‘Best of Huila’ received green bean samples from over 600 producers in the region this year. Banexport and Café Imports had scored all of these coffees through a fair and detailed cupping process. In this manner, the submissions had been vetted and ultimately narrowed down to the top 30. Each of the 30 producers are Finalists of Huila Best Cup, and are guaranteed to receive a minimum of $3.50 per pound for their entire lot! To put this in perspective, the farmers would have previously received in the range of $1-1.50 by selling through the FNC. (Colombian Coffee Growers Federation)
After the Top 30 Finalists had been selected, we arrived in Colombia. Our group consisted of around 25 coffee professionals from all over the United States, as well as Canada, Italy, Russia, Taiwan, and Colombia – a very impressive group! Our task was to narrow this field to the top 10 or 15 that would participate in the Live Auction.
We drove each morning to a fantastic venue called SENA (National Learning Service), a public institution that offers a free education to Colombian students that want to pursue careers in coffee or culinary arts. This school grows their own coffee, raises livestock, produces biofuel, and has the best cupping lab and facilities I’ve ever seen. It is educating the youth of Colombia to be successful in the coffee world, or anything else they choose to do. SENA donates their space to the Best of Huila competition each year.
So for four days we would do two rounds of blind cuppings. Each of us scored every coffee, and then we would adjourn into a room and read out our scores and tasting notes. Scores were averaged in order to select the top 15 winning lots, in order from 15 to 1st place. With so many close scores, we determined that 15 of these would go to the live auction at the end of the week.
There was a secondary purpose to these cuppings, which was grading and selecting another category of coffees called Regional Select. These were the Best Cup submissions that did not quite make it into the Top 30, but that were still producing very high quality coffee. Café Imports takes 10 or so small lots from a specific village or town, with coffee that meets high standards and shares a similar microclimate and processing method. This is blended together to create a Regional Select category that is marketed under the town name, and typically scores in the 85-88 point range of specialty coffee.
We also cupped these Regional Select offerings, and had the opportunity to purchase these larger lots on a first come basis. On this trip, we secured a lot from Montanita Timana (town of Timana) which was the highest scored Regional Select of all! This is an affordable, very tasty coffee that will be in our lineup for about 6 months, beginning in March.
Of course in addition to all this coffee analysis, we also visited a different producer and his farm each day. These were some of the most beautiful farms I've ever seen, with such friendly people opening their homes to us. And it is always so interesting to see the different methodologies in place with each producer, and how Banexport has helped them improve their processes.