ECW 2018: Bolivia

Direct Trade , Events & Collaborations , Sourcing

As 2018 draws to a close, we look back at an Intelligentsia milestone: our 10th annual Extraordinary Coffee Workshop, held September 6-13 in Bolivia.

The program at ECW 2018 was not fundamentally different from previous years, but many of the participants surveyed after the event identified it as the best ECW ever.  Whether it was the the breathtaking views of Bolivia’s majestic, snow-capped Andes, the visits to Bolivia’s most successful coffee farms, the innovations we saw at its most pristine mills, the insights generated the presentations of special guests and long-time Intelligentsia Direct Trade partners, the surpassing quality of the best coffees from our second annual Extraordinary Coffee Competition, the outrageously creative and flavorful food prepared every day by leaders in Bolivia’s exploding culinary scene, the company of old friends, or some combination of these factors is uncertain.  What is clear is that ECW 10 was something very special for the more than 80 people who made the trip from 14 countries around the world to participate.


We plan every ECW carefully and work hard to facilitate an experience that creates value for all our guests.  But there is one element of the program that is invariably among the most valuable but requires the least facilitation: ECW’s field visits.  Something happens naturally when you drop several dozen of the world’s most accomplished coffee growers off at the edge of a coffee field.  Before you know it, they have waded in among the coffee and begun picking and tasting the cherry, assessing the vigor of the plants and picking up on the tell-tale signs of how they and the soils in which they grow have been managed like agricultural forensics experts.  This year we gave them plenty to talk about with visits to farms managed by Agricafé and Agrotakesi, our two Direct Trade partners in Bolivia.


Drying naturals at Agricafé’s Buena Vista Mill in Caranavi.


AGRICAFE | Agricafé is a two-generation family affair led by Pedro Rodríguez and his children. His daughter Daniela manages the company’s expanding commercial operations. His son Pedro Pablo leads coffee innovation, a big job considering the Agricafe operations now include 12 farms, a pristine wet mill and a state-or-the-art dry mill.  But Agricafé isn’t content to just release its own beautiful coffees into the world: Pedro Pablo also coordinates an ambitious outreach program called Sol de la Mañana for smallholder growers who neighbor Agricafé’s mills and farms.  We visited both Agricafé and Sol de la Mañana farms.  If there are better-managed farms anywhere in Bolivia, we haven’t seen them.


Caution: Viewing Finca Takesi’s mill from this great height may induce vertigo.


FINCA TAKESI | We also visited the Iturralde family’s mythical Finca Takesi, which lays a claim to being the world’s highest coffee farm that no evidence in our sprawling Direct Trade network can contradict.  In this implausible spot high in a remote stretch of Bolivia’s Andes, the Iturraldes have challenged conventional wisdom and consistently produced a coffee that is among the best in the world.  More on that later.


We didn’t spend the whole week hiking on coffee farms and touring mills, in part because a strike by a coca-growers union closed the lone road to the coffeelands we were visiting, grounding us for an extra day in La Paz.  Fortunately, we were in good company: Dr. Flavio Borem, the Brazilian guru of post-harvest processing and coffee quality joined us, as did the celebrated Costa Rican coffee agronomy and economics consultant Dr. Álvaro Llobet.


The great Dr. Flavio, mad coffee scientist at work.


Their presentations were identified as one of the most valuable parts of the program.  We also got hard-earned insight on coffee quality, processing, marketing and farm management from old friends and Direct Trade partners from Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador and Ethiopia.


ECW travels to permit participants to better understand the unique contributions every origin makes to global coffee cultures.  Visiting them in person allows us to experience those origins in ways we could never achieve without being there.  An important of the experience of any new country is, of course, the food, making ECW a moveable feast.  And Bolivian food was especially conducive to the ECW mission.

Intelligentsia has clung tightly since its inception to the conviction that coffee is culinary, as worthy of a chef’s attention as the seasonal ingredients on her menu and as worthy of a sommelier’s discretion as fine wine.  Prominent restaurants in the United States don’t always feel the same way, but we found the embrace of the specialty coffee concept at Bolivia’s leading restaurants to be warm and welcoming, from the recent Claus Meyer phenomenon Gustu and its spinoffs like Popular Cocina to the pioneers at Mercat, a farm-to-table restaurant in La Paz that has been celebrating Bolivian ingredients and producing seasonal cuisine for even longer than we have been roasting coffee.


Thank you, Marco Antonio, for this delicious uptake on the Bolivian potato and for decades of leadership in Bolivia’s food sector.


Perhaps because the country’s farm-to-table and specialty coffee movements are exploding simultaneously, the brightest lights in each firmament are attracted to each other in a kind of culinary supernova.  The broad-minded teams at these restaurants, led by their respective chefs, dove into our coffees and collaborated with our new friends at Café Typica in La Paz on a deeper exploration of coffee that will continue to drive their progressive  coffee menus forward.


And speaking of coffee…No ECW is complete without extraordinary coffee.  It is in the name, after all.  And 2018 did not disappoint.  Ever year, ECW gives us the privilege and honor of serving our best single-origin offerings daily to the farmers who grew them.  But ECW 10 went well beyond that in the coffee quality department.

We convened our 2d annual ECC in Bolivia as part of our 10th annual ECW.  If ECW is like coffee’s Oscars, arguably the world’s single most exclusive gathering of coffee-growing royalty, then ECC is like coffee’s all-star game, with all those growers facing off on a truly international stage for global bragging rights.  But our Direct Trade partners aren’t just the players in ECC’s all-star game, they are also the referees: they join the ECC jury as judges, and their scores are factored into the averages for the event’s biggest prizes.


Furaha Umwizeye assessing the finalists at ECC 2018.


Together with our Direct Trade partners, we evaluated 52 entries from 14 countries on three different continents competing for 21 awards.

For the second straight year, an Ethiopian coffee was the big winner, but not the same one as last year.  In 2017, it was an estate coffee from Gesha Village that swept the contest’s major prizes.  In 2018, it was a smallholder coffee from the Hambela washing station of METAD that took home the most hardware: our Kurimi Organic Ethiopia took home six prizes.  Mariana Iturralde was a close second: her Finca Takesi Geisha earned five awards.  See a complete list of 2018 Intelligentsia ECC winners here, and purchase award-winning ECC coffees here.

For more on Intelligentsia ECW or to review the programs of previous ECW events, click HERE.


Posted in Direct Trade, Events & Collaborations, SourcingTags