Up on a hill in Usaquén, in the northern part of Bogotá, I had the pleasure of meeting Jaime Duque, owner of Catación Pública - and a man on a mission. You see, for many in Colombia, like most countries where coffee production is a major sector of the economy, the best coffee is often ironically out of reach. The highest grade coffee is shipped overseas for sale in foreign markets with stronger currencies and consumer purchasing power. Local markets often end up with the less valuable, lower quality remainder.
Jaime’s goal is to change all that using the cafe as a “coffee university,” introducing Bogotá’s growing middle class to high end coffee, from basic concepts that distinguish quality-focused coffee, to techniques for brewing better coffee at home. The coffee menu, roasted in house, features an array of brewing techniques for a broad range of coffees grown around the country (21 origins when I visited), with an emphasis on farms in Colombia’s lesser-known growing regions. The result (or, at least, the promise) is a kind of intimacy between grower, roaster, barista – and consumer – that the majority of coffee companies in importing countries can only dream of.
But Catación Pública, which translates roughly to “public cupping,” is even more ambitious than that. In the rear of the cafe sits a serious coffee lab and roastery, with plaques attesting to numerous SCAA (Specialty Coffee Association of America) certifications. On top of that, the facility is set up to conduct Q-Grader training, a rigorous sensory evaluation and accreditation program established by the Coffee Quality Institute to create a common language around coffee quality standards to align players across the supply chain. In a coffee producing country like Colombia this is particularly valuable. A common language around quality can help guide farmers toward steps to improve their coffee to obtain the higher prices that sustain both livelihoods and investments in consistent quality.
Above, QR codes that link to academic articles on the health benefits of coffee.
Above, preserved coffee cherries (cascara). Delicious, and great paired coffee.
Red lights for Q-grader sensory evaluation training – it makes it impossible to use color as a cue and forces you to focus on other senses.
Just a few certificates from the SCAA, SCAE, and Q-Grader program here.
According to Jaime, this is the first privately created coffee quality lab of its kind – an idea that might sound a little crazy, but he’s committed to helping farmers improve quality. The plan is to offer consultations for farmers based on samples sent in to the lab, beginning with Colombia, with visions extending across Latin America.
Jaime is well equipped to lead a charge like this, having worked as an agricultural engineer with the Colombian coffee grower’s federation (FNC) for nearly 20 years. His tenure included a role in establishing the El Agrado coffee lab, which helps transfer scientific knowledge and best practices to coffee growers, helping them improve productivity, sustainability, and quality. Those efforts, revolutionary at the time, helped reduce defects among participants (i.e., unsalable coffee) from 18% to 1.5%, providing a demonstrable impact on coffee growers’ livelihoods and a model for the entire coffee industry.
Only a little more than a year old, Catación Pública is already an ambitious cafe, roastery, and so much more. The passion and potential here is palpable, and made the visit one of the most inspiring I’ve had in the history of this blog. If you’re in Bogotá, I can’t recommend a visit highly enough.
Other things to do in the neighborhood:
Also, in the same neighborhood several doors up the street you can grab a bite to eat at the beautiful Abasto Bodega (see photos below). If you go on a weekend, check out the famous local flea market as well.
Abasto has several locations; the one up the street from Catación Pública is a Bodega in a beautifully tactile space filled with brick, metal, wood, and luminous produce.
Bananas that haven’t been shipped to market on a boat… so much good fruit here!
Yogurt, granola, strawberries.
Check out more photos of the neighborhood over at my other blog, ArtMundane.
Catación Pública Address & Directions:
Calle 120 A # 3A-47
Usaquén, Bogotá, Colombia
See map below: