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!

Fourth wave coffee?

Like many coffee-growing nations, Colombia isn’t known for having top-quality roasters.

But times are changing, and as Juan Valdez increasingly competes with Starbucks across the globe, there’s also a growing number of small and medium-scale roasters popping up across the South American country.  

Dedicated to producing the highest quality drink possible, these roaster-cafés like Stumptown in the U.S. or Koppi in Europe are frequently referred to as the Third Wave of coffee. (The first wave being the mass arrival of coffee in the home, and the second being improved coffee like Starbucks).

One Bogota café that’s popular with people working in the financial district is Devoción, decorated like a Parisian bistro and serving coffees from different Colombian regions, prepared using methods including dripper, French press and siphon.

Recently Devoción opened a second café in Brooklyn, New York. We met with owner Steven Sutton there and asked what makes his company different.

Sutton says Devoción buys directly from about 400 farmers across Colombia, as opposed to coffee cooperatives, helping to guarantee the quality of the beans. The dried coffee is then taken to his mill in Bogota and once the layer of parchment is removed, the green coffee is roasted within 10 days.

To ensure this is possible at the Brooklyn branch, green coffee is sent from Colombia to the U.S. via Fedex, rather than the normal shipping process which can take several months.

And unlike other cafés that roast and serve coffee from various different countries, Devoción only uses Colombian beans, enabling Sutton to become an expert in the country’s numerous ‘terroirs’. He calls this specialization in the coffees from one country the Fourth Wave.