How I finished my Coffee Puzzle

What I learnt from Origin

I write this still in transit back home to Australia. Where have I been….?

Huila region of Colombia for 10 days as part of the Barista & Farmer reality show.

Yes it was a competition but for me it wasn’t about that.

As a Barista we strive to deliver the perfect cup of coffee to our customers however we do it not thinking about what journey that coffee takes before we get it. This trip to Origin was more about finding the last piece of my Coffee puzzle.

The Barista & Farmer Competition saw 10 baristas from around the world live and compete together for 10 days. The competitions objective was for us Baristas to live the reality of the coffee farm. We visited Farms within in the Huila region picking coffee alongside local collectors working together to pick the most, best quality and best effectiveness. Only picking the ripest cherries leaving the green to mature.

This is where I found that piece of the puzzle, and it has changed everything about coffee for me.

I thought I respected and understood what happens at coffee farms by watching videos and reading books. But to be honest I wasn’t even close.

We visited Finca Santana El Bolson run by Familia Rojas. It rained all night the night before our visit, but it cleared by the morning. Perfect for coffee picking!

I was teamed up with Ivan. Ivan is shorter than me but solid. I could feel his strength, passion and energy with our first hand shake. For the next hour we picked coffee. Ivan guided me through the trees. Up and down the hill, sliding through the mud. It was hard for me, but not for Ivan. I did not see his energy drop or him lose that smile. This was the moment where I stopped, looked Ivan in the eye and thanked him. Not only for the hour he helped me but for every day that he visits that side of the mountain and picks coffee. Every day without fail he will be there picking coffee with the same passion and enthusiasm for maybe 8 or 10 hours a day. We as barista’s need to do the same, for all the Ivan’s in the coffee world!

That moment at Finca Santana I collected my last puzzle piece, well I thought I did…

Our last day of picking coffee brought us to Finca El Mirador. We almost didn’t make it. The rain the night before had made the roads slippery causing our transport to get bogged. But we did end up making it.

El Mirador would be the last time we picked coffee on this journey. We picked coffee on our own for most of the hour. With 10 minutes to go I had some help.

My help was the one and only Elkin Guzman. Elkin and his family own Finca El Mirador. Talk about pressure! But for those 10 minutes I watched and learned and ensured I only picked the best quality to not disrespect him or let him down. We walked away with picking the best quality for the day!

If you don’t know Elkin he is one of the most innovative and experimental producers and has provided coffee for Hugh Kelly in WBC 2016 using his innovated Freezer process.

Elkin delivered a lecture on his processing methods. Listening to Elkin deliver his passion to improve a coffee through processing was inspiring.

This is where I collected the last piece of my puzzle. This piece of the puzzle isnt about processing methods or farming it is about passion. It is about dedication. It is about never being comfortable. Elkin opened up my mind to realise that producers like him are striving to always make their coffee better. Elkin made me think that we Barista’s need to be bold, experiment, and take risks to ensure that we will always be trying to make our coffee better – today, tomorrow and the next day!

I will never forget these worlds form Elkin:

“ With processing I could turn a geisha varietal from a 90 to a 91 score. I would rather turn another varietal from 82 to a 92 score. That’s what excites me!”

Lasting words

Next time you get your morning coffee, before you take that first sip, give a thanks to the people like Ivan and Elkin. The people at the Finca’s, the people starting that cherries journey to your cup are the true heroes. They are the ones writing the story. Us Baristas are the ones reading it to you.

I walked away from Barista & Farmer with my Coffee puzzle completed. I walked away with Respect for the journey of coffee. True respect, not what I thought it was before.

Barista & Farmer was a competition between 10 baristas. We all won! We all won our coffee puzzles, and we all won true friendship. Our Friendship was built by Barista & Farmer delivering a journey where we all felt the same emotions, love and deep understanding for coffee. We will always remember the connection we had with the cherries, the tree, the farm, the people, the families, the region and Colombia.

Until you visit a farm, be welcomed into their families and see their passion and commitment you wont truly understand. You could try.

For us who went on this journey we have an obligation to ensure that we make people understand. We now have a commitment to producers, pickers, Huila region and Colombia. A commitment to pass on what we learnt. To give a small part of the respect we gathered and to give people a glimpse of our completed Coffee Puzzle.

Thank you Barista & Farmer!

Viva Huila, Viva Colombia, Viva Barista & Farmer


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