Six Competition-Winning Microlots from the Copa de Oro

By Evan Howe

Since 2019, Passenger's green buying team has had the privilege of joining the judging panel at a series of regional coffee competitions in southern Huila, Colombia, organized by our sourcing and import partners at Osito Coffee. Each annual edition of the Copa Suaceña, or "Suaza Cup", has pursued the goal of recognizing the highest quality coffees produced by the Divino Niño producer group: a community of farmers that has been one of Passenger's Foundational Partners since 2018. As a result of COVID-related restrictions, it was sadly impossible for us to travel to Colombia in 2020 and 2021, and we continued to support the Copa Suaceña as remote participants in two decentralized editions of the competition. Given that two-year hiatus, we were especially excited to return to Colombia in December, 2022 to serve as judges at the most ambitious regional cupping event organized by our hosts to date: an expanded competition dubbed the "Copa de Oro”

Photos courtesy Juan Pablo Jaramillo


In addition to remaining open to submissions from all the familiar names we've come to know and love in Divino Niño, this larger competition expanded its regional scope to welcome entrants from other sub-regions of western, southern, and central Huila that are areas of particular focus for our partners at Osito. Twenty lots from each of these broad geographical regions were screened and pre-selected by Osito's Colombia-based cupping team. The 60 lots that were ultimately entered into the competition were rigorously evaluated by an international team of judges (from Colombia, Brazil, Japan, Canada, the Netherlands, England, and the U.S.), across three days of blind cupping. On finals day, the top 20 lots were blind cupped one additional time to determine the ranking for the top 5 coffees from each of the three regions. And when all was said and done, the highest scoring coffee among these regional champions was ultimately recognized as the overall winner of the inaugural Copa de Oro.

Producers await the announcement of the Copa de Oro winners.
Producers await the announcement of the Copa de Oro winners.

On the final morning of the competition, as the judges were still evaluating the top 20 coffees and identifying the final ranking of winning producers, hundreds of coffee farmers from all over the Huila department began arriving - hours before the announcement party was scheduled to begin. It is hard to overstate the weight of responsibility that one feels as a judge in this context. Given the significant monetary reward and community recognition that competition-winning farmers receive, the stakes are high indeed. Thankfully - as we have experienced in each competition of the past four years - the truly exceptional coffees of a particular harvest year, and of each particular micro-region, simply do not hide on the cupping table. The final scores were tabulated, and, following a dramatic announcement of the fifteen winning producers, trophies were awarded, photos were taken, and the attendees of the festive gathering transitioned to eating, drinking, and dancing well into the evening.

Passenger was fortunate to have the opportunity to purchase a portion of six out of the fifteen coffees that were ultimately recognized as the winners of the 2022 Copa de Oro. Here are a few additional notes to introduce our selections, listed by producer name and organized by region:

The Western Region: Tulio Cotacio

The town and municipality of La Plata is located in southwestern Huila, bordered to the north and the west by the Department of Cauca. Our sourcing partners at Osito Coffee have been building relationships with producers in La Plata for a number of years, and they previously organized a regional cupping competition, solely focused on southwestern Huila, called the Copa Occidente.

The Copa de Oro was the first time Passenger’s Green Buying team had the opportunity to taste a coffee from producer Tulio Cotacio, whose farm is located in the La Plata region. Whether reflecting the terroir of his farm, or very possibly the fact that his competition lot was one of the few coffees to make it to the Copa de Oro finals that was not composed of the pink bourbon variety, this stellar variedad Colombia selection from Tulio’s farm offers a flavor profile that is utterly unique within the present competition collection.

The Central Region: Mario Salazar and Edwin Rodriguez

Given that our ongoing partnership with the Divino Niño producer group has been Passenger’s primary focus in Colombia since 2018, we were absolutely thrilled to see the names of two legendary Divino Niño producers among the Copa de Oro winners for the central region. Mario Salazar is one of the founding members of the Divino Niño producer group, and won second place at the inaugural Copa Suaceña competition, back in 2019. A leader in his community for many years, Don Mario is one of the most accomplished coffee producers in his region and a true force of nature on the dance floor. 

Edwin Rodriguez is one of the younger producers of the Divino Niño producer group, and one of its rising stars. His focus and ambition have been clearly evident in the consistent quality of his coffees over the past few years, and like Mario Salazar, he has been recognized as a winning producer at the Copa Suaceña multiple times in past years. 

While all of the coffees in this competition collection are incredibly special, we will happily admit a special attachment to these particular competition lots from Mario and Edwin. What can we say: after 5 years of association with the producers of Divino Niño, and cupping literally hundreds of individual parchment deliveries from their farms, we are head over heels for the coffees of Suaza. With a beguiling spectrum of flavors (browning sugars, florals, sweet stone fruits, tropical fruits, citrus, the list goes on), and impeccably balanced qualities of sweetness and acidity, these stunning competition lots from Mario Salazar and Edwin Rodriguez are a fitting tribute to their region.

The Southern Region: Jose Martinez, Juan Jimenez, and Diego Hoyos

Passenger’s selections from the southern region of the Copa de Oro include two coffees from the municipality of Palestina, and one from the region of San Augustín. Given its proximity to Pitalito (a municipality that produces more coffee by volume than any other in Colombia) and San Agustín (renowned for producing some of the highest quality coffees in Huila), Palestina is a somewhat underappreciated coffee growing region. Jose Martinez and Juan Jimenez are skilled coffee farmers from Palestina, and both placed in the top five of the southern region with single-variety separations of pink bourbon. These are deeply sweet, juicy, elegantly structured coffees. On this evidence, Palestina is unlikely to be an underappreciated name in Colombian coffee for long.

The 2022 Copa de Oro may well be remembered as a bit of a “Pink Bourbon Festival”, given the way this interesting variety dominated the competition. While, to our knowledge, the precise genetic lineage of the pink bourbon variety is yet to be determined, it is generally suggested that pink bourbon is not a bourbon at all, but rather, an uncatalogued Ethiopian landrace of some kind. This theory certainly helps to explain the complex, fruit-driven flavors and sparkly, lemonade-like acidity that top pink bourbons possess: the finest examples of pink bourbon in Colombia are reminiscent of mouthwatering East African coffees.

Passenger’s final purchase from the southern region is a truly spectacular pink bourbon produced by Diego Hoyos, a young coffee farmer from San Agustín. While all rounds of competition judging for the Copa de Oro proceeded in a “blind” format (meaning that the identity of each coffee being evaluated was kept secret from the judges to minimize bias), it is undeniable that some samples are immediate and undeniable standouts. Through multiple rounds of sensory evaluation, Diego’s pink bourbon consistently received the highest scores from the judges, and when the names of all the winning producers were revealed at the community celebration on finals day, his was the name that was recognized as the overall champion of the 2022 Copa de Oro. 

While this is the first time that Passenger has had the pleasure of roasting a coffee from Diego Hoyos, his name has been coming up for some time now. For a number of years, Diego has been a member of a network of producers in San Augustín that work closely together: sharing knowledge and producing specialty coffee of incredibly high quality. Coffee is very much a family affair, as Diego’s father Martiniano, his brother Oscar, his uncle Argemiro, and his life partner Lucy are all accomplished producers as well. Shortly after the excitement of the Copa de Oro, we had the unique pleasure of visiting Diego at his farm, sharing a delicious home cooked meal, and even tasting some coffee that he had roasted himself. Diego and Lucy plan to use some of Diego’s competition winnings to build a home on the farm so as to begin their life together in earnest. We couldn’t be more happy for them, and we are incredibly proud to share Diego’s competition-winning lot as a limited addition to the Reserve Lot menu.

Six Competition-Winning Microlots from the Copa de Oro