(no, not that one!)
Colombia is notorious for a particular crop, but as a visitor you’re not very likely to visit any farm growing that! However, they are very openly proud of their coffee and many farms welcome visitors.
Most of the best coffee is grown in the area known as the Coffee Triangle or Coffee Axis. Part of this region was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2011 as the Coffee Cultural Landscape. The listing describes the area covered as:
An exceptional example of a sustainable and productive cultural landscape that is unique and representative of a tradition that is a strong symbol for coffee growing areas worldwide – encompasses six farming landscapes, which include 18 urban centres on the foothills of the western and central ranges of the Cordillera de los Andes in the west of the country. It reflects a centennial tradition of coffee growing in small plots in the high forest and the way farmers have adapted cultivation to difficult mountain conditions.https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1121/
Visiting a coffee farm
We visited a typical farm with our guide, Juan-Paolo, who was a former employee. Yes, that’s the same Juan-Paolo who was to nearly finish off my knees on the walk in the Valle de Cocora the following day! Thankfully this walk was to be a bit easier, although hotter.
On arriving we were immediately served a cup of coffee. This was a big improvement on our hotel’s rather weak (catering to US visitors) breakfast coffee, but perhaps not the transformative experience Juan-Paolo would have us believe. Big claims are made for the quality of the coffee in Colombia, and in particular its smoothness. And it’s true that it is good, and smooth, but maybe I prefer a slightly bitter edge?
After enjoying our coffees we were encouraged to don lightweight ponchos worn in different styles according to our gender, straw hats and small baskets, the latter tied around our waists with string. We then went to see a display of coffee bushes at different stages in their development, from seedling to ready to plant out. We also visited a coffee bean drying area where Juan-Paolo told us probably more than we’ll ever need to know about the different ways of treating the bean to produce a different style of coffee!
A walk through the farm
Then we started our walk through the coffee farm itself. There was a long flight of steps down and a shorter climb up.
On either side of this first stretch of the path we saw bamboo (which grows really well around here and is used a lot in construction and crafts), a variety of bushes and lots of flowers. Among the coffee bushes too we saw lots of different plants. Juan-Paolo explained that these were planted as part of the biodiversity approach of the farm. For instance, they could monitor the condition of the hibiscus as they would show signs of disease or infestation before the coffee bushes were affected. At one point he picked up a fallen hibiscus flower and tucked into the band on my hat (see my feature photo).
As we walked Juan-Paolo encouraged us to pick any red coffee berries we could find, to drop into our baskets. But I found myself more interested in photographing the flowers and views, so I was glad when he topped up my supply with his own gatherings, as he did for Chris too.
Traditional coffee making methods
At the end of the walk we came to a stone building. Inside a young woman whom Juan-Paolo introduced as Maria was roasting some beans in a pan over a fire. She then ground them and made coffee using a cloth filter, the traditional method here.
That was our second coffee of the tour and again very smooth. As with the first, Juan-Paolo encouraged us to sip and taste, sip and taste, explaining that with each subsequent sip we would be able to taste a different aspect of the coffee. I wasn’t convinced, but I enjoyed the drink!
From here we followed the rough road the relatively short distance back to our starting point. On the way I spotted a beautiful little bird, bright yellow, which Juan-Paolo named as a Saffron Finch.
We finished with our third coffee, this time an iced one. It was very welcome as it was a warm day and I was hot from the walk. But it was rather unusual to our taste, being made from chilled coffee mixed with lemonade. It was better than that sounds, and very refreshing, but I think I’d have preferred a regular iced coffee. However don’t think I’m complaining; any morning with three coffees has to be a good one.
I hope Jo will have enjoyed this Monday Walk, despite the lack of cake to accompany the coffee!
I visited Colombia in February 2023