The Tarqui Cup And Rolando Cordoba
Our relationship with Rolando Cordoba and the coffee he produces illustrates our relationship with coffee from the Tarqui region as a whole.
We first discovered his coffee during the Tarqui Cup in 2018, a condition of the cup is that it’s judged completely blind, so it wasn’t until after the competition we found out he’d produced it. It was the second place coffee that year and one of our favourite coffees on the table, it was really delicious and juicy. We bid on and committed to buying the coffee based purely on the cup quality. Following the competition the organisers; Fairfield Trading and Nordic Approach host a big party in the local community centre where there is a big outdoor oven and a kitchen, so that farmers, exporters and visiting roasters can eat, drink a few beers, meet and talk. It is a great networking opportunity for all involved, and a particularly great time for local farmers who may only see each other once or twice a year to discuss farming practices but more than that it’s cause for celebration and a fun time to grab a beer and get to know each other. It was at this party that we met Rolando and got to know a bit more about him and his farm Mirolindo, for me meeting the producer behind the coffee is when the whole bigger picture really comes together.
The whole initial meeting was somewhat of a whirlwind, we bid on lot two, there was an award ceremony and the party where we met Rolando, and by about 3 o’clock in the afternoon most people were heading off to get back to their farms before dark. The cup is amazing as it allows a platform for the growers to showcase their coffee, a chance to learn from their peers and an opportunity to get really good prices for their green bean, but it is always very intense. As with all competitions there are winners and losers and there might be people there who go expecting to place in the top ten and don’t, this environment is very high stakes when people’s lives are built around growing coffee, and judging coffee can be incredibly daunting especially when for us tasting coffee is already a very evocative and emotional thing.
Things slowed down considerably from there and it was two and a half months before the coffee arrived at the roastery. Sometimes when you taste coffee at origin it is very fresh and you have to try and predict how certain flavours might develop or mature. Coffee’s that are that fresh are much drier and have more astringency, this usually mellows. Other flavours sometimes develop further for example, if a coffee tastes a little fermented when you cup it on a sourcing trip, those flavours might totally dominate the coffee by the time you cup it when it arrives at the roastery. When we tasted Rolando’s coffee at origin it tasted like a Kenyan coffee, big clean blackcurrant flavours, very syrupy and heady and by the time we roasted it and tasted it back at the roastery it was even better. Truly one of the standout coffees that year. It went on to be used as a competition coffee by Zdeněk Hýbl from OneSip in Prague, it was probably one of our most notable coffees of that entire year. Zdeněk won the Czech Barista Championship with the coffee and then went on to the world competition in Boston. It was really magical to witness and be part of this journey from second in a regional competition in Tarqui to being used on the world stage. That is one of the best things about competition, it allows for an opportunity to really celebrate and showcase where the coffee comes from, and can really raise the profile of farmers and growing regions.
Terroir and Competition
The Tarqui Cup is all about raising the profile of a special growing region, it puts the coffee in front of potential customers but it also allows farmers from the region some healthy competition, a chance to learn from each other and a rightfully deserved chance at having their coffee celebrated. During the competition we cup for three days, six tables a day, each with ten to fifteen coffees. All of these coffees are from one region, and it’s a big region, around 347 sq km but given the size of Colombia and comparing it to other growing regions, it's really not very big. Of the top ten coffees lots 1 through 6 came from one mountain. Actually the exception to this was Rolando Cordoba’s lot 2. Most of the farms were from one very specific region, about 300 meters higher than Rolando Cordoba’s farm. It’s true that often higher altitude leads to higher quality coffee, but these results on the cupping table are due in large part to when the competition takes place. This year we bought coffee from Rolando’s farm a month earlier than the competition because he had already harvested as coffee at lower altitudes usually grows faster. This year many of the farmers involved in the competition have said if it was held two months earlier or even a month earlier they could produce some even more exceptional coffees. The difficulty is that November is a great time for sourcing coffee from lots of regions in Colombia, and sourcing trips are expensive.
These are the kind of constraints that govern sourcing trips, often there is a lot to fit in and this informs where, when and whom you are able to visit. This is of course another good reason to hold something like the Tarqui Cup as it means coffees from all over the region will be put on a table infront of Roasters like us from around the world as well as coffee brokers. This November (2019) we visited Tarqui and we were as is usually the way on a very busy scheduled trip, we were lucky enough to visit a farm that was only a ten minute drive from Mirolindo, Rolando Cordoba’s farm. We phoned him and luckily he was free, that’s when we were able to visit his farm, meet his family and take them a bag of their coffee that we’d roasted and bagged in one of our blue bags. These moments of connection in coffee are really important and it we hope to visit Mirolindo again in the future. On that trip we committed to buying a large lot of his coffee, partially based on the cup quality of course, but also in large part due to the faith we have in him as a producer. We spoke with him about hoping to continue to work with him and his farm in the future on a more long term basis, so look out for more of his coffees from us in the future!
The relationship we’ve built with Rolando Cordoba is a very illustrative story of our involvement in the Tarqui Cup, but also a good example of how we like to do business in general. Of course buying coffee will always start at the cupping table, but it should evolve beyond it. This year we bought coffee from Mirolindo that wasn’t even entered in the Cup, this is largely down to his earlier harvest. We of course also bought competition winning lots and will always endeavour to support the cup by doing so, the competition has allowed us to build a particularly strong relationship with Rolando Cordoba, one that we hope will continue to grow but also we’ve built a strong relationship with the whole community of growers in Tarqui. For us it’s about much more than sourcing good quality coffee, it’s about building real connections with the people that grow it and the places that it’s grown. For that reason, the Tarqui Cup is something we hope to always be a part of.
Written by Will Davies from conversations with Eddie Twitchett