Roasting up a storm in Bogotá

Just because a gringo has long hair and a neck tattoo, it doesn’t mean they’re right”
— Alvaro Pelaez, roast master

Or put another way, drinking some of the ultra-light roasts currently in vogue may make you feel ill, no matter how trendy they are. Which is not to say that here at ZipaCoffee we’re endorsing burnt coffee. Obviously it’s a question of balance.

And so, keen to hit the right notes as we continue to roast coffee on a Huky roaster in our Bogotá apartment, we enrolled in a three-day course offered by Educafés in collaboration with local café Varietale.

It turned out to be both a mad dash and solid introduction to what probably takes a lifetime to master: how to turn green coffee beans into something delicious in the cup, courtesy of heat applied in the right quantities at the right moments.

If it sounds easy, it isn’t.

Batches of beans roasted to the same ‘degree’ or end colour do not necessarily taste the same. How quickly their temperatures rise in the machine and how long they remain there will determine sugar and acid concentrations in the finished product.

As if that weren't enough, bean variety and density, batch size and altitude all need to be factored in to the calculations.

Alvaro showed us how to plot a roast's progress using Artisan software. Another software option is CropsterIn simplistic terms one could say typical roast curves look like a soup ladle or tick, with temperature on the y axis and time on the x axis.

But as Buhler engineer Oskar Rutishauser explained in an interesting presentation, studies show consumers frequently prefer coffees roasted in completely different ways.

In any case, the course provided us with several new techniques to try out back home. Our thanks to organizer Parmenio Angarita and instructor Alvaro Pelaez for the insightful comments and good humour over the three days. 

Coffee tasting at Varietale

Hello everyone! 

It’s been a while since our last blog but we finally managed to get back behind the laptop, providing you with a fresh installment of coffee news from Colombia.

Last Saturday we participated in a three-hour tasting session at a new café in Bogota called Varietale. It’s located right next to the Javeriana and Distrital universities, meaning during the week it’s packed with students and professionals meeting for heated debate, coffee and cake in true Viennese café tradition.

Besides the excellent single-origin coffees from across Colombia, we love the place for its stylish decoration, bright and airy spaces and relaxing garden out the back.

Our tasting was led by expert baristas Jorge Andres Vegas and Sebastian Hernandez.  First we were given a quick run-through of the history of coffee’s arrival in Colombia, thanks to Jesuit priests who introduced the bean via the Orinoco River around 1730.

Then it was time to hone our taste buds for acids, salts, sugars, bitter and sour components by tasting a series of solutions and fruits. One fact that jumped out immediately: what you smell doesn’t necessarily translate into what you taste.

Finally we moved onto the real thing, slurping our way through several different coffee varieties that are grown in Colombia, including Bourbon, Maragogype and Geisha, as well as beans roasted to different levels. Many Colombian coffees are known for their high acidity, although slower/longer roasting seems to reduce this.

Perhaps most interestingly, Andres and Sebastian showed how small changes to your coffee preparation method can significantly improve how it tastes.

Using a French Press for example, we experimented pouring a small amount of hot water onto the ground coffee and allowing this to sit for about one minute, before then adding the rest of the water for a further 3-4 minutes. The result was noticeably different from another pot made by adding all the water in one go.

Varietale is owned by Abel Calderon and his sister, and was set up about a year ago in a former convent building in Bogota. (On one occasion while we were sitting there, the Sisters came in to take a look around.  They seemed pleased with the transformation!) For those seeking a fun and informative afternoon, we can highly recommend this short tasting course! 

A Colombian roaster in Oxford

In the fabled university town of Oxford, one woman is making a name for herself.

Milly Barr left Colombia in 2000 to study in the UK, and four years ago decided to set up Exotic Coffee Roasters.  

© Exotic Coffee Roasters

© Exotic Coffee Roasters

The specialty coffee sector is booming in the UK, she told us during a recent visit to Bogota. And while its still largely focused on London, new cafes and micro roasters are popping up in towns and cities all over the island.

For various reasons, roasters in places like Oxford or Newcastle need to work that bit harder to win over customers, Barr says. “London invites you to spend. You treat yourself, and a cup of coffee is a treat.”

Barr comes from the city of Valledupar, close to Colombia’s Sierra Nevada mountain range, famous for its flavorsome and low-acidity coffees. The area is also close to some of Colombia’s largest coal mines and has been a centre of paramilitary violence in recent decades.

Exotic Coffee Roasters buys from various farmers across Colombia, shipping it back to Europe using exporters. Once roasted, the beans are sold online and to restaurants across the UK.  

They also sell cups of coffee from a ‘carrito’ or mobile coffee trike at Oxford’s Summertown Farmersmarket. “There’s a Starbucks right in front but they come to us,’’ Barr says.

As part of an informal exchange program, employees from two well-known roasters in Bogota – Amor Perfecto and Azahar – have gone to work with her in Oxford, bringing their roasting skills and learning English.

When asked what she’s looking forward to in the coming year, Barr points to the June 2016 World of Coffee event in Dublin when thousands of producers, roasters and baristas will fly into Ireland’s capital for three days of competition and exchange of ideas.   

“It’s going to be a real party,” Barr says.

She’ll be there. And so will we!