Well, better to post late than never... It feels like ages ago already but it was actually just last month that Rob and I travelled to Brazil to take part in the 2010 Fair Trade Cupping competition. We were invited to be part of the international Jury which judged the final rounds of cupping for both the washed and natural coffees submitted by over 150 fair trade producers. There was a limit to 30 sac micro lots and a Brazilian jury narrowed the initial field from over 150 farms down to the 20 best washed and the 20 best natural process coffees. Our job was to determine the top 10 in each category and rank them. With us there were 3 Brazilian judges, 1 other Canadian, 1 american, 1 Korean and 1 Japanese judge. At the end of 2 days of intense cupping the winners were announced at a gala with all the farmers in attendance and the winning coffees were auctioned off. We ended up purchasing the 2nd place washed coffee and are waiting for its arrival.
Without getting into any kind of debate about Fair Trade vs. other systems I can say this trip was a great chance to see first hand where our premiums go that we pay when we purchase fair trade coffees. It was also nice to see Fair Trade focus on improving quality at origin, which is often one of the things they are criticized for.
The things I saw and learned that really made the trip worthwhile are almost too many to list but here are a few of the big ones;
I had the misconception that there was a typical "Brazilian profile," for flavors and characteristics but I couldn't have been further from the truth. We tasted such a variety of styles of coffee on the cupping table that I left feeling a lot of excitement for future offerings from Brazil.
Another thing I took away from this was a better understanding of regional tastes and preferences. Natural coffees that the younger North American Judges loved for there berry notes and fruit sweetness were viewed as fermented and some were even disqualified by the South American Judges. The line between sweet/fruity and ferment is at different levels for different people. The most important thing is that you know your own customers enjoy.
Of course visiting farms and meeting small scale producers in their homes was amazing and really makes one appreciate what goes into the drink we love so much. We met hard working, honest, happy people who live in some of the most beautiful places on the planet and although they weren't wealthy by our standards they never hesitated to share what they did have with us, break bread with us and roast and brew coffee for us.
We have said we would like to work towards sourcing our coffee directly from small scale producers at origin and as a young company this has been one of our main challenges. This trip was the first step in the right direction for us to start realizing that goal.