I left for Colombia and Monserrate feeling excited. Personally, it holds significance for me because it marks the place in my life where I met the Five Senses crew and embarked on the journey to join the team. Emotionally (personal biases aside — ha), I also looked forward to seeing how the Monserrate community was developing and progressing, and therefore to considering what might be around the metaphorical coffee corner.
There were some definite positives. This year marked the relaunching of the Monserrate coffee competition, which was the reason for my visit. Is there a better way of seeing how coffee quality is developing than putting all the coffees side by side and asking a group of international buyers to taste them? If there is, I can’t think of one. Everyone from the local community who wanted to compete was asked to submit a sample of their coffee to be roasted and then tasted. With higher premiums and cash prizes for the top five coffees, there was definitely some added incentive for the community to put their best coffees forward. We quickly became aware that the overall community is doing some exceptional things. The majority of the coffees tasted beautifully and, excitingly, a handful were truly exceptional. Great coffee is definitely in store for our near future!
However, while securing beautiful coffee was definitely the objective, as I re-entered this community a huge reality kept invading my thoughts.
Buying coffee affects lives. To think otherwise is a mistake.
We, the international panel, sat in front of the entire community, in the only large building they have — the church — and presented the awards for the top five coffees. When you see the tangible pleasure on a person’s face as his coffee is acknowledged, you understand that this type of competition has a real impact. Those premiums and cash rewards will make a real difference in real lives. I know it is a bit of a cliché these days to talk about the problems of distance between the producer and end consumer, but I am proud of the fact that Five Senses is taking steps to walk through that and hopefully help to build better recognition for the origin – and really just build better business.
In closing, I’d like to share one more example of what can occur when bridging that producer / consumer gap. This year the competition was held in the community school. As there is only one school, we definitely displaced a classroom of teenagers for the event. However, most (if not all) didn’t leave. They sat where they could in the room with us, taking pictures, laughing, and after each round, they became more courageous about asking what we were doing. Then, during the final few rounds, after everything was finished and scored, but before we cleared up, they actually started tasting and wanting to discuss the coffees too. Maybe they simply participated because a bunch of gringos gave them a chance to be obnoxious and make loud slurping noises? But I believe we showed them a glimpse of the coffee industry they had never seen before. Something different. Something cool. And, perhaps then what we really witnessed was the beginning of the next generation of Monserrate producers?