Kogi Coffee is a Sydney based artisan roaster that imports beans from the Colombian indigenous tribe the Kogi people. The green beans are grown wild in the Colombian rainforest, and proceeds of the sale of the beans go back to the indigenous tribe and towards buying back sacred sites and traditional sites.
With such an awesome backstory and anthropological basis, we chatted with the founder and master roaster, Lorenzo, to chat about his relationship with coffee, and what is special about the Kogi Coffee.
Tell us a bit about yourself, what is your heritage and what was your journey that led to you roasting coffee in Sydney?
I grew up in Colombia and came to Sydney in 2005 as a 23-year old in order to be with my girlfriend and with the excuse of doing postgrad uni studies. I fell in love with the country and 10 years later we’re married and have become fully fledged Australian citizens!
After uni I worked in Communications for the Telco industry until company restructuring and a redundancy gave me the chance to do something that I could be passionate about. When we heard the Kogi people (whom we knew through my father, had been working with them for 30 years as an anthropologist) were starting to export their awesome wild coffee, we figured we’d try to introduce it to the Aussie coffee market and that started on on a path from which I haven’t looked back.
I started learning all I could about the coffee industry and working as a barista while we got the shipment together. During that process we learned of other Indigenous organic growers and decided to bring different origins.
So your introduction to the coffee industry was for the purpose of starting a business, but when did you first get into drinking coffee?
Colombians drink coffee constantly and I reckon I started drinking “tintos” (shot-sized filtered coffee drinks typical of Colombia) when I was about thirteen. Back then they’d have lots of sugar! It was only in Sydney during the ‘third wave’ of the last few years where I started to appreciate the diversity and complexity of coffee from around the world.
And when did you discover roasting was a talent of yours?
I originally came into the industry as a green bean importer, but after spending time with some passionate, knowledgeable and very welcoming roasters in Sydney I started to get into it myself. I think it’s generous to say I have a talent for it, but I certainly do have a lot of great help from experienced people and a lot of hard work!
Aside for Colombian coffee, what is your favourite single origin?
It varies but right now I’m into a fantastic Panama Red Bourbon and an Ethiopian Yirgacheffe.
At home what do you use to make coffee? What recipe?
The Kalita pour-over is the favourite at home at the moment. I use around 19g of coffee per 300ml of water depending on the origin.
We’d like to know what your favourite food is to complement your coffee?
I find something sweet and tart really compliments a nice coffee, so I’ll go with a lemon tart.
What does Kogi mean, and what does it mean to you and your roastery?
We’re extremely proud of working with our elder brothers of the Kogi (translates to Jaguar), and we’re grateful to them for having trusted us both as partners and as carriers of their environmental message. We’re in this industry only because they chose to work with us, and that facts motivates us to strengthen the connection between the growers and drinkers, and to show how sustainable and spiritual coffee production can be.
How did the Kogi people reach out to you or how did you discover their plight to save their environment?
My father has a longstanding relationship with the Kogi, having worked with them for around 30 years as an anthropologist, and I had visited their communities a few times over the years.
The Kogi had been collecting their wild coffee for years but only recently got organised in order to process it themselves and bring it to the internal Colombian market at fair prices. By the time we reached out to them, they had already started to select export-quality beans and shipping to Germany.
How do you think Kogi coffee differs from other regions of Colombia?
L: Kogi coffee is wild harvested, meaning it grows in the middle of the Sierra Nevada forest rather than planted in cleared fields. The trees are older and of older varietals (typica) than the pest-resistant ones found in the more tech-nified Colombian growing regions. It grows under lots of shade among native trees and birds.
Now that you have been working with them for a little while, what have been some of the success stories you have had from giving back to the Kogi people?
It’s been great to see how the Kogi have been reinvesting resources into improving the coffee business, having recently invested in a mill and a warehousing space that includes a tasting lab. Their ultimate aim is to save enough in order to buy ancestral lands that are now in the hands of outsiders or even mining interests, and we’re very happy to be helping towards that goal.
We’re also very proud of having helped the Kogi to spread their culture and communicate their concerns by having flown a young Kogi spokesman to Australia around the end of last year. During his stay here Arregoces made a few media appearances, met local aboriginal leaders and learned a lot about how Aussies drink coffee, taking that knowledge back home, and strengthening those connections of people halfway around the world.