In August 2020, deep in the heart of the pandemic, this intrepid young apprentice roaster bravely ventured to the Department of Cauca, Colombia for a 4-day buying trip… via Zoom. Each day began with a full table of beautiful coffees selected and roasted by our friends at Boot Coffee and then transitioned to a virtual journey hosted by Coffee for Peace. Our caravan of buyers was scattered, in real life, across the globe, but we managed to find a sense of community in our Zoom-enabled reviews of the flavors and aromas we jointly explored on the cupping table. Notwithstanding the limitations of the virtual format, the quality of the coffees on the table and the insight into the actual people behind the cup were genuine and meaningful… just like a real trip to origin!
My favorite coffee of the trip came from Dario Manzano, whose father also had a coffee on the table! After having been raised growing specialty coffee, Don Dario bought his own farm, Villa Soffy, which he named for his daughter. His coffee exhibited the classic flavor notes of a traditional Colombian coffee, but stood out for its floral and almost tropical notes, which we rarely see in this type of bean. We put in a bid and managed to secure the entire lot that Dario had on offer. I am so glad to have this very tangible souvenir from a trip that somehow managed to be both virtual and a very real opportunity for connection.
The cornerstone of an origin trip in more precedented times is the bringing together of coffee producers with buyers over the cupping table. Between travel restrictions and changes to cupping protocol, this was obviously out. The virtual experience instead paired remote cupping with presentations by coffee producers from different areas within Cauca. Although we were not able to speak directly with every single farmer, many joined us to review our tasting notes on their lots, hopped on calls, and prepared video tours of their farms.
A big thanks for making this virtual experience possible goes out to Coffee for Peace, which is a joint initiative between the Colombian National Federation of Coffee Growers and the United States Agency for International Development. They undertook the herculean labor of translating the origin trip experience to Zoom with the hope that facilitating market access for small-scale farmers would yield tangible sales and lasting connections. The human connection they created was surprisingly authentic and the opportunity to try Dario Manzano’s fantastic coffee was all that we needed to convince us that we had to have it.
Among the things I learned in my travels is that, for much of Cauca, the production of specialty grade coffee is the only viable alternative to growing marijuana or coca. The region has been ravaged by drug-related violence over the years, presenting a huge challenge for coffee farmers trying to make their way. Only by having access to buyers and the ability to negotiate prices can producers—particularly women and indigenous communities who are traditionally more disenfranchised—be empowered to break the cycle of violence (ergo “Coffee for Peace.”)
In addition to connecting to a new community of coffee professionals and learning about the experience of farmers in Cauca, the trip held one more pleasant surprise for me. Colombia’s climate is very hospitable to coffee, so I have cupped coffees from all over the country, but we at Brio have tended to favor lots from Nariño. My personal expectations were so far exceeded on the very first table that it changed the lens through which I viewed the entire trip and coffees from this part of Colombia. I’m convinced that tasting Dario’s coffee will do the same for you!
Colombia Villa Soffy is available now at the roastery and online!