Finding El Recuerdo: Cauca, Competition, and Flexibility

Barista: Nora Brady

Last August, my business partner Mazi Razani and I traveled together to Colombia for our first origin trip.

The better part of the last four years my life has revolved around competing in the United States Barista Championship. In April of 2014, I advanced further in the competition than I ever had, placing sixth. It was a very exciting time for Blueprint, as we were only eight-months-old and eyes were already on us at the national level. Winning the competition takes years of experience and very strategic planning.


Competing at the SCAA United States Barista Championship in 2014
Competing at the SCAA United States Barista Championship in 2014


The first step we decided to take in preparing for the 2015 season was for our team to go experience coffee at its source and choose an extraordinary coffee to present in competition. In the past, Colombian coffees have gotten the reputation of scoring high in competition and pleasing judges because of their balanced and dependable qualities when presented as espresso. When we got the invitation to attend the “Best of Cauca” trip from green coffee importer Café Imports, we were stoked. It was the right trip to the right place at the right time.

Coffee in Cauca is harvested in the months of May, June, and July. When we arrived, harvest season was over and processing was finished. Café Imports, along with Colombian exporter Banexports, organized and hosted a group of about 20 green coffee buyers, roasters, and café owners from the U.S., Singapore, Australia, Germany, and the U.K.


The group of green buyers, roasters, and café owners invited to the "Best of Cauca" competition
The group of green buyers, roasters, and café owners invited to the “Best of Cauca” competition


“The Best of Cauca” was a regional competition set up by Banexports and Café Imports. About 200 farmers submitted their coffee to be cupped and scored. When we arrived in Popayan, the top 40 out of those 200 had been chosen. We spent two days in a cupping lab scoring all 40 before the top 10 were selected. From there, the top 10 were sent to auction in a town north of Popayan called Santander.
The lot that scored the highest came from the farm El Recuerdo and consisted of 23 bags of green coffee (3,542 pounds). This was by far the biggest lot in the top 10. The other lots were coming were 2-6 bags in size. Before the auction started, a group of us decided to divide up the first place lot so that we could come away with 3 bags each.

On the final day of the trip, we went to visit Finca El Recuerdo. Our group was greeted by the producer Alba Nelly Hurtado and her family. Women own less than 1% of the world’s titled land. Needless to say, I was stoked that this producer was a single woman and her three children. They showed us around their home and garden where the coffee was washed, fermented and dried, before inviting us in for fruit salad from the garden. From there, we drove up the road to where the coffee was grown.


Alba Nelly Hurtado and her family welcome us to El Recuerdo
Alba Nelly Hurtado and her family welcome us to El Recuerdo


As I am writing this, El Recuerdo is beginning to harvest coffee from its fourth year of coffee farming. The coffee we bought in August was the first coffee crop harvested for sale. Before coffee, Finca El Recuerdo produced Panela, a type of sugarcane. It really is remarkable that such a beautiful 90-point coffee came from the first coffee harvest. Exciting things are in the future for the Hurtado’s.

In the green coffee buying world, you have to be prepared by looking far into the future and anticipating and calculating risk. This year I have learned to be flexible more so than ever. El Recuerdo got held up at export, and did not make it in time for the regional qualifying competition. Luckily, we found another absolutely beautiful coffee with a great story that inspired me to push myself and create a presentation that I am more proud of than any other year. El Recuerdo will forever hold a place in my coffee heart for two reasons. First, knowing Alba Nelly Hurtado, a woman dedicated to producing the best coffee possible. Second, it spurred a creativity in me that is driving me into this next competition season at full force.