We have been avid supporters of the Best Cup events organised by Banexport and Cafe Imports. Andrew Miller, founder of Cafe Imports, together with Banexport, organised this coffee competition with the initial motivation of “quality discovery”. It was to show producers that high quality coffees will be recognised and rewarded accordingly with higher prices. This is a direct incentive for producers to continue coffee farming with focus on quality. It is also an opportunity for producers to meet the buyers and connect them together.
Our first experience of the Best Cup event was back in 2014 when it was first held in Cauca. Back then, the event was a lot cosier and much smaller in terms of scale. For those who’d like to read about that event, you can access through this link. The success of this first Best Cup led to the same competition being held in the Huila region in 2016 and 2017. Last year, it was the inaugural Colombia Best Cup competition with coffees from 4 regions - Cauca, Huila, Tolima and Nariño. The Banexport team cupped through samples from more than 500 producers. From the hundreds of samples, the top 30 coffees were selected and a group of international buyers/roasters gather for a few days to cup and score the 30 coffees. The top 15 will be auctioned off to the highest bidder. As part of this international panel, we had the opportunity to taste some amazing coffees from the 4 regions. After a few rounds of intensive cupping, the winning coffee of Colombia Best Cup went to Mr Jairo Quiñones. A relatively young producer, who has a 5 hectare farm in Pitalito, Huila. His coffee, a fully washed Colombian variety, scored an average of 90 points on the cupping table. Many cuppers commented the coffee tasted of sweet cherry, sparkling lemonade, orange blossom, peaches, coconut, raspberry, agave….& lots more… We scored this coffee 90 points and it was one of the cups that really catches your attention with its flavour complexity and sweetness.
The lot size of this winning lot was 6 bags. Bidding in an auction was adrenalin pumping. The locals went hysterical and kept cheering on for higher prices. It would have been a challenge for us to take on all 6 bags given the high price and the lot size. Fortunately, our good friend from Coffee Libre, who wasn’t able to attend this event approached us to co-bid for the winning lot. The bidding went crazy as it went past US$20/lb! Our hearts were beating and we were playing mind games to see how far each party would go to secure this winning lot. In the end, we kept on the bidding….. till we finally won the lot at US$27.50/lb! To put into context, this price is still far from what the famous Panama Geishas coffees might fetch, but for a small producer in Colombia, this is a really substantial amount that can have a real significant impact on their lives.
On top of the outstanding coffee that Jairo produces, it was important to support him by paying a premium to acknowledge his hard work and efforts for being a consistently good producer. Hopefully, this will help to motivate and incentivise other producers to strive for excellence. Jairo Quiñones has participated in previous Best Cup Huila and had always been in the list of finalists. Since 2014, we have noticed that there are hardly any repeat producers in the top 15 places of the regional competitions, except for Jairo Quinones. When we spoke to Banexport, they acknowledged the difficulties in keeping producers to continue their focus on quality year on year even if they get good results in the Best Cup. Some struggle to understand what led to inconsistencies in their harvest quality, some failed to take proper care in processing post harvest or some become complacent after getting good prices just once. With this in mind, we felt that Jairo really deserves it. As he came to terms with the price his coffee fetched from the bidding, he commented that he is even more motivated after this and will use the auction proceeds to invest in infrastructure to do an even better job for his future harvests. This is the spirit which we hope will spur on more small producers to come onboard.
After the auction, we split up the 6 bags amongst 3 roasters, with our friends, Elixr Coffee in Philadelphia wanting to showcase this top pick with their customers too. With only 48kg, this coffee will have a rather short run. We are thrilled and honoured to share this winning coffee here in Singapore. We highly recommend you to order this coffee online as it is likely there won’t be much available on our retail rack.
Footnote: As a general comparison, we pay between US$3 - US$4.00/lb (before freight costs and taxes) for most of our coffees from Colombia. For some special varieties or processing methods, prices range from US$4 - US$7/lb.