After the morning picking session had come to close, the baristas were rounded up to be driven back to the farm’s base facility, where the judges would evaluate the quantity and quality of the day’s pick. As the baristas marched through the rain to their transports, donned in blue rain ponchos and carrying yellow buckets filled with bright red coffee cherries, they began to sing:
“Welcome to Colombia, where we sow the coffee trees, we’ll pick all the sweet cherries, and turn them to coffee.”
The ten baristas on this one-of-a-kind adventure travelled from ten different countries on four continents to visit Huila, one of the 37 departments in Colombia (35 of which grow coffee). Most of the baristas on the trip had never made the journey to coffee origin before. Which made the simple act of setting foot on a coffee farm a fairytale moment.
“When I saw the red cherries on the trees, I really went crazy,” said David Lau, Barista & Farmer participant from China. “I wanted to pick more and more and more.”
After the festivities, the baristas were paired with one of the farm’s coffee pickers to collect as many ripe coffee cherries as they could in one hour. This was the reason the baristas traveled thousands of miles to a country of coffee origin – they learned how to pick only the ripest cherries, how to collect the coffee cherries without damaging the tree, and what a properly-organized farm looks like. And all of it spent side-by-side with veteran coffee pickers, who knew the subtleties of the farm inside and out.
“Being in the coffee plantations gave me the opportunity to become better acquainted with the processes that occur with coffee,” said Victoria Rovenskaya, Barista & Farmer participant from Russia. “I learned so much from being here.”
The show was judged by some of specialty coffee’s most veteran coffee professionals, who were responsible not just for tallying points, but for helping the baristas navigate their experience in Colombia. Sonja Bjork Grant of Iceland and Scott Conery of the United States have a combined 33 years of experience as Head Judges for the World Coffee Championships. And Rebecca Atienza, the General Manager of Hacienda San Pedro in San Juan, Puerto Rico, has served as a National Sensory Judge in local and international competitions for 13 years.
Francesco visited a coffee farm for the first time 2010 so he could see and taste the coffee he would use in his first World Barista Championship appearance in the place it was grown. It was such an emotional moment for him that the idea for Barista & Farmer struck him as he wandered the grounds of the farm.
“I was full of joy,” Francesco said. “My eyes were shining. It was like a dream come true. I knew I needed to give this opportunity to other baristas.”
The farm he visited, Hacienda San Pedro, is the farm owned for four generation by the family of Rebecca Atienza, who hosted the first edition of Barista & Farmer in 2013 on her farm.
“They have this very conscious in their mind,” Rebecca said. “That being a coffee farmer is a really hard job, so we have to be very careful with the product.”
This idea rings clear and true for the baristas in the program. Diego Campos of Colombia, the winner of this edition of Barista & Farmer, has long tried to push his customers at his café to better understand the nuance and quality of coffee he prepares and serves. But after working in the coffee farms of Huila himself, he is now better equipped to communicate the story of coffee’s beginnings and journey with his customers.
“This kind of trip stays with you for a lifetime,” Scott said. “The baristas tell us that this was one of the biggest eye-opening experiences of their life, it showed them so much that they may never have seen before, it makes them want to do it again.”
The other key takeaway of Barista & Farmer is a little harder to quantify. The baristas of Barista & Farmer had never met each other before arriving in Bogota on the first day of the program. They each came from different cultures and backgrounds and spoke different native languages. But they were tied in totality by their love and passion for those little red cherries clustered on the branches of the trees in the farm. And over the next 12 days, after early mornings in Colombia’s coffee farms, Coffee Academy classes at the SENA, Sanjuanero dance lessons, Chiva painting sessions, cooking competitions, and songs in the rain, the baristas had made nothing short of life-long friends.
“I will miss you guys all the time,” Diego said. “There were so many fun moments. Spending all the days together, we got so close. I think now we are very special friends.”
Urnex was a proud sponsor of 2018 Barista & Farmer, and a continuing supporter of the individuals around the world who work every day to improve coffee.