Longtime readers of this website may recall a little hubbub back in October 2010, when we ran a feature questioning the coffee variety that took top honors at the 2010 Colombian COE. The crux of that feature was, based on inside information, that the winning COE coffee of 2010 was not comprised of 100% Castillo – in spite of what some on the ground heard repeated time and time again. We believed Castillo’s win at the 2010 COE was an act of propaganda, on behalf of a high-yielding strain of coffee developed by the Federación Nacional de Cafeteros.

There were a lot of questions left unanswered by that feature in 2010, and now, two years later, someone with deep knowledge at origin and journalistic integrity is answering them all. We’d like to direct every last Sprudge reader we know over to Michael Sheridan’s CRS Coffeelands blog, where a groundbreaking multi-part series on Castillo is underway. This work is the opposite of a government-sponsored dazzle tour; Mr. Sheridan is asking hard questions, likely risking his relationship with the FNC in the process, and reaching conclusions that affect coffee buyers, growers, and drinkers in a profound series of ways. Here’s an excerpt from his latest post, entitled “Farmer perspectives on Castillo”:

The Castillo cultivar has been the subject of considerable discussion and no small amount of controversy in the marketplace in recent years.  At the risk of oversimplification, the debate has been framed by two positions: that of representatives of Colombia’s Federación Nacional de Cafeteros, who insist that Castillo will thrive in the specialty market because its cup quality equal to that of the country’s traditional varieties, and that of quality-obsessed specialty roasters who insist it won’t because it isn’t.  What we rarely hear in the debate are the voices of farmers who depend on coffee for their livelihoods and face the decision about what variety of coffee to plant on their farms in the context of a coffee leaf rust epidemic.  So we asked some smallholder coffee farmers in Nariño to tell us what they think.

As part of the baseline survey for our Borderlands coffee project, we asked some 500 smallholder coffee farmers in Colombia the following three questions:

  1. The last time you planted coffee, what variety did you use?
  2. The next time you plant coffee, what variety will you use?
  3. Why?

The results suggest that there are very different narratives circulating in Colombia’s coffeelands around the country’s disease-resistant varieties (Castillo and Colombia), and its traditional varieties (mostly Caturra but also Arabigo, Catuai and Typica).  It also suggests that while Castillo has made significant inroads, farmers haven’t given up altogether on traditional varieties.  At least in Nariño.

This is the Castillo variety follow-up work the industry has badly needed, and every last possible ounce of kudos should go to Michael Sheridan and CRS Coffeelands for their work thus far in the series. Go read this now!