Colombian coffee from former rebel territory stands out at auction

Posted on April 30, 2015

THE STEEP mud track to Astrid Medina’s farm in the Andes traces the tragedies of Colombian life -- and its potential.

Close up of coffee beans seen during a Colombian coffee Expo.
Four miles outside the town of Planadas, a statue of the Virgin Mary marks the spot where her mother and brother were swept by a landslide into the river below. Further on, the road winds past a cross where her father, a community leader, was ordered from a bus and shot by Marxist guerrillas.

Beyond that, 1,800 meters (5,900 feet) above sea level, lies Medina’s Buenavista farm, and the best coffee beans in the country, according to a panel of international judges.

“Our secret is the local environment. And there’s also an element of luck, plus the hard work,” Ms. Medina said of the award in an April 19 interview at her home. “We may have the best coffee but we’re still lacking a lot.”

Coffee produced by Medina and runners-up in Colombia’s 2015 Cup of Excellence competition held last month was auctioned Thursday, as the country seeks to tap strong demand for so-called specialty coffees.

Medina’s coffee sold for a total of $36,062, or $14.50 per pound (0.45 kilogram), more than ten times the price commanded by Arabica on the ICE Futures US exchange in New York. The top bidder was Colombian company Banexport, Lindsay Amor from the Alliance for Coffee Excellence said by phone from Portland, Oregon.

Colombia’s National Federation of Coffee Growers says it wants to increase sales of the added-value coffees to 70% of total exports by 2020, from 35% currently.

Organic, Fairtrade and Rainforest Alliance coffees all command higher prices than regular Colombian coffee, which itself trades at a premium over other grades on world markets.

Buenavista’s winning beans have medium-high acidity, a creamy body with sweet and fruity notes, according to judges who gave it 90 points out of a maximum 100 on March 13.

Companies including Starbucks Corp. and Caravela Coffee LLC have visited the area, which this year produced six of the top 20 entries.

“Many farmers here are using the best agricultural practices,” Manuel Salas, an agronomist and local federation representative, said this month. “Geography and vegetation also play a big part. There’s an abundance of clean water and rich soil, with lots of citrus and cedar trees.” -- Bloomberg