Having cupped all the coffees and put the top 15 in order, we were ready for the live auction. This took place in the main downtown plaza of Pitalito, Huila. When we got off our Chiva bus, we felt like celebrities; a large crowd was cheering, music was blaring, and cameras were flashing. It seemed the entire town was here for the auction, and it started to hit home how important our purchases were to the financial well-being of this economy.
The 30 Best of Huila producers were all seated along one side on an elevated platform, with us buyers (roasters and importers) seated opposite them on another platform.. The middle seats and area surrounding the stage were overflowing with producers’ families and apparently everyone else in town. The producers did not yet know who would make it to the Top 15, or what order they would be in. The excitement was palpable as we listened to speeches (en Espanol) by the Mayor of Pitalito, the President of Banexport, Café Imports, etc. Beautiful Colombian dance performances were interspersed throughout the evening, and loud Colombian dance music was pumping continuously.
Daniel and I had our cupping notes and had selected 3 or 4 coffees that we wanted to bid on, out of the top 15. The bidding would start at $3.50 per pound for each lot, with 10 cent increments, working from 15th place to 1st. This was where the fun really got going! We went after the 13th place and then 10th place lot, but really had our sites set on number 9 or 6.
It turned out that the 9th place lot was rather popular, with four or five roasters starting a bidding war. Each time one of us would raise our paddle, the crowd would erupt in exciting dancing and cheering. I must admit I got caught up in the euphoria and paid a bit more than budgeted. Finally the board showed $6.20/lb, “Going once, twice, sold to Evans Brothers Coffee from Sandpoint, Idaho”!
The place went crazy. Producer Jose Ancizar Lanza and his family were overjoyed with emotion. We met the farmer and his family (seemed like an entire village) on stage to huge applause. (This had been the highest priced coffee sold so far). The wife and sisters, children, brothers, you name it came on stage to greet and thank us. The language barrier was apparent, however the emotion was clear. They could not thank us enough! It was overwhelming to see the appreciation and relief on the faces of the men, women, and children. Coffee is their livelihood and they work SO hard at what they do. This moment of jubilation, taking pictures, high fives, and hugging onstage, was the peak experience of my coffee career so far!
We stayed long after the auction visiting with Jose and his family. We gave them all Evans Brothers hats and shirts, and they gave Daniel and I home-made ponchos. There was also a large banner that they had been waving during the auction, which they proceeded to give as a gift to us. We took a million pictures, and did our best to communicate our mutual respect and gratitude. Eventually we had Jairo come over to translate. I was able to share how much of an impact their gratitude had on me, how overwhelming it was, and our motivation to do good with their coffee.
The $6.20 per pound goes directly to the Lanza family. An additional flat $1 is added on to cover all the expenses of exporting and importing. After experiencing what we experienced with this family, we would have paid twice that amount and felt good about it. It’s obviously a life changing amount of money for them. What’s more it will encourage others to elevate the quality of their production so they too can share in the wealth. We estimated that Huila Best Cup generates an additional $500,000 in cash to the farmers in Huila, above and beyond what they were previously receiving for their coffee.
Daniel and I realized that this is why we do what we do, and why we are motivated to share stories like this with you.