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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“The earth does not belong to us. We belong to the earth.” – Chief Seattle