Whats behind the perfect cup of joe
22.09.2007 - 27.09.2007
There`s no doubt that we were a bit disappointed to be leaving Salento, but we were determined to find a way to spend some time on a real Colombian coffee plantation. After all, Colombia is best know to the rest of the world for two things, cocaine and coffee. The two sort of go hand and hand, as Lt. Bogermill says " Drugs are sometimes packed in coffee beans, the scent throws of the dogs."
We arrived into a city called Pereira, and started to inquire. As it turns out it is harder to find than one might think. The coffee region is full of farms that offer hospitality, but they are usually high end B&Bs with meeting facilities, swimming pools, etc.. Not exactly what we were looking for. One night I struck up a conversation with the owner of our hotel (Diego), and as it turned he owns a coffee farm. He offered us free lodging in the old caretakers house, and promised to introduce us around to people who could give us tours of the facilities. A generous offer to say the least, we accepted and were on our way.
Once we arrived to the nearby town of Altagracia, we got situated into our new digs. Modest to say the least, One room was full of horse saddles, and riding gear. The entire place smelled like a horse stable, and we shared the place with every insect and rodent that wanted in. There was no glass in the majority of the windows and the freezing cold water shot out of a pipe in the bathroom wall. I was on spider killing duty just about constantly. The inside of the place wasn't what we were there for and we took advantage of the surroundings. Diego brother had a tangerine orchard and we often passed afternoons sitting on the hillside eating all of the fresh picked fruit we wanted.
The entire area is coffee farms and often fills the air with the enticing aromas of fresh coffee beans. A trip to the nearby town of Arabia we were introduced to a group of coffee farmers who educated us on the entire process. From picking the coffee beans to drinking it.
here is a short recap
This is a typical coffee plantation
Coffee grows best in Colombia between 800 and 1800 meters above sea level. The plant typically last about 5 years if well maintains, and produces a twice a year harvest. The beans must all be picked by hand. They actually look more like berries than anything else. In Spanish they translate to coffee seeds, which is more accurate than beans in my opinion.
After the beans turn to a reddish color, they are ready to harvest. The most painstaking part of the process is definitely hand picking every individual coffee bean. The second most difficult part used to be cleaning the coffee. That has been made simpler by a machine with a large hopper that sheds the outer peel, and all of the juices, leaving only the coffee beans. The juices, or syrup are then used to feed the pigs, and other indiscriminate animals.
Of course, to properly clean the coffee you`ll need one of those fancy machines and a guy with a wife-beater and a shovel. Fortunately we had all of that on hand
Most of the time the various functions of preparing the coffee are performed in the same farm. However, there are tons of freelances who only complete part of the process. The people I met buy the coffee beans from the farm, then clean it, then sell it to the local cooperative. From there, there are several more phases. A sample of the beans are taken and then milled to further remove remaining dirt and debris.
Here is Jhon taking a sample
Later the beans are sifted and sorted to determine what percentage of the harvest is good and what percentage is bad. This helps to determine the selling price of the raw beans. The bad stays in Colombia for internal consumption, and the good leaves for export only. So for those of you who think you`ve come to Colombia to drink the best coffee in the world, guess again. Your better off drinking it in your own country. Also for those of you whop have lugged kilos of Colombian coffee for months in your pack, you would have been better off with lama wool!
This is the good and the bad
Of course the coffee still needs to be toasted, and finally ti can make it into your cup. Most of us put the grounds into the machine without ever considering the number of backbreaking hours, nor the millions of people who livelihoods depend on our consumption.
And for those of you who think your doing your part with Starbucks, think again. Starbucks has decided that African coffee is cheaper, and thus allowing them to charge reasonable prices for the coffee that finds its way into your morning cup.