The first- and second-place finishers at the U.S. Coffee Competitions won a trip to origin sponsored by Ally Coffee. We talk to Ally about why they sponsor this trip and how they hope to connect coffee professionals to producing countries.
BY ASHLEY RODRIGUEZ
BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE
Photos courtesy of Ally Coffee
Last year, Ally Coffee announced that it would sponsor trips to origin for winners and runners up of the U.S. Barista, Brewers Cup, and Roaster championships. Ally took the first- and second-place finishers to Brazil, and they plan on extending this year’s trip to Cup Tasters champions as well. In the past, winners of the regional barista competitions would win a trip to origin, but Ally wanted to extend that prize to winners of other competitions as well. “I’m a big fan of competitions—not just Barista and Brewers—but Cup Tasters and Roasting,” shares Ricardo Pereira, director of specialty coffee for Ally and the force behind this new sponsorship.
Ally hopes to accomplish a lot with these origin trips. “You bring the baristas and competitors to the front lines … and it’s a bridge between competitors and farmers,” shares Ricardo. On last year’s trip, competitors visited three different farms in Brazil and competitors interacted with farmers in ways that were illuminating to both farmers and competitors. During this trip, competitors brewed coffee for farmers on farms, and Ally hosted a latte art throwdown where the farmers served as judges. For many of the farmers, this was the first coffee competition they’d ever been a part of. “I think the goal of the trip was to give baristas a view of the specialty coffee industry in Brazil,” shares James Tooill, who was on this trip as last year’s Cup Tasters winner and who now works for Ally Coffee based on his experiences in Brazil. “After this trip I felt compelled, emotionally, to be part of this movement,” he says.
Ally plans to take this year’s winners to Brazil as well, but the experiences and destinations will be different than last year’s trip. “Brazil has 14 growing regions, and last year we only visited three,” Ricardo notes. Along with visiting new growing regions, the trip will also connect the competitors to the new and changing landscape of Brazilian coffee. “There’s this movement in Brazil with younger farmers taking over farms from their parents and grandparents,” Ricardo shares, and he adds that the technological innovations and infrastructure in place to grow and process coffee is second-to-none in the world. “Maybe 20 years ago, the discussion was the region or the altitude that a coffee is coming from, which doesn’t give a lot of agency to the people growing coffee,” says James, who adds that processing and technology at the farm level can improve the quality of coffee, no matter its altitude.
During his trip last year, James was compelled and intrigued by the use of technology on farms, which is something that isn’t often discussed in coffee—and when it is, it’s usually with a negative connotation or the belief that hand-picking or manual methods of processing are better. “A lot of us [on the origin trip] are from farming areas . ..it took the stigma away from it and connected it to the agriculture that we see in the United States,” James observed of the use of technology on the farm. James also was drawn by the growing coffee community in Brazil, and being able to observe the specialty scene in a different country. And, of course, there’s the scenery: “We brewed coffee in the third-largest peak in Brazil at sunset,” Ricardo notes of a particularly noteworthy moment on the trip.
As transformative as this trip was for some (especially James), the trip is meant to be a prize for the champions and runner-ups. “This is meant to be a rewarding time,” Ricardo shares. “The people who win work so hard, and we want to provide them with a rewarding trip … for the people hosting, it’s the same thing.” While this year’s champions, who will be joined by the 2016 World Barista Champion Berg Wu, will travel through new regions of Brazil, Ally has plans to explore new countries in the coming years. “Our company has an amazing infrastructure in Brazil,” Ricardo notes, but also with a nod to the future of the trip. “We wanted to share something unique with the baristas.”