Coffee shop owners find themselves at origin for a myriad of reasons, but a common thread is the immense value they see in cultivating strong relationships with the local coffee community. Rene’s most recent trip to Colombia is the second chapter in a great collaboration he has formed with the government of Antioquia.
One year ago he was invited to teach roasting classes in Colombia through an initiative supported by the National Service of Learning (SENA), and in partnership with CQI and the SCAA. That same initiative made it possible for Rene to continue his collaborative work in his most recent trip. As Rene explained to journalist Lorenzo Villegas, roasting coffee is deceptively complex. “I have been roasting for 10 years, and in this timeframe I have learned at an exponential rate.” Rene says that one of the first hard lessons he learned was that, “anyone could take a handful of green coffee bean, throw them in a hopper, watch them turn brown, and call themselves coffee roasters.” In reality roasting coffee demands an understanding of thermodynamics, bean density and development, among a list of variables, but most importantly a fundamental understanding of the coffee profile, and a connectivity that transcends beyond the cup. It includes its culture, history, and those that labour long hours to support their communities.”
Rene’s recent trip to Medellin, Colombia had him sharing his experiences with a greater representation of Antioquia’s coffee community, including a focus on coffee growers, cuppers, and the younger generation of coffee professionals. At the monthly gathering of baristas and cuppers sponsored by the Antioquian government, Rene underscored the importance of such events to further the specialty movement and foster community development. “Antioquia is not the first region brought to mind when Colombian coffee is mentioned” says Rene. However, he goes on to clarify, “The government [of Antioquia] has raised awareness of the needs of its coffee growers, which has lead to an improvement in the processes and technology used on farms, and created mentorship programs for the farmers of the younger generation. The results of these efforts have become quite apparent in a cup that champions complex profiles, high scores, and a good price point.”
Rene also had a strong message for the government of Antioquia, and its coffee growers. Coffee growers must be supported by its government. A government that faces the challenge of impressing upon them that there is a stark difference between culture and a deep love of coffee, and the realities of the socioeconomic conditions of the coffee industry. This is not a challenge unique to Antioquia, and educational initiatives that bring together coffee growers, roasters, cuppers, baristas, and the new generation of coffee professionals are a great inflection point for the specialty coffee industry's growth.