Last September we had the good fortune to participate in a very special annual coffee auction descriptively named Best of Cauca. The Best of Cauca is now an annual event established by Cafe Imports (a US headquartered coffee importer) and Banexport (a Colombia based coffee mill and exporter). This year's event included coffee buyers from six different countries (Russia, Colombia, Canada, Singapore, South Korea, and the US). Banexport selected the top 31 single estate lots and the top10 (give or take a lot or two, my memory is spotty here) regional select lots from over 2000 small farm submissions.
We flew into Bogota, the third highest elevation capitol city in the world. The first 24 hours were mostly filled with light sightseeing mainly due to a mild case of altitude sickness that gripped me -headache, mild nausea, and elevated heart rate. After that initial adjustment, we tried to cram as much adventuring in before we flew off to Papayan and coffee country. My list of Bogota's must see and do includes the Botero museum (and the associated museum complex), Monseratte, Bolivar Square, and aprepas de choclo. The 3 photos that follow are a Salvador Dali work from the Botero museum (Botero’s own personal Dali donated to the museum), the backside of Monseratte (which also be the cover of my first album should I ever learn to play an instrument) and Bolivar Square.
(The top of Monserrate. The buildings are small food stalls that have tantalizing traditional Colombian food and stunning views of the valley.)
After sightseeing around Bogota a few days it was a quick hour flight to Guillermo Leon Valencia Airport in Popayan, the capital city of Cauca Department and the jumping off point to coffee country.
The coffee part of the trip started as many other origin trips; farm visits, mill visits, cupping, dinner, repeat. There were however two notable exceptions, first an abundance of aguardiente (my first experience with this spirit) and second, the it concluded with an auction of the top 15 lots, which I can only characterize as wholly expected, nothing like anything I've ever experienced and carnival-like.
To jump right to the punch line, the auction was intense and a bit surreal. The whole town seemed to have come out for the event. There was a big top tent covering the main square/amphitheater in the town and every seat was filled, with people standing around the sides and back of the tent. The buyers and top 15 farmers were given seats up front -facing the stage, buyers/bidders seated to the left and farmers to the right. The event contained much ceremony; there were national and regional anthems, cultural and indigenous dances, school children performing, speeches by city officials and high-ranking coffee officials from the FNC. The ceremonies lead off the event, followed by a few auction lots, then more ceremonies, then a few more auction lots and more ceremonies until the final few auction lots and the number one coffee for 2016 Best of Cauca.