Today we’re going to take a break from all the Europe this, Europe that, blah blah blah-ing I’ve been doing lately, and we’re going to take a spin around the globe to beautiful South America to chat all about the Colombian coffee region. If you’d asked me to do a word association about Colombian coffee before we’d been to the Colombian coffee region, it probably would have ended up something like this: Nom nom and Juan Valdez and Go for the Cup (I LOVED that commercial)!
But now I’m edu-ma-cated and stuff, AND I’m a graduate of coffee university (which is really a just-for-tourists certificate you get for visiting Hacienda Guayabal), so I’m here to share my wisdom!
We arrived in Manizales, a city in Colombia’s vibrant caffeinated heart, via a little Fokker (HAAAAA!) from Bogota, and the first thing we noticed about the Colombian coffee region is that it is lush and sexy!
Finding ourselves in the heart of the Colombian coffee region, we decided to take the opportunity to get up-close-and-personal with coffee.
We grabbed a bus with our new friend Nusret and another hostel-mate — let’s call her Bubble Gum — to Hacienda Guayabal, a coffee finca within
easy reach of Manizales (having some basic Spanish was helpful for this one). As the hacienda is typical to the Colombian coffee region (i.e. a working coffee farm), they have lots of coffee workers, but few guides; we had a short wait for one tour to end before they were able to take our group out, but you can book ahead if you’re too fancy to wait.
Speaking of fancy, the hacienda was kind enough to lend me a nice floppy hat for my visit to keep the almost-equatorial sun off my face.
Our Guayabal-ian guide gave us a fine lesson in the intricacies of farming in the Colombian coffee region. We learned about the lives of finca workers and the difficulty of the work (the word toil comes to mind: ten-hour days spent hauling 30kg bags up and down impossibly steep mosquito-filled pathways for little pay is the norm), the process of farming the beans, and how Colombia’s coffee fits within the global coffee market.
Coffee beans (which aren’t actually beans, duh), begin life as either red or yellow berries (depending on the plant variety); the beans (which are actually seeds, duh) are surrounded by a fruit-like flesh, skin, and sweet-tasting liquid that protects the bean-seed-thing.
After farm workers pick a nice light load of..say…30kg or so of beans (I mean berries), they haul the load to a machine that removes the skin. The bare beans (which sounds totally dirty) are sent to be washed and separated. The bad beans, which can be identified because they float, are made into instant coffee or remain in Colombia, creating one of the great ironies of Colombian coffee:
The coffee in Colombia is actually really shitty, because all the stuff actually produced in the Colombian coffee region is exported.
Premium beans, destined for Europe and North America, are sent to a dryer where they remain for 24 hours. After being dried, the pale yellow beans aren’t roasted at the finca, but rather are sold to a distributor responsible for roasting and export. At Hacienda Guayabal, they sell a half-pound bag of premium, unroasted coffee beans for about $4, which seems insanely low to me considering all the labour involved in its production (planting, harvesting, cleaning, and shipping).
In addition to learning about coffee, a trip to Hacienda Guayabal is worth it for an up close experience with the insanely lush and beautiful scenery of the Colombian coffee region. Lovely tropical flowers dot the sides of the paths as you walk.
And a rich green blankets the mountains for as far as you can see.
The 2-hour tour we took cost about $10 each and includes a delicious cup of premium coffee and a gigantic ice cream and fruit sundae. Totally worth it!
I hope you enjoyed Around the World in 80 drinks, a series that takes us on a drunken whirlwind of adventure around our planet. Except it doesn’t really take us on an adventure. Blogs can’t do that: you need aeroplanes and autobuses and camels and all sorts of other types of transportation to actually go around the world. But we’ll go on the adventure – a drunken whirlwind of adventure, if you will – and then we’ll come back and tell you about it. And it won’t always be drunken, because sometimes (like today) we’ll talk about delicious non-alcoholic drinks (like…say…a certain delicious dark beverage from the Colombian coffee region). But also sometimes we’ll talk about boozy goodness, like champagne and vodka. Please let us know what you think in the comments, or say hello on Facebook and Twitter.