When coffee becomes a school of life

In Colombia with Barista & Farmer to discover how an exchange of culture and experiences allows an entire country to progress

Passion, respect, a vision and a mission. Coffee, Colombia’s second source of revenue after bananas, has an almost religious status in the country. There are over 555,000 Colombian producers and 684,000 farms, while coffee plantations cover an area of 931,000 hectares. The overwhelming majority of farmers (96%) owns less than 5 hectares of land. “For us,” comments Natalia Valencia, commercial director and head of public relations at the Federacion Nacional de Cafeteros, “coffee is not just a plant: there are thousands of families who depend on coffee production.”

Barista & Farmer
These families farm with the aim of building a better future for the whole country. Giuseppe Giulianelli, a Mumac Academy trainer, witnessed this first hand when he had the honour of participating in the fourth edition of Barista & Farmer, the only international talent show that promotes the high-quality coffee chain, allowing ten of the best baristas in the world to experience ten days as coffee producers in a specific coffee-producing country. Created by Francesco Sanapo, an award-winning champion barista, organized by Italian Exhibition Group and SIGEP, the International Trade Show of Artisan Gelato, Pastry, Bakery and the Coffee World and supported by the Speciality Coffee Association (SCA) and main sponsors Gruppo Cimbali and Lavazza, Barista & Farmer aims to train true “specialty” (particularly high-quality) coffee ambassadors and, at this edition, to act as a cultural bridge between Colombia, the world’s third-largest coffee producer, and Italy.

Experience on the field
“It was an extraordinary experience,” recounts Giuseppe Giulianelli, “not only in terms of training and competition, but above all because we were able to have a first-hand experience of intense focus on research, culture, quality and, above all, sustainability.” The baristas involved, along with trainers and professionals, went to fincas (plantations) that share several characteristics: the excellence and quality of the coffee they produce, the great passion of the producers who respect the growers and their families and protection of the land and the environment. Here, they learnt pioneering production techniques, eventually creating an authentic custom blend for the first time.

High-quality variety
A comprehensive experience in the coffee world: “We got up at dawn,” the Mumac Academy trainer recalls, “to spend the morning on the plantation harvesting beans, weighing, using the ‘depulping machine’ and roasting. We also learnt about various alternative methods to the classic preparation of natural, washed and ‘honey-processed’ coffee, including methods borrowed for the first time from the beer and wine world, for example through fermentation with yeast or flavouring with different herbs. We saw and harvested different varieties of coffee, including Castillo and Colombia, specially created in a laboratory to resist ‘la roya’, also known as ‘leaf rust’, Caturra coffee, the most typical variety of Colombia, the Borbon rosato variety, a natural mutation of Borbon that has a pink berry and a highly unusual, very tropical taste, and Geicha, the most valuable variety in the world.”

The flavour of drupes
“We tasted,” continues Giulianelli, “freshly-harvested coffee drupes, discovering incredible scents and aftertastes reminiscent of ripe cherries and raisins, and Cascara, a traditional infusion made with the peel and pulp of dried coffee, which has distinctive aromas of peppers, hints of red fruit and an aftertaste of raisins.
We visited plantations such as Finca La Cabaña in San Augustin, which was awarded as the best in Colombia in 2015 with 5 stars, of which 3 highlighted in yellow indicate the state of the plants, including the tall trees that protect the plantation from direct sunlight. We personally experienced the exertion of harvesting on steep slopes and the willpower required to bring home sacks of coffee cherries, from which coffee beans are eventually produced that weigh just 10% of the original weight.”

The legend of Juan Valdez
“We also met the legendary Juan Valdez,” concludes Giuseppe Giulianelli, “an extraordinary actor who plays the typical coffee maker, a Colombian symbol with a hat and very black moustache, always accompanied by his donkey, Conchita. But what really struck us was the determination and passion of all the real growers and producers who, aware of the country’s innumerable problems, demonstrate with daily commitment that coffee is a great facilitator of social development that can combat and overcome prejudices and conflicts simply thanks to its high quality.”