Travelling in pursuit of coffee excellence may sound like a luxurious privilege – and it is – but it’s much more than that. Travelling to the source. Forming connections. Supporting futures. And sharing stories. For Freda Yuan, Origin’s Director of Coffee, every journey is essential, and something she doesn’t take for granted.
Earlier this year, Freda travelled to Colombia on a sourcing trip. We caught up with her to talk about the importance of being able to experience the landscape, the people and, of course, the coffee, first-hand.
CLOSE TO HEART
Freda’s no stranger to a busy schedule. When we chat, she’s not long back in the UK and already looking ahead to the rest of the year. To the side of her, a coffee sample from her travels is roasting. While time may be in short supply and high demand, it’s evident that she never skimps on the time she makes for, and shares with, others. Despite a jetlag-laced voice, when Freda talks about her travels, her dedication to not only the future of speciality coffee, but the people behind each crop, is instantly evident.
“Heading back to Colombia is always a highlight for me,” Freda says, having visited in July last year. “It’s a country close to my heart—perhaps one of my favourites. The landscape is so beautiful—so diverse, and fascinating. But the people,” she continues, “this is why I love my job – they’re so inspiring. You can’t help but get caught up in the sense of excitement for what they’re working so hard to do: always adapting and striving for better; it’s admirable.”
C MARKET ACCESSIBILITY
On her last visit, Freda travelled to the north of the country. This time around, Freda journeyed around the middle and south of Colombia, revisiting some long-standing relationships with producers, while making new friendships, too. “Colombia is always exciting; there are numerous regions, and many of the farms, while small, produce incredible crops; a lot of this coffee is home processed still. And with two harvests a year, there’s plenty to discover,” she says.
Freda travelled with the mindset of looking for exceptional coffee (with a cup score of at least 84) for espresso and feature coffees within the Origin collection and, as ever, keeping her senses open for those extra special cups that go on to become limited edition releases. “Colombia is more accessible than other countries, such as Panama, especially in terms of pricing. The C Market price is lower than when I visited last time, which means the country is accessible to more coffee buyers. I always travel with an open mind, searching for something special. In Colombia, exploration is a little bit like being a child in a candy store: there’s so much to discover, thanks to the hard work and commitment of producers.”
It's true that Colombia’s coffee producing landscape is incredibly diverse, with plenty of regions to explore, and a deep commitment to coffee, too. Cenucafe, an institute founded by the coffee producers of the nation, is 80 years old, and still as innovative as ever, committed to education, research, and invention. The institute studies and considers everything, from genetics and entomology to post harvest techniques, water treatment, germination, fermentation and more. “There are 85 different soil types in Colombia,” Freda tells us. It’s no wonder they take their studying seriously, with so much room for potential—so many possibilities to take coffee further.
“There’s so much to learn, always,” Freda agrees. “Colombia is home to so much diversity of flavour in coffee, thanks to varietals grown, such as Java, and even Gesha. The producer of El Braje grows his own Gesha exceptionally well—the varietal, which he brought with him, from Panama, adapted and is thriving in the climate, grown at almost 2,500 masl. The climate itself varies dramatically, depending on the region, which again opens up lots of potential for coffee producers. However, the weather changes often, which can present challenges, too.”
Challenges are something the producers don’t seem phased by—and neither was Freda when it came to setting out to visit as many producers as she could. “I drove myself around—a first for me in Colombia. It might sound a small thing, but I was reminded of my own ability, and to belief in myself—much the way some of the incredible producers I work with, do,” she notes. “Some of the roads can be quite dangerous—even the locals were impressed.” It’s a privilege many of us take for granted—a simple, often daily act, but getting behind the wheel—not least as a woman, on her own, reminded Freda of the conversations she steered and listened to, witnessing the empowerment of others. “What so impresses me, every time I return to Colombia,” Freda says, “is the pace of progress being made, shaped by many womxn coffee producers.”
Freda’s been actively working to help further the stories for these womxn. “This project is all about empowering womxn, Freda says. “We have four womxn producers contributing to our decaf, which will be released this summer. Throughout every stage of the supply chain, it’s womxn owned and led – the land, the sales, the quality control checks. It’s hard work, and not everything always goes to plan, but you look around, and you remember to adapt. I’m most excited about being able to help them nurture that safe, inclusive space and sense of community.”
Back in the UK, Freda is keen to share the stories as much as the coffee others have shared with her. “I didn’t get a chance to visit everyone—there’s always more to see and do, people to meet, coffee to discover,” Freda admits. “But I’m really excited by what’s been found this year—and what’s still to come. I had some of the best cupping experiences I’ve ever encountered on this trip, and I was lucky enough to have time to nurture existing relationships as well as create new ones across different regions, each with differing expertise. The producers in Colombia have the right mindset, and each visit is incredibly humbling. I know my next trip will bring even more discoveries.”
Explore our coffee range - here