Photographs by photographer Kim Chun Ho
Perhaps there are many stories and legends -a trace of time- contained in every cup of coffee we enjoy, which could not be narrated to the end. I found that Mr. Ospina, who brought the oldest Colombian coffee to Korea, also has such an amazing and long story, which I should have to listen until the end for whole nights long.
Mr. Mariano Ospina was impressive, with his warm eyes and his gallant and graceful look, bringing Ospina Coffee to be introduced in Korea at the Seoul Coffee Expo, 2012. He was quite active and passionate, like a Spaniard born in Colombia. He was quite busy looking around the Caffé Rousseau, a gourmet coffee shop where we set to have an interview and kept asking and answering. He smelled the different coffees on sale at the café and looked very carefully at the brewing manner of the barista. Once our coffees were served, then I could sit face to face with him and became relaxed.
I found Ospina Coffee, a coffee brand not popular in Korea yet, is produced from the highest quality of Arabica Typica coffee, grown and handpicked in an environment friendly terroir, at 2,000 meters high elevation in the Colombian Andes. The Arabica Typica, which is the original species of coffee, is very delicate and sensitive to direct sunlight, humidity and fungus and the production ratio is much lower than the other species or hybrid of Arabica. To give the best growing environment about 100 Arabica Typica trees are used to be planted in one acre land of tropical forest.
Mr. Ospina is not the coffeeologist who learned about coffee in school or institutes, but rather in the farm of his grandfather. Since he was a teenager he learned, trained and experienced by touching and observing coffee trees, cherries and beans with his own hands and eyes.
“There is no doubt that the best coffee beans are the key factor for the best coffee”. Then, what is next? “Well, it is not possible to simplify this answer. There are many other factors. The elevation of the plantation, the shade of the tropical forest, the rainfall, the volcanic soil, the rich terroir, are as important as the process of handpicking, pealing, washing, fermenting and sun-drying the coffee cherries. And of course, the method of plantation can’t be ignored. Such best quality beans earned through all those utmost devotions of planting and process with the roasting at optimum condition can make the best of best coffee.”
“Do we have enough time for another story?” he asked me as I was viewing with curiosity at the Ospina crest printed on the Ospina coffee box. It seemed like he would like to tell me another story about the tradition and legacy of his family and its coffee rather than to emphasize that Ospina Coffee is a real ultra premium coffee. I was ready to listen to his story with curiosity as I have only a shallow and fragmentary knowledge on coffee, in spite that I really love to drink coffee.
It is said it took more than 1000 years for the coffee to arrive in Latin America where it found the best terroir for its cultivation. Coffee was originated from Ethiopia and merchants spread it through the Arabian countries, and later to Paris via Venice. It was around the year of 1800 when a young coffee tree migrated from Paris to a Caribbean island, a colony of French dominion. From there it was spread to Jamaica, Brazil, Colombia and other countries in Latin America. At last the coffee tree had arrived in the terrain most suitable for plantation. The climate of this mountain area and the volcanic soil give the perfect conditions and soil for coffee plantation. This tropical terrain is the best because temperatures are the same all year round and especially the cool weather of high elevation. Here is where the origin and history of Ospina Coffee begins in the Colombian Andes.
The history of Ospina Coffee starts with a complex political situation and background of the times. Don Mariano Ospina Rodríguez, the great great-grandfather of Mariano Ospina, was a law student in 1821 and a member of political group opposed to President Simon Bolivar. This group conspired against Bolivar and was arrested. While most of his colleagues were executed, he fled to the remote Andean mountains of Antioquia, escaping from the arrest, where the present Ospina coffee farms first started. He worked in a farm as a laborer during the day time and studied in the night. Eventually he married with the daughter of the land lord and took care of the farm.
Later, in 1835, he started his first coffee plantation and coffee business. He was a pioneer of Colombian coffee plantation and started the first commercial coffee operation in Colombia, which records credit him as the oldest coffee firm that has survived so far. He was later elected President of Colombia in 1857. After his presidency, there were a number of hard times and crisis, but he could overcome it as fate was on his side.
The Ospina family has had a positive and tremendous influence over Colombia’s coffee industry as well as in politics and education. His great great-grandfather, Don Mariano Ospina Rodriguez founded the first public university. Later, in 1922 his great granduncle, Petro Nel Ospina, was elected as the President of Colombia, and in 1946 his grandfather also became the President, which gave to the Ospina family the distinction and honor of producing three Presidents of Colombia in three generations. His grandfather was one of the principal founders of the Colombian National Federation of Coffee Growers, which is the most influential coffee federation in the world, and became the first director of the Federation.
For Mariano Ospina, with the background lineage of three Presidents in the family, it seemed natural to follow the political tradition of the family and to aspire to his grandmother’s seat in the Senate. I asked him, “then why did you stay in Charlotte leaving behind all your family’s legacy and glory, and now only dedicated to the Ospina Coffee business”?
“During the 1990s it was a very dangerous time for traditional and political families in Colombia. The social and political situation in the country was very unstable and unsafe, and I decided to stay in the USA. My younger brother Lisandro had gone back home to Colombia to get married, and I never saw him again. He was kidnapped and killed.” Because of this tragedy he never returned back home. “No,” he said, “I can’t return home.” A silence of sorrow and sadness passed by his warm and deep eyes for a while.
After a short pause, Mariano Ospina offered me another cup of coffee. The legacy left to him by his Ospina family, after all the years of glory and turbulence for three generations, of politics and education, he decided to dedicate his time to the coffee business only. The eldest grandson of the Ospina family, Mariano Ospina, who has registered his family name Ospina as the trade mark of his coffee business, has devoted most of his life to the coffee business, and especially since 2003, leaving behind all his political ambitions. He did not want to become a mere coffee planter and supplier as his family did for the last 170 years, instead, he adopted very professional management technology and has succeeded to brand Ospina Coffee as the most prestigious and ultra-premium coffee in the world.
“Why do I insist in the ultra-premium quality coffee? Well, it should be very natural to me. Ospina Coffee is just a gift from God to me. I never started a coffee plantation, nor did I found a Coffee Federation. All that I now have has been given to me. My responsibility is just to honor and protect the name and legacy of Ospina, and to be a good steward. By doing my best and excelling at my work with this gift, I will be honoring God.”
Now I could understand why the name of Ospina is not a burden or tragedy to him, as he has found his grate and joyful calling and rich affection which he had not realized when he lived in his grandfather’s farm, with his Senator grandmother and his President grandfather.
I never had tasted Ospina Coffee until I ended the interview with Mr. Ospina. Mr. Sun Kim, the President of Ospina Coffee Asia, offered me to send some Ospina Coffees to my desk as he noticed my desire for it. Thus, one box of Ospina Estate and Bambuco coffee were delivered. I then brew an Ospina Coffee pot by French Press, just as Mr. Ospina recommended. In 96 C hot water, I poured the coarse grinds of Ospina Estate Coffee for 3 minutes. I could smell the rich coffee flavor and aroma. Then I came to remember his words, “Coffee is like wine. No, maybe more delicate. Coffee has a flowery aroma and the taste of three different notes, more than wine.”
As I slowly drink my coffee and smell the very rich aroma, a vivid sparkling and delicious taste fills my mouth. I can enjoy the full body cup with notes of blackberry and chestnut. Without a doubt, Ospina Coffee’s highlight is the smooth and sweet aftertaste. No bitterness. It is very fresh and fruity, clean and refreshing.
I feel some sort of ecstasy, like I drinking a best wine. I do not feel drunk physically, but I can feel such similar pleasant mood in my heart. I guess it might be God’s plan to have granted such a rich flavor to Ospina Coffee, with such a rich history, mingled with tragedy and glory for the last 5 generations.
I am very lucky and happy to have met Mr. Ospina and tasted his rich Ospina Coffee, remembering his beautiful story, unlike that of Starbucks or instant coffee. I would like to thank him for this wonderful experience when I meet with him again.
(For ordering Ospina Coffee, Tel. 82-070-3789-5396, www.ospinacoffee.co.kr)