No 30

The Cup of Coffee that Flew to Atlanta for the First Time

May, 2016


The Cup of Coffee that Flew to Atlanta for the First Time

Thanks to the coffee that he produces with great care, Juan de Jesus Torres won the first ‘Cup of Quality of Magdalena’ competition, was able to travel by plane for the first time and showed his product at the world’s most important specialty coffee Expo.

Juan came to the department of Magdalena 36 years ago and settled in the corregimiento of Siberia, in the municipality of Ciénaga, to grow coffee. Now his life goes by in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, the world’s highest coastal mountain range.

This Colombian coffee grower was born in Zetaquirá, Boyacá, but his attraction for coffee led him to search for his dream place. At the beginning it was hard to find a job, but he did not give up and began working by the day. Later, with great effort, he acquired land in the cold region of the Sierra and began growing fruit: lulo, blackberry and tree tomato.

His life, like that of many farmers in the country, was disturbed by violence. With the arrival of the paramilitaries and the guerrillas in 2002, he had to leave his home and embark on a new path, which led him to the place where he lives today. “I was displaced within the same region I live now. I was in a rural district (“vereda”) called Alto Córdoba, but I had to leave the farm because they had put a mine that almost kills me. I moved to another area, I didn’t get used to, so I went back to Siberia and settled,” Juan de Jesús recalls.


The region where he lives, the municipality of Ciénaga, is the department of Magdalena’s largest coffee producing municipality, covering 57% of 20,376 hectares grown in coffee. Ciénaga is the country’s fourth largest coffee growing municipality. Juan is one of the smallest coffee growers in the zone. Despite not having enough resources or the best post-harvest facilities or sometimes even money to pay a wage, the only thing he cares about is the quality and cleanliness of his coffee. He says it is a drink for human consumption and that, as such, quality is his number one goal. His daily work, harvesting and devotion led him to win the first “Cup of Quality of Magdalena” competition.

Cup of Quality of Magdalena

Between December and January 2015, the Colombian Coffee Growers Federation (FNC), along with the Departmental Coffee Growers Committee of Magdalena, the Cooperative of Coffee Growers of the Coast (Caficosta) and Almacafé (the FNC’s logistics arm) held the first “Cup of Quality” competition, aimed at recognizing the quality of coffee produced in the department.



Contestants participated with a dry parchment coffee lot of 1,000 kg from the postulated farm. In total, 27 producers participated and registered 34 lots.

Juan participated by chance. He went to sell his coffee, as usual, to a buyer in the corregimiento of San Pablo del Llano. “I was happy thinking that there was a good price, I had been told that the basic price was 6,200 pesos (US$ 2.14), but when I arrived the buyer told me that the price had fallen,” he relates.

William, a worker at the cooperative, was already writing the check and suddenly he recalled the competition, told Juan about it and registered him right away. More than a month later he received an invitation for February 25, when the award ceremony of the competition would take place.

The first “Cup of Quality of Magdalena” intended precisely to look at coffees grown in the Sierra. Coffee growers of the region that were not certified, that were registered in the Coffee Information System (SICA) and that complied with the quality requirements of the competition could participate. Cup tasters of Almacafé’s quality office chose the winner by evaluating sensory attributes such as acidity, body, aroma and consistency.

Juan de Jesús was surprised when he was selected as the winner among so many excellent quality coffees. On his 4-hectare farm, where he lives with his wife and two of his seven children, he grows Arabica coffee of the varieties Caturra and Castillo, a blend that awarded him the prize. In the production process, he applies agricultural practices such as pruning and fertilization, with minimal use of chemicals, and dries coffee in the sunlight.

Some of the competition’s prizes were air tickets to the city of Atlanta, United States, a registration at the most important specialty coffee expo in the world (which took place in mid-April), 10 bags of fertilizer and a special edition of his coffee currently sold at Juan Valdez® Café stores.

When the prize was announced, Torres felt happiness, because he never thought he would get so far, but also fear: “I’m not fluent in English, I don’t have studies and I had never been on a plane before, so I felt fear, I didn’t know what to do or what to answer when I was asked.”

The SCAA Expo

The Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA), created in 1982, is the largest specialty coffee association in the world, with about 2,500 members. Its mission is to recognize, develop and promote specialty coffee. Every year, its Expo brings together coffee growers, buyers, roasters, baristas and traders to learn more about different types of coffees, countries of origin, processing and brewing methods.



Juan visited the Expo accompanied by FNC executives and other Colombian coffee growers, who helped him and cared for him. His greatest learning was to realize that the coffee world is very big and that Colombia is very rich. “It has the FNC. Other countries or farmers don’t have something similar, like in Peru, where they want to have one, but have not been able to organize it,” he notes.

“Colombian coffee always plays a leading role”, says Yarumo Professor, who was in charge of guiding the coffee growers during their stay in Atlanta. The Expo enables them to discover the world of coffee and realize that 140 million bags are produced globally, of which Colombia produces 10%.

Colombia participated in the event with a booth, which was a sample of coffees produced by Colombian farmers. This coffee is always viewed with admiration and respect by producers and roasters from other countries, who recognize the importance of Colombia and its coffee institutions, including the purchase guarantee, the Extension Service and disease-resistant varieties, Yarumo explains.


The region of Juan de Jesús has a single crop per year. In the SCAA Expo, he could also talk to other producers, participate in academic events, display his product in the booth, build trading relations for the future and show the world how people live in Colombia.

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