Barista Magazine

DEC 2017-JAN 2018

Serving People Serving Coffee Since 2005

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In this three-part series, we ask whether the moment we're in as the specialty-coffee industry can be understood through our willingness to collaborate, and whether it takes precedence over or even elimi- nates the kind of rivalries and competition that have existed before in coffee, and which certainly exist in other professional circles. This is part three of three: Download Barista Magazine's free app, or go online to the Barista Mag ePub to read the fi rst two installments in our August + September 2017 and October + November 2017 issues. IF WE WERE TO ASK 100 PEOPLE in the industry what they thought put the special into specialty coffee, we'd probably get 100 dif- ferent answers. For some, it's the nuanced fl avor in the cup. For oth- ers, it's the specifi c and highly detailed information we're often able to provide about individual lots. Another person still might discuss the higher prices a farmer is able to capture by producing fi ne-quality cof- fees. Yet someone else might mention the experimentation happening along the supply chain, from inventive signature beverages at barista competitions to cutting-edge roasting theory to innovative processing at origin. There are no wrong answers to this question (thankfully!), but there does seem to be one thing that unites even this brief handful of possible responses: They don't happen in a vacuum. Where the coffee industry was dominated for generations by a jealous need to keep information proprietary, to protect one's business interests and precarious position in a volatile market, something spe- cial came along and started to chip away at that fortress of commercial solitude that inspired companies to operate as isolated entities. In short, at some point we started to think that we might be better off working together, pooling resources, sharing information, and court- ing a larger and wider customer base. This type of rising-tide-fl oats-all-boats mentality doesn't stop with the writing of contracts, roasting of beans, and pouring of latte art, however: It's traveled all along the supply chain and back to the source, where more and more producers are fi nding strength in numbers—and not just the numbers on their bag counts or the price per pound, though those two things, hopefully, follow suit. In this, the last of a three-part series about collaboration, we take a look at how sharing has started to revolutionize specialty coffee from the literal ground up. For every Missy Elliot, there's a Timbaland, and for every winning barista competitor there's a talented and tireless producer whose foundation is what allows the bells and whistles to shine in the spotlight. Of course, this has always been true—there is no coffee without the farmers who grow it—but more than ever the names of individuals at the farm and mill level are common knowledge, talked about like old friends or longtime idols. As a young industry of coffee groupies, we refer to some farmers on a fi rst-name basis, and single farms like they are our favorite bands: Marysabel is the new Ma- donna, and Esmeralda is like Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. Like with Tim and Misdemeanor, however, the magic happens with the meeting of minds—and the current mixtape of specialty coffee speaks to the power of the producers as well as to the elements that come together to turn the microphone their way. One up-and-coming young coffee producer, Elkin Guzman, might not yet be a household name among coffee professionals, but that is almost surely going to change. A third-generation coffee farmer, he works closely with his mother, Fanny Vargas, on Finca El Mirador in Pitalito, in Colombia's Huila department. While the family has always been interested in quality, Elkin's insatiable curiosity about the plant and the industry has led El Mirador into brand-new territory: He graduated university with an agricultural engineering degree and returned to the nearly 20-hectare farm brimming with ideas and ques- tions: What makes the best fl avor? One thing Elkin knew from the very beginning, however, was that it was essential to start looking for answers outside of the farm's borders, and even sometimes out of the pages of his textbooks. In fact, one of his most innovative experiments was inspired by a YouTube video. "I have always liked applied research, to understand what we have on the farm, how the environment infl uences the plants, and how we can generate differentiation in the quality of our coffees from the At one of Volcafe's model farms, teams of agronomists work with producers on sustainable production techniques and agronomy practices to generate greater profi tability, farm by farm. PHOTO COURTESY OF GENUINE ORIGIN 94 barista magazine

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