Coffee. I can’t live without it. Well, I can – I don’t think I’m one of those people who’s super addicted to caffeine and can’t go a day without having a cup, but I certainly don’t like to. Our experience with coffee in Colombia was definitely not what you’d expect from one of the top coffee exporters in the world. We had some decent cups, but for the most part Colombia doesn’t really have a cafe culture as they export the majority of their good stuff. It seems that the beans are just too valuable to keep in the country for the average joe to consume. Luckily I had done some reading beforehand so we knew that this would be the case and weren’t overly disappointed.
We were pretty excited to get to the coffee growing region of Colombia, though, because we knew we’d be able to get a little bit more up close and personal with the coffee and hopefully try some right from the source. Getting something straight from the source is almost always better, right? That’s what all of those farm to table pundits would have us believe, anyways. I tend to agree with them, so I was looking forward to touring a real live working coffee farm.
We originally thought we’d go to a farm where there was an English speaking tour available, since Zevi’s understanding of Spanish is pretty basic. After talking to some of our new friends at the hostel, though, and doing some googling and trip advisor-ing (something we spend many an hour doing these days), we found out that that tour was short and pretty bare bones. Our hostel advertised another tour at a farm called Sacha Mama that came highly recommended, and although there wasn’t an English speaking guide, we’d gotten the sense that Zevi could get by with some translation from me and some slow talking from the guide. We set off from La Seranna through farmers fields and past some very friendly dogs who just couldn’t get enough of Zevi. Two hours later, we arrived at Sacha Mama, very hot and sweaty from the humidity and ready to get caffeinated!
After Pedro, the owner of Sacha Mama, invited us to sit down for a much needed rest and some birdwatching, we tasted our first cup of his coffee. It was incredible. Not only was it by far the best coffee I had in Colombia, it was one of the best things I ate or drank while I was there, period. I couldn’t believe how much depth of flavour it had. There were so many different notes to it, and I didn’t miss the milk at all. With stuff this good, I don’t think I’d drink it any other way but black! I most definitely went back for seconds, and would have gone for thirds and fourths if I wasn’t trying to be a little bit polite.
Once we were adequately recovered from our trek and had savoured our first cups of delicious java, we went out to explore Pedro’s land. When he bought the farm several years ago, he didn’t plan on turning it into a tourist enterprise. His main goal was to restore the land back to its natural state. He told us that while the area was once filled with coffee farms, coffee prices crashed in the eighties, prompting most of the farmers to forgo their former crop in favour of raising cows. Cattle farming isn’t necessarily as lucrative, but it’s much less labour intensive, and you don’t have to put so much cash in up front for machinery and farmhand wages. Much of Pedro’s land had been used as cow pasture, and a lot of the natural jungle had been cut down so that grass could grow in its place. There was still some evidence of this, but bit by bit, Pedro and his family have been guiding the land back to dense forest filled with a myriad of plants, trees, and bushes. In slow and clear Spanish, and always mindful to give us time to translate if necessary, Pedro quizzed us on different kinds of fruits, roots, seeds and weeds to help us gain a better appreciation for the environment. He explained that his coffee plants are scattered throughout the jungle, unlike most commercial farms where plants are in more traditional rows, in order to maintain the integrity of the land.
It was time for lunch, and Pedro’s wife had made us a delicious vegetarian soup with a side of crunchy tostones, and pineapple for desert. It was so nice to eat a vegetable based meal after a lot of meat and starch-heavy fare through the rest of our time in Colombia. Many of the fruits and veggies had been grown in their garden, so they were about as fresh as can be.
The next part of the tour was my favourite. We headed up to a little shack where Pedro prepares all of his coffee beans, and got to see the full process from the removal of the husks, to roasting, to drying, to grinding, to consumption (my very favourite, obviously). Pedro only sells his coffee to the fourty-some guests a month that come for tours, so it’s a pretty small scale affair. As he roasted the beans at temperatures upwards of 200 degrees celcius, he got us to notice the different smells that emanated from the machine. During the majority of the process it didn’t really smell at all like coffee – I even detected the smell of popcorn at one point. He also took the beans out of the roaster at various points during the process so that we could watch them turn from a dull green, to golden, to light brown, and then finally to the dark brown we’ve all come to recognize as coffee coloured. After the beans had cooled they were ground and we got to try the brew once again. As you might imagine, it was just as amazing as the first time.
As the tour came to a close, we bagged up our own beans to take with us (for an extra $20 Canadian or so). The coffee was so delicious that we couldn’t resist giving up some of our precious backpack space to squish one bag in. I’m excited to enjoy it in Calgary and recall the amazing time we had drinking it on the land where it was grown.