Welcome to The Sprudge Twenty Interviews presented by Pacific Barista Series. For a complete list of 2023 Sprudge Twenty honorees, please visit sprudge.com/twenty.

“Hailing from the coffee-producing region of Nariño, Colombia, Nancy Cordoba has, over the past decade, become one of the most respected and influential coffee scientists in the world. Dr. Cordoba received her Ph.D. in 2022 after a distinguished graduate career, during which she published several publications on coffee chemistry, physics, sensory science, biology, processing, and quality. A number of these publications have already become foundational and influential works in the field of coffee science and have been published in high-quality journals. Any one of these publications would have been an accomplishment for a young scientist, but Dr. Cordoba has had a prodigious publication output on a wide variety of scientific topics. Many of her articles have had a particularly large impact, being broadly cited and read, putting them in the highest percentile of research impact.

“After receiving her Ph.D. from the University of La Sabana in Colombia, Dr. Cordoba moved to Columbus, Ohio, to pursue a postdoctoral appointment at the Flavor Research and Education Center. At this cutting-edge research center, she is using the most modern chemical and sensory analysis techniques to further understand coffee flavor and quality. In this work, she is likely to continue her track record of extremely high-quality coffee research, and her work promises to make significant breakthroughs in the understanding of coffee.

“It is impossible to overstate Dr. Cordoba’s current and future influence on coffee science. Although she is little known outside of coffee science circles, she is well on her way to being one of the most influential coffee scientists in history.”

Nominated by Peter Giuliano

What is the quality you like best about coffee?

The captivating aroma of coffee truly awakens my senses and enhances the entire coffee-drinking experience. The diverse range of flavors, such as fruity, nutty, chocolaty, and floral, bring joy and remind me of warm mornings spent with loved ones in Colombia, creating beautiful memories that last a lifetime.

What was your first coffee job?

At the United Nations, I had the privilege to be part of a remarkable project in partnership with the Dutch Government and Starbucks+Volcafe. I was part of the first team that adapted the “brand-new” C.A.F.E. Practices verification in Colombia (in 2005) and the creation of community-based organizations for selling coffee without local intermediaries. My responsibilities included overseeing entrepreneurship activities, capacity building, and sourcing coffee parchment. It was an honor to be a part of this initiative that aimed to create positive change and empower communities.

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What is your current role in coffee?

At present, I am a Postdoctoral Researcher at The Ohio State University’s Flavor Research and Education Center (FREC), where my primary focus is on coffee. Through the use of flavoromics techniques, I aim to gain a comprehensive understanding of how coffee molecules impact flavor perception, consumer preferences, or “liking drivers.” My ultimate objective is to revolutionize the design of coffee beverages, providing unparalleled coffee consumption experiences.

Did you experience a “god shot” or life-changing moment of coffee revelation early in your life?

Once I completed my university studies, my first professional experience was directly with coffee producers. However, in order to advance in my professional career, I decided to move to the capital of Colombia, Bogotá, and pursue a master’s degree in design and process management. During my studies, I specialized in bioprocessing, working with several microorganisms and their applications in the food industry. It seemed like I had moved away from coffee as I was now “far” from the coffee fields. Little did I know that once I completed my master’s degree, coffee would find its way back to me.

In 2015, my expertise in bioprocesses led me to embark on a remarkable journey. I initiated a first approach to studying the traditional fermentation processes in coffee within certain regions of Nariño-Colombia. It was at that moment when I realized that this relationship with coffee was destined to last. Through my newfound understanding of bioprocessing and my passion for coffee, I saw an opportunity to delve deeper into the intricate art of fermentation in coffee production. I became captivated by the complexity and importance of this crucial stage, which ultimately influences the flavor profiles and characteristics of the final cup. With determination and enthusiasm, I set out to explore and uncover the secrets of fermentation in coffee. I worked closely with local farmers, exchanging knowledge and experiences.

This inspiring journey has reaffirmed my belief in the power of combining scientific knowledge with traditional wisdom. It has taught me that innovation and tradition can coexist harmoniously, creating a profound impact on an industry deeply rooted in history in our countries. Today, I continue to explore new frontiers in coffee science. The path has not always been easy, but the challenges have only fueled my determination. Each step forward brings me closer to unlocking the full potential of this magical beverage and contributing to the sustainable growth of the coffee industry. As I reflect on my journey, I am filled with gratitude for the serendipitous encounter between my academic background and the coffee world. It is a reminder that our passions and interests have a way of finding us, even when we least expect it. The story of my reunion with coffee is a testament to the enduring bond between individuals and their true calling.

What issue in coffee do you care about most? What cause or element in coffee drives you?

I am deeply concerned about the access to education and sources of information that enable individuals to advance their understanding of a product that holds significant value in the economy and livelihoods of many families, as it does for countries like Colombia. Besides, I believe that sustainability should be an integral part of the entire coffee value chain. These concerns are what drive me to study further and seek alliances to better communicate the science, the open science, behind something as ordinary and beloved as our coffee. I envision a world where everyone, from coffee farmers to enthusiasts, has access to the tools and information they need to fully appreciate and contribute to the sustainable growth of this cherished beverage. I am driven by the belief that education and collaboration hold the key to unlocking the immense potential that lies within each coffee bean. It is a journey that requires continuous learning, resilience, and a deep sense of responsibility towards the communities and ecosystems intertwined with the coffee industry.

Do you often make coffee at home? If so, tell us how you brew!

Absolutely! I’m a coffee geek!!! My go-to brewing methods at home are the V60 or Clever. Usually, I drink 2-3 cups of coffee/day (8-12oz each), and I don’t have particular preferences for origins. You can find specialty coffee jewels in every country, and I love the diversity of origins and processing methods available today as this it’s a true testament to the endless possibilities in the coffee industry’s future.

What is your favorite song to brew coffee to?

Vivaldi’s captivating “Four Seasons” (Winter) has a calming effect and inspires me to introspect. As I listen to this timeless masterpiece, I enjoy the ritual of preparing a cup of coffee. The intricate notes of the coffee’s flavor and composition echo the rhythmic melody of Vivaldi’s composition. Aromas and tastes are connected, and this realization encourages contemplation and imagination. Combining this masterpiece and coffee reminds me to cherish life’s simple pleasures and appreciate the beauty of its changes. Drinking coffee brings a feeling of amazement as if every sip shows something new to value and treasure, like listening to a symphony.

What is your idea of coffee happiness?

Coffee happiness is found in that perfect balance of flavors, where every sip is a delightful worldwide journey. But coffee happiness extends beyond mere physical pleasure. It is also about the moments of connection it fosters. It is sharing laughter and stories with my grandpa, mother, husband, friends, whole family, and kindred spirits. A cup of coffee is a place where the conversations flow effortlessly, fueled by the shared warmth and comfort that coffee brings. Each cup tells a story of the journey from farm to cup, reminding us of the hard work and care that goes into crafting this precious elixir. In a world full of challenges, a cup of coffee offers a moment of respite and a chance to fully appreciate the present.

Who inspires you in the world of coffee?

In the captivating world of coffee, countless individuals inspire me with their unwavering dedication, passion, and relentless pursuit of excellence. From the resilient coffee producers to the skilled people who meticulously craft each cup, the “hand-print” of coffee it’s unique and my deep reflection of what the “experience” represents: coffee is a collective effort. Being born and raised in a farmers’ family, my inspiration is certainly biased towards farmers and coffee producers, who, with their hands and deep connection to the land, ignite a sense of awe within me. They toil tirelessly, nurturing the coffee trees, harvesting the cherries, and navigating the increasing challenges of the climate crisis. Their unwavering commitment to quality and sustainability fuels my admiration, reminding me of the immense effort required to bring that flavorful coffee to our hands.

If you could drink coffee with anyone, living or dead, who would it be and why?

Coffee, for me, is a vessel that transcends time and space, connecting me with cherished memories and loved ones who have passed. Therefore, I would like to share a cup of coffee with my father, who departed from this world when I was but a little girl. In that shared moment, I would ask him simple questions, like how he is doing in the realms beyond. I would want him to know that despite his absence, life has blessed me with an extraordinary mother, a loving sister, a caring husband, and incredible friends who have become my extended family. I would share with my father that I have discovered my passion and happiness in food science and coffee. I would want him to witness the fire in my eyes as I speak about my work, knowing that he would be proud to see me follow my dreams. In this imaginary gathering, I would also invite my grandpa, who joined my father in the realm of memories. I would tell him that he was right, coffee can be bitter, but I have embarked on a journey to understand why it can also be sweet. In my research and exploration, I feel my grandpa’s and Pa’s presence, and I can imagine them chuckling with delight. They always had a way of finding joy in the simple things, and I am certain they would be overjoyed to witness my inquisitive spirit.

The Sprudge Twenty interview series is presented by Pacific Barista Series. For a complete list of 2023 Sprudge Twenty honorees, please visit sprudge.com/twenty.