What is the Field Barista Project?
While chatting to our partner and friend, Juan Pablo Lasso Argote, we realised there are two demands that are never really matched. On the one hand, coffee farmers all over Colombia have to hire expensive extra hands during picking season - while here in the specialty coffee scene, baristas would kill to spend time on a coffee farm learning about the roots of their obsession by picking and processing coffee...
So we decided to post a call for baristas on facebook to go and help the Argote family with their harvest. Two months later, the Field Barista Project was born. Baristas from four countries went to Colombia in June 2016 - not just for a simple origin trip, but to get their hands dirty and help Juan Pablo Lasso Argote and Hernando "Meko" Gutierrez with their harvest for two weeks. Their tasks included picking, washing, sorting and grading. Lodging and food were provided by the Colombian hosts, and no fee was owed to This Side Up - a simple and equal exchange. In 2017, we even sent two groups of pickers, eleven in total.
In the end, baristas are the daily link between all the hard work throughout the coffee value chain and the coffee drinker, so they have an extraordinary but underused potential to bring the coffee producing world to life for us all.
Field Barista Project 2017
The 2017 Field Barista Project was in fact two rounds of visitors. The first took place in June 2017 one was very similar to the year before, consisting of three pickers with a barista background: Dani Bordiniuc from Romania, Valentino Todarello from Czech Republic and Frank Ouwerling from the Netherlands. It's safe to say that their coffee world was turned upside down by the sheer amount of work needed to turn a coffee cherry into an exportable product. Nevertheless, despite finding out quickly how much quicker the local pickers worked than they did, they weren't shy of a hard day's labour. Their most humbling realisation was that in eight days work, they were able to collectively pick enough coffee to create one full 35 kg bag of greens (which are now available in Europe through Rello il Torrefattore. They remain regularly in touch with Juan Pablo through social media.
The second round happened two weeks later and consisted of This Side Up's Lennart, the two founders of White Label Coffee (Francesco and Elmer) and their manager cafe manager Barry with his wife Jasmina, Floortje and Bram. Pickings were slim in this second round because we arrived in between the second and third picking round (one can't control the seasons alas!) but there was plenty of work to be done on the processing and drying side. We created a fermentation experiment for Jelle van Rossum that is now being enjoyed all over Europe and made plans to upgrade the drying bed setup for the next harvest. Best of all, one of the first crosslinks between our partner farmers was established here. Bram de Hoog shared his experience in Nicaragua working for our friends and partners at Expocamo, leading Juan Pablo and his father to make plans to visit Nicaragua to learn about further controlling and standardising the drying process, and creating a better, more scalable system for keeping track of farmer lots and payments.
Field Barista Project 2016
It's safe to say that we underestimated the impact of this project. The baristas obviously have much more to give than just their picking and sorting hands. They taught the family and the pickers about cupping and identifying tastes, and helped execute experiments like honey and natural coffees, cascara coffee leaf and coffee flower tea.
Also, as a result of his talks with the baristas, Juan Pablo decided to spend part of our 2016 price premium to come to Holland. Here, he learned from our friends, roasters and baristas how his coffee is roasted, brewed and perceived by the final customer, and for the first time in his long career as a coffee farmer, was able to taste coffees from all around the world. His goal in the next years has now crystallised: to become a specialty coffee trainer and ambassador for the village's young folk, so as to make coffee exciting and profitable again- and so that they will stay and help their rural community thrive...