to mind by your senses.” Rodrigo Alarcon

When you go to the farmers, you’re going to love the people – you’re about culture the coffee is their culture.” Tito Bohorquez

“It is important before you drink, each time to smell the aroma, this is how you learn.” Silvia Tobon

“Aspirin has about ten aromas, coffee has over 1,000. That’s why we start swimming in this work, because it’s so technical and has so many layers.” Rodrigo Alarcon

“The bean is the protagonist. “Marcela Jaramillo