Last Saturday, Leon had the great pleasure of hiking Finca Las Marias with Jose Giraldo of Café 1959 just east of Pijao, Qunidio, Colombia.
Jose has visited our roastery a couple of times in the past few years and presented at our Roaster's Village booth at SCA Expo in Boston a couple of years back, serving his Mesa Alta that we roasted to our guests.
Get Jose Giraldo’s Pink Bourbon 360 Hour Scoby Kombucha Fermentation coffee here - it’s a showstopper that is not to miss.
Here's Leon's Field Report:
As one drives up into the Andes from the valley Southeast of Armenia higher onto dirt roads, the forest becomes even more lush. Jose notes the biodiversity, all the microorganisms in the soil, the shape of the mountains and valleys, and their relation to the sun and surrounding mountains as reasons that he fell in love with the plot of land that became his finca in 2017.
It's about 9am at Finca Las Marias. The air is warm and cold, two temperatures back and forth moment to moment, warm air from the direct sun with pockets of cool air from the 6000 ft altitude. The sun comes over the Andes from the East, crosses down the valley, over his finca, situated on the Northern slope, and then in the afternoon crosses over the mountain to the valley behind. The warm of the intense period of direct sun, then shade and cool of night creates a desirable stress on the coffee, pushing the shrub's existential resources to its seeds, a kind of evolutionary defense mechanism, similar to what intermittent fasting does for the human body.
First is the Gesha, then Pink Bourbon, Mocca, and Wush Wush, each in its own carefully planted section on this steeply sloped mountainside. At Las Marias, Jose focuses on unique varieties to grow and process show-stopping coffees roasted and shared by top roasters around the world in places such as the Netherlands, UAE, Saudi Arabia, The US, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong. He takes a considerable risk going all in with these rare coffees, whose cultivation needs deeper and more comprehensive attention in this unique microclimate.
Just to the West are 70-year-old Typica trees that Jose discovered on the site as he removed the overgrowth back in 2017. He cut them back and let them re-sprout.
As we walk through his plantings, he points out the plentiful shrubs, with flowers, leaves, budding cherries and ripening cherries all on the same plant. He draws my attention to the size of the leaves, and each variety's unique shape or indicator. As we walk through from variety to variety, we taste the fruit from each; Jose points out how the flavor of the fruit will reflect the flavor that we will later taste in the roasted and ground seeds (coffee beans) on the cupping table. The Gesha fruit shows the delicate and sweet florals that we taste from roasted Gesha coffee. The Mocca, a more compact tree with leaves that have small bumps along their center veins, is delicate and slow like a lover that unconceals into its flavor as it cools. Jose is super happy to have taken one shrub and turned it into a whole planting on his farm.
He points out some of the anomalies, trees that are a variety but are behaving differently, like one Mocca tree that has larger beans. He pays attention to them and cups them, and as he notices new things that he loves, he fosters their continued planting and growth.
Toward the middle of the mountainside, we stop and sit and after a beat spend some minutes in silence, taking in the awe of the place, the wonder of coffee, and all the love, knowledge, passion, strategy, labor, family, friendship, communication, and travel that Jose puts in.
Jose is flying to Japan in the morning for the Specialty Coffee Association of Japan Expo. Then he immediately embarks on a 5-city whirlwind tour on an invitation from his new importing partner to visit and cup with top Japanese roasters around the country. (He started the morning at breakfast with a Facetime call with Hong Kong roasters who were cupping his coffees.)
As we sit, halfway down the mountain, on his Finca, surrounded by a sublime scene of mountains, a meandering river, and voluminous clouds, looking out into the distance, Jose says that it was the perfect day for me to come with him. He wanted to walk the farm, take it in, and remind himself of the awe that he has for Finca Las Marias and the coffees that he cultivates, and all that he will fly across the world to attempt to share over the next week. For just a few minutes Jose has us sit in silence. After a minute I realize that it is real silence like I have only ever heard once before in the Sahara desert. I cannot hear a human made sound, not even a little, for the whole time that we sit in silence, taking in his finca, and everything that is special about the valley that Jose fell in love with when he started Finca Las Marias. The entire hike, Jose, as he has always done on our other visits, breathes what he does. Sitting in silence at Finca Las Marias with Jose said so even more.
It is nearly impossible to share how much work goes into coffee.
Climbing back up I need to stop every ten meters or so. When we serve coffee and drink coffee we hope to honor the labor, innovation, will, and love that goes into cultivating, picking, and processing.
Thankfully, for me, I wanted to take pictures, so the pictures offered a cadence that balanced out the steepness of the ascent. We get to the top, more exhausted than I'd like to say. After a few minutes, I flew my drone to take some aerial shots, a couple that you see here and some for José to use as he wishes. He has his own drone and shots, but sometimes seeing through another's eyes offers new views.
Business has always been an excuse to connect and strive to inhabit the kind and mode of a world as we would like to see it, something much more than just business. It's been evident for the past few years, that it is just as true for Jose.
We head back to the house, and pick up Jose's wife Jimena and their 6-month-old baby, Alicia. We met Jimena at Expo and it feels comfortable to be with her and the family in their home. The night before José took me to get the Cazuela Cuy Abra at Restaurante Rancho Eden a mile or so from the house. It's a kind of stew served in a gourd, with several ingredients including long platano chips, beans, chorizo, corn, a side of rice, a kind of Colombian chicharron, and avocado. So for this meal, we go to open open-air Italian place near their house. Jose suggests that I get the Fantasia El Horno.
After lunch, we go to their lab and processing station, La Clarita, about 5 km around to the South. A bad storm had quickly come through as I was driving in and it knocked out the power, so we thought we'd miss the cupping. As we arrived, the power had just returned. With Alicia in the stroller, everyone charged their phones (as the electricity was still partially out at home). We opted to do a blind cupping of several of Jose's coffees, most of which we had walked through at Finca Las Marias earlier in the day, the same ones whose fruit we had eaten off the shrub as we meandered through the mountainside.
The flavors present in the fruit came through in the cups. At about minute 18, we started cupping, one by one, blind, letting the flavors pop. Several of the coffees are world competition-level coffees. To take them in, I needed to fully clear my palate and take each one in, one at a time. The Mocca in particular needed its own space, so as the coffee continued to cool, I reversed the order, going Mocca to Gesha, instead of vice versa. I went through the table multiple times, as did Jose, and Maria, Alicia watching on, at first simply to cup, attend to each, shutting out all other senses. The next pass was more to consider how we could use a couple of them in our program, and how to include our guests in the experience even with the higher price tag several command. We discussed which roasters around the world have which and which markets sell out of such coffees quickly. After several passes, and some guesses as to which were which the ones that we had tasted as fruit at Las Marias, now with the names and processes showing. Panella Sticky Natural, Geisha Natural Entre Los Montañas 3rd Generation Lot, Mocca Natural, Ethiopian Heirloom, Chile Gesha, Exotic Spices, Tropical Fruit Pink Bourbon, SKF Kombucha.
He packed up some of his samples for me to taste with Areli this week after she comes in from her trip to Brazil. (Areli will post a Field Report about that in the future).
We walked into the refrigeration room where Jose controls the level and intensity of enzymatic processes taking place in near-no oxygen settings. We smell different varieties at different stages of their processes.
We then take a look at his new dryer, a beautifully self-built two-stage screen dryer for dialing in moisture levels and drying times.
We go out to walk through the raised beds, looking at the drying Wush Wush and Gesha, talk about controlling the airflow and moisture levels.
Our whole discussion overlaps with the deep dive we took when Jose and Joel (from Yellow Rooster Coffee Imports) came to visit us: Deeply layered, completely integrated, and business that is driven by an undying curiosity about how we can develop and serve coffees that elicit wonder and one of a kind flavor.
Hearing Jose describe it and seeing the timings going into how he develops unique flavors via processing, it reminds me a bit of the varied ways, timings, and methods used to process tea (as we teach it in our retail boot camp).
As we leave, I'm thinking on the delicate tea-like quality of Jose's Mocca that becomes more and more sweet and complex over time...the one we tasted just 20 minutes earlier.
It's time to go. Before we get in the car, Jose wants to show me one more thing. Maria's parents have moved from Bogota into what was the former hotel, to be near their new, beautiful grandchild, topping the trip with more sweetness. Jose, Maria, and Alicia drop me at the Hotel Mocawa Resort. Thankfully, by then Jose and Maria have their electricity back. Jose will get a hot shower and hopefully a good night's sleep. Alicia is a good sleeper and a gentle child.
In just over a day, he'll be on the opposite side of the Earth diving back in, working to capture and share the essence of what I got to witness up close with him at Finca Las Marias.
We look forward to doing just that later this year. While our program is deliberately not ALL about competition-level showstoppers, they have an important place in our program. And walking Finca Las Marias and cupping the coffees creates the urge in us to share them with you.