We continue our extended interview with two of the coffee professionals behind Colombia’s La Palma y El Tucan.
BY CHRIS RYAN
BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE
Photos courtesy of La Palma y El Tucan
In the new issue of Barista Magazine, we chatted with La Palma y El Tucan’s Felipe Sardi and Sebastián Villamizar, but they told us more fascinating things than we could fit in the article. We ran the first part of our extended interview with Felipe and Sebastián yesterday; here is the second part.
Since 2011, La Palma y El Tucan has been positively impacting its local community in Colombia’s Cundimarca Department through programs like Neighbors & Crops, where the farm works with growers in neighboring communities to improve the quality of their coffee, then purchases that coffee at higher-than-market prices.
La Palma y El Tucan (LPET) has also been growing its own world-class coffee, which has helped it make a name for itself in the global coffee community. Coffee professionals frequently visit the estate and stay in the lodging provided through LPET’s Coffee Adventures program, while coffee competitors regularly use the estate’s coffee at high level of competitions. LPET’s Sebastián Villamizar is a coffee competitor himself—he is the two-time National Brewers Cup Champion of Colombia, and will represent the country at the World Brewers Cup in Boston this week.
In today’s second part of our extended interview with Felipe and Sebastián, we learn about Sebastián’s time competing in Brewers Cup, why they’ve added a tourism experience to LPET, and what the pair enjoys doing outside of coffee.
Chris Ryan: Sebastián, you have won the Colombia Brewers Cup twice and competed in the global competition. Can you describe that experience to me? What have you learned from competing?
SV: I feel very fortunate because my job has given me the privilege of hosting visits from top-of-the-line baristas and coffee professionals. During these visits, I’ve had the opportunity to learn much more about my clients and their shops and also to understand their coffee needs. In most of these cases we have worked together as a team to look for ideal coffees for their coffee bars and for their competitions as well. By helping them with this task and constantly brewing coffees with them, I was exposed to a lot of valuable information that gave me the initial tools and inspiration that I needed to prepare for competition—and ultimately to brew better coffee. It was inspiring to see these coffee professionals working very hard and with dedication in order to prepare for their own competitions.
Also, in these visits we had plenty of time to talk about things like the coffee industry, the different and current trends, the coffee tools, and of course about the vision that each of us had regarding the future of coffee. With these conversations, I was able to identify the massive gap of knowledge that we have between producers and baristas. This gap motivated me to participate in the competition as well, because it forced me to read and learn about the final product, and with this I thought I was able to improve as a coffee professional, while also giving feedback to our own projects.
This feedback could help us calibrate and design our own processing methods according to different market needs. Thanks to these visits and the relationships that we were able to build, I was also able to work with amazing people such as Mark Michaelson from Onyx Coffee Lab and Ben Put of Monogram Coffee for my Brewers Cup run in 2018. It was amazing to learn from them, and of course have their support that came from their individual strengths. Mark roasted my competition coffee, and Ben coached me to prepare for worlds. I’m infinitely grateful for their support.
I’m also very thankful because in the World Brewers Cup [in 2018], we had the honor to share conversations with competitors from all around the world; this was very valuable because we learned about specific flavours and preferences of their cultures. In the competition we also had the opportunity to receive feedback from international judges; this was amazing because it gave us great criteria and knowledge about the preferences that they are looking for in competitions. As a producer and as a coffee professional, it empowered me to improve in my job, because now I can also talk from my own experience, and help other competitors that are looking for ideal coffees for competition.
After Brazil I was so motivated that I decided to participate again in Colombia’s National Brewers Cup. Thanks to my team and our learning experience, fortunately, we were able to defend the title. I feel very happy and honored to represent my country again at the World Brewers Cup in Boston. And I am thankful to Felipe for playing a crucial role in my competition, working hand in hand with me backstage and during the preparation months.
Felipe, can you tell me about the Coffee Adventures part of the farm? Why did you incorporate the hotel on the farm, and why is that a valuable part of the farm experience?
FS: During the first four years of our project (from 2012 to 2016), we relied on neighboring farms and small town hotels to host hundreds of annual visits from clients all around the world, who visited our farm mostly during harvest season in search of green coffees. Even though most of the time the logistics worked well, we realized that the team was constantly struggling to offer our clients the type of experience we wanted and needed to offer to protect our project’s values.
This motivated us to think outside our field of expertise and to invest in a small hotel infrastructure that could support itself with tourism while allowing us to host our coffee clients in a whole new environment. So far tourism has helped us significantly in covering the farm’s annual maintenance costs and has generated additional jobs from the local community, as we employ 12 people directly and benefit many other local suppliers of goods and services. Additionally, the hotel also serves as a promotional tool for our coffees, as thousands of local and international tourists visit us every year, and many of them continue to buy and look for La Palma y El Tucan coffees around the globe.
What do you each enjoy doing outside of coffee?
SV: One of my passions outside coffee has always been art and painting. Since I was a child I was always fascinated by the different colors, concepts, and general ideas behind this amazing form of expression; however, because of different circumstances I moved away from this interest for some time.
Recently I decided to start painting again, and I have really enjoyed taking some time off in order to brainstorm and reconnect with this part of my life. I would really like to continue improving with this passion, and hopefully one day take it to a different level.
FS: I love kitesurfing and exploring the hidden wonders of nature. My favorite kitesurf spot is St Kilda Beach in Melbourne, Australia, my favorite forest is the Amazon Rainforest, and my favorite rivers are those born in La Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, north of Colombia.