Jose Salazar - COE Winning Lot 2021

Jose Salazar - COE Winning Lot 2021

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    Berry jam, kiwi, and mango on the nose lead into a cup with rich toffee-like sweetness, a pleasantly expansive mouthfeel, and delightfully fruity flavors of cherry candy, peach, and blackcurrant.

    This spectacular coffee from José Salazar, a producer from Pitalito, Huila, was awarded 6th place in the 2021 Colombia Cup of Excellence competition. The lot is composed of a mysterious variety that Señor Salazar named “Bourbon Ají” after noticing that the ripe coffee cherries gave off an aroma reminiscent of chili peppers. Subsequent testing indicates that this fascinating variety is not a Bourbon, but rather, a previously uncatalogued Ethiopian landrace.

    This coffee was purchased through the Cup of Excellence, a rigorous competition conducted with the goal of selecting and bringing to market the finest coffees from any given country of origin. This is done via a process of blind analysis, first by a National Jury of roughly a dozen people (who themselves are rigorously vetted for the honor of being a Cup of Excellence judge), and then by an International Jury of roughly 20 industry professionals from around the globe. As each lot enters the competition process it is assigned a code known only to the competition auditor. Each lot is cupped (tasted) numerous times. The further along the competition a coffee progresses, the greater the number of times it has been blindly evaluated. A coffee that ultimately makes it to the top 10 of the competition will have been tasted at least 120 times!

    After being assigned a final ranking, the coffees are sold through an online auction which tends to drive prices quite high. Overall, this is a net positive for producers and the industry at large as it incentivizes farmers to carefully produce the best possible coffee to submit to the competition, thus treating the crop as a truly specialty item and further distancing and distinguishing specialty coffee from commodity coffee and commodity-driven approaches to producing and selling coffee. Further, it normalizes high prices for coffee - a necessity if coffee production is to continue into the foreseeable future. Finally, the Cup of Excellence plays an important role in facilitating market access for small coffee producers that might otherwise struggle to connect with specialty buyers who are motivated to pay excellent prices for their coffee. Many producers who enjoy success at the Cup of Excellence find buyers through the competition that they are able to build valuable ongoing partnerships with.

    José Herman Salazar is a coffee producer from Pitalito, a municipality in southern Huila that is generally credited as the highest-volume producing region in all of Colombia. Three main varieties are cultivated on the Salazar family farm: Pink Bourbon, Castillo, and Bourbon Ají. In 2020, Señor Salazar entered a coffee in the Cup of Excellence for the first time, and was awarded 17th place for a selection of his Pink Bourbon. In 2021, he decided to enter a somewhat mysterious variety that he had come to refer to as “Bourbon Ají'' after noticing that the coffee cherries harvested from these particular trees had an aroma reminiscent of hot chili peppers (“ají” means “chili” in Spanish). While genetic testing indicates that this variety is not a Bourbon at all, but rather, a little known Ethiopian Landrace, José Salazar’s Cup of Excellence submission certainly wowed the competition judges and his coffee was ultimately awarded 6th place in the 2021 competition with a cup score of 89.32. At the auction that followed, José Salazar’s lot was purchased by a group of buyers for $20.60/lb., with the vast majority of this price going directly to the producer. While questions remain regarding the precise genetic lineage of Señor Salazar’s Bourbon Ají, we love the unique flavors and saturated sweetness that this coffee offers, and at time of writing, are actively engaged in bringing in a selection from his 2022 harvest for future enjoyment.

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