Growing Coffee, From Bean to Cup – Organic Coffee Farm in Salento, Colombia

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Welcome to the growing coffee region of Colombia! I ventured to two wee towns in the region – authentic, untouched Filandia, and charming, somewhat touristy Salento, both surrounded by rolling green hills. In this edition of my wanderlust, I will take you on a coffee tour of a small organic farm in the hills of Salento.

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Plantation House is a delightfully accommodating hostel, which has a coffee farm, called Don Eduardo nearby that offers wonderful english speaking coffee tours daily by the very informative and enthusiastic owner himself, Don Eduardo, a local gringo, as well as one of his right hand men who works on the farm. I definitely recommend the tour for only 20 000 pesos, and if you stay at the hostel for 4 nights, the tour is free.

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Coffee is the second most traded commodity in the world, next to oil. It originated from Brazil. Growing coffee is best done in regions close to the equator at higher altitudes ranging from 500 – 2500 metres, which makes Salento perfect rising at 1900 m. Most of the world’s coffee is grown by small farmers on five to seven acres of land, and Colombia is no different.

Arabica and robusta are the two primary types of coffee cultivated for drinking worldwide, and also called traditional, and modern beans, respectively by our tour guide.The two varieties differ in taste, growing conditions, and price. Arabica beans tend to have a sweeter, softer taste with higher acidity. Robusta, has a stronger, harsher taste, with a bitter-like overtone, and contain twice as much caffeine.

Arabica beans are generally considered to be of superior quality, however, the enormous, multi-million coffee market is predominantly saturated with robusta beans because it provides a much bigger profit. 80% of coffee beans produced globally are modern, or robusta beans, and  traditional or arabica beans make up only 20%. Robusta beans are mass produced and often found in instant coffee and as fillers in the coffee blends. Robustas, are easier to grow, almost always heavily sprayed with chemicals, and produce more yield naturally, therefore are cheaper.  The coffee industry is often exploited by mutli-national companies, threatening farm owners and workers, and offering them unliveable wages. A fantastic documentary to learn about the history and exploitation of coffee is ‘Black Coffee’ (free online) a must see for coffee drinkers.  Try to buy only coffee that is labelled ‘Fair Trade’ to ensure fair wages for the fieldworkers, who make your cup of coffee possible. It takes years and many sets of hands for that cup of coffee possible.

Finca Don Eduardo of course treats all its workers more than fair, and it is an inviting, beautiful community to visit. It is completely organic using only traditional Arabica beans, and uses only mostly manual machines for it’s coffee harvesting.

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I highly recommend the Finca Don Eduardo tour whether you are staying at the Plantation House or not; you will learn everything about growing coffee. Here is what I learned of the step by step process:

Planting
A traditional arabica plant at Don Eduardo’s finca starts with a arabica bean, from a previous plant (they can not be bought) that has been depuled, washed and dried, and then planted into an individual pot.

Maturing
At the finca, Arabica coffee plants remain in individual bags/pots, until approximately one year old or 18 to 24 inches tall, then they are planted into the ground about two feet apart. The trees take 4-5 years to mature and to produce fruit.

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Coffee Flowers
Flowers cover the branches of the coffee tree for 2-3 days and release a scent similar to jasmine. Six to nine months later small green cherries that hold two coffee seeds appear. During the ripening process, the coffee cherries evolve from green to yellow, then, at their peak of ripeness, to deep red, when they are
 harvested by hand.

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Depulping
After coffee cherries are picked, they are depulped within 24 hours. The farm has their own ‘hand depulper’. It is a machine operated by hand, with a small rotating burr that tears off the outer layer of the coffee flesh, exposing the two coffee seeds inside, depositing them into a big bucket. The remaining skin and flesh is separated and commonly used for compost.

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Fermentation
The depulped coffee beans are submerged into a large tank of clean water for 12-72 hours, until all the sugar from the beans are gone. The water must be changed regularly and when all the sugar is extracted, the water will be mostly clear.
Drying & Raking
The coffee is then dried by the sun, and can take up to two weeks, here in Salento with the often damp climate. The coffee must be turned or ‘raked’ each day, and must avoid any contact with any water after the washing process is complete to ensure the drying process is successful.
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Coffee Selection
Coffee at the plantation house is then sorted by hand removing all of the defects.
 
Farmers harvesting cheaper robusta beans, take their loads of dried beans to the warehouses in town where the ‘coffee buyer’ buys them at the daily trade rate. All the beans in the warehouses are always piled together, no matter what quality or type of robusta bean. There is no distinction between coffee beans, or types, such as there is with wine and grapes for example. Hence why coffee is almost always a blend.  All coffee beans look the same and it would be impossible to separate and keep the different varieties apart when countless farms are selling the beans, and so much coffee is being traded daily. Arabica coffee is a different story as it finds independent buyers and is always kept separate. Colombian grown coffee is almost always exported, as you will struggle to find a decent cup of coffee in Colombia unfortunately.
Trilladora
This stage at the finca involves putting the dried coffee beans through a gentle grinder that removes the two outer layers of thin skin, at which point you have green beans. Then they are shook through a strainer to remove any debris.
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Green Been Selection
You now have what is called green beans, unroasted, ‘depulped’, and ‘deskinned’. There are always a few large beans amongst the lot; they are picked out, kept separate and used for a premium coffee.
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Roasting
Of all the steps from seed to cup, roasting is the most integral part in ensuring an outstanding cup of coffee. It requires a skill set somewhere between art and science. Roasters need to have a strong attention to detail, excellent sensory and a love of coffee of course.  At the finca, the green coffee beans were simply roasted in a cast iron pan for around 15 minutes, constantly being stirred.

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Grinding & Brewing
The freshly roasted beans this day were grinded manually; then brewed simply using a cheese-cloth sieve, with some coffee in it then hot water poured through. Walking through the process, and waiting for final cup, certainly made it easy to appreciate and value. As you grind and brew your cup of coffee to your liking, or get it on the go, be reminded, and honour the hard work of the farmers that bring this daily joy to to you, and millions. Cheers to them!
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“The earth does not belong to us. We belong to the earth.” – Chief Seattle

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3 comments for “Growing Coffee, From Bean to Cup – Organic Coffee Farm in Salento, Colombia

  1. Eroca
    June 22, 2015 at 1:02 am

    Very interesting post and I loved your pictures! Hope to see you soon.

  2. anna
    June 19, 2015 at 2:22 pm

    enjoy reading your adventures….love fresh brewed coffee- I pick up coffee from a fairtrade market here and french press (on weekends) unfortunately Kruig mon-friday

  3. Mum
    June 18, 2015 at 7:24 pm

    Very interesting. So glad you shared.
    Love Mum