Post by Ola Leszczyñska
Connecting coffee producers directly with roasters has been part of De la Gente’s mission from the very beginning. That is why we come to work everyday. But can these connections get even more direct, and if so, how can we achieve that?
The idea came from Timoteo Minas, the leader of Café Artesanal San Miguel cooperative and an indispensable member of our team, and David Wilson, at the time De la Gente’s program coordinator. Timo and David made a perfect team, both always striving for improvement and doing their best to create better opportunities for coffee producers. That’s how the De la Gente Microlot Competition was born.
Up until 2017, De la Gente had been offering just cooperative blends, no individual farmer lots. The main idea behind the competition was to identify the best coffees produced by the members of cooperative in San Miguel Escobar, buy them at a premium price (+ $0.20/lb), and add them to our offering list as single farmer microlots.
It is many producers’ dream is to find their own reliable buyer abroad, which naturally is no easy task. An individual small-holder farmer has neither resources nor means to commercialize their coffee internationally. Moreover, it costs more and takes more time to manage microlots, as fixed costs are spread over a much smaller volume. Cupping, marketing, samples distribution…I think you can see where the rub lies.
Nevertheless, we decided to take on this extra effort to reward the farmers for the great job they do. Giving them an opportunity to earn a premium price, the competition was also a great means to facilitate farmer-roaster connections on a personal level. Moreover, we believed that friendly rivalry would be an incentive for farmers to work toward quality of their product, and we are most happy to see it happen.
This year we hosted De la Gente Microlot Competition in San Miguel for the second time, and we definitely learned some lessons for the future! We planned to cup the microlots in the middle of February, when our rad judges - Rob Hoos from Nossa Familia Coffee, Les Stoneham from Deeper Roots Coffee and the very same David Wilson, now from Coffeebar - were visiting us in Guatemala.
The jury cupped the samples and we were faced with a dilemma. The coffees were simply not good enough! Why? The harvest started later than usual this year, so at the time it should have been ready to be cupped, the best coffee was either still ripening on the plants or, if already harvested, did not have enough time to rest as parchment (reposo)! In consequence, we decided not to announce a winner yet and wait a few more weeks before we shipped another round of samples to the States, so Dave, Les and Rob could cup them again. Participating farmers were not surprised by the lack of verdict, being fully aware of the situation.
10 farmers entered the competition in March, and this time all went according to the plan. After a few extra weeks of suspense we received the results of the cupping which revealed the indisputable winner - Fredy González Vásquez. Fredy took part in the competition last year, but placed second then. It was his driving ambition to now win the first prize and he achieved his goal with bourbon coffee grown at over 2000 metres which scored impressive 87.75 points!
Fredy emphasized that the plot, where the winning lot comes from, is the last field on the Volcán de Agua with only forest above it. Such high altitude makes coffee farming difficult. The yield per cuerda is just about a half of what the González family harvests at lower altitudes. The cherries are large, but the beans inside are really small. The producer says this exceptionally thick layer of pulp is produced by the plant to protect the beans from the cold.
The second prize went to Félix Porón who submitted a blend of bourbon, catuai and villa sarchi. Félix is a great fan of this last varietal and is the only farmer in the co-op who grows it. According to him, villa sarchi adapts to higher altitudes better than other varietals. That’s why when he renovates his coffee fields he now plants only villa sarchi on all plots at the altitude of 2000+ meters. Félix is convinced the high score (87.5) received by his microlot is a result of the altitude together with very careful cherries selection. For the sake of the competition he was setting aside the ripest of the ripe fruits.
Gabriel Minas placed third with a lot scoring 86.5, followed by Manuel Gómez, the winner of 2017 De la Gente Microlot Competition, whose coffee this year got 85.75 points. Altogether, De la Gente bought 40 sacks of the winning microlots.
Fredy achieved his goal, and we achieved ours - the coffees produced by the individual farmers from San Miguel co-op found their homes and we are sure they are in good hands. Fredy’s microlot was immediately reserved by Nossa Familia Coffee, second year in a row! Félix’s beans were divided between Deeper Roots Coffee and Coffeebar/Vertical Coffee Roasters. As you can see the best microlots were so good that the judges, who were the first ones to cup them, didn’t want to hand them over to anybody else. A few sacks of Gabriel’s coffee were purchased by Slightly Coffee Roasters, and Manuel’s microlot will be available at Coffeebar/Vertical Coffee Roasters, Snapping Turtle and Karma Coffee. If you want to try these exquisite coffees, they are coming soon. Just watch the above-mentioned roasters’ offerings. If you would like to get some winning green coffee yourself, we still have some of Gabriel’s microlot available, so feel free to request samples.
Congratulations to all the farmers who participated in the competition! Next year they will all have another chance to have their microlots exported.