Colombia has long been known as the land of the coffee gods and chances are your morning cup is of the Colombian kind. Getting to go the behind the scenes at a coffee farm is something that Tim had wanted to do ever since the last time I came back from visiting the Motherland. Everyday we eat fruits and vegetables or use products, but we rarely think about what really goes into making it. Think of this post as a virtual coffee version of “How It’s Made” because we are about to take you from soil to sip!
Coffee’s history goes back as far back as a 9th century to an Ethiopian farmer who noticed his goats acting weirdly energized when they ate a certain kind of berry, though the legend didn’t come about until the 17th century. Whoever was the first one to identify the magical Monday morning effects of coffee, the truth is that it has made its way into our daily lives. Some of us might not even know how to function without it!
Making coffee in the morning is a relatively easy process; grounds and water are all that you need. But the process required to get ground roasted coffee from the farmers to the consumers’ kitchen is quite involved. We had the pleasure of Visiting a coffee farm and spending the day learning everything you possibly could about coffee at Finca El Placer in Santa Rosa de Cabal. For Tim and I specifically, it was a really awesome opportunity because our wedding favors were pounds of organic specialty coffee which all came from this farm!
As you drive up a dirt road to get to the farm, you can’t help but notice the mountains that surround you. On one side of the road, off in the distance you can see Manizales and El Nevado del Ruiz, one of Colombia’s glacier covered volcanoes. Hidden behind rows of coffee plants and banana tress is the “rural classroom” where Juan Carlos, coffee farmer and cultivator extraordinaire will teach you about his passion. Visiting a coffee farm is one of the coolest things you could do while visiting Colombia.
Juan Carlos very quickly offers you the traditional garb of the region, having you pick a hat and a poncho, before walking you to an area of the farm where you pick a handful or two of ripe cherries to start your coffee adventure. Depending on when you visit, the farm will reflect the crop and harvest time. Flowers were still visible during our visit but they weren’t as prevalent as I have seen them before. And when a coffee farm is in full bloom, it is one of the most beautiful sites you’ve ever seen!
Juan Carlos the explains the variety of color ripeness and what they mean. Since we had more of a coffee background than others, we talked specifically about organic specialty coffees. In mass produced commercial coffee (think big brands!), most of the beans are picked in this spectrum. For specialty coffee though, you are more selective of the cup you are trying to perfectly create. When it comes to those you only use 3-4 shades of a deeper red (like the ones seen with multiples in the picture). Because of this color-coding, specialty coffee requires a trained eye that delicately picks the cherries that are the right color. Which means that the same coffee plant might be picked and re-picked multiple times as the cherries ripen. This also means that you can’t just blindly pick, all of which is done with care and makes a specialty coffee worth the extra dollars in price. Visiting a Coffee Farm was proving to be quite the learning experience!
Once you’ve learned the anatomy of the cherry and picking basics, you learn about the drying process (this part comes after the cherry has been pitted, giving you the coffee bean we all know and recognize). For 90% of its production phase, coffee smells and tastes very different that what you smell in the morning as it brews. Through out the drying process of specialty coffee, “bad beans” are removed, again a labor of delicate love that puts the special in specialty. “Bad beans” are usually defective either in ripeness, shape, or color which each has its own flavor profile and has the ability to tweak the cup in the end.
During the roasting process, you slowly start to recognize a familiar aroma. Though everything we learned was done on a small, intimate scale compared to the bigger processes done for large production.
From picking, drying, roasting, and tasting the coffee, you really get an idea of how intensive coffee farming can be – it is all part of visiting a coffee farm. You learn about each step of the process in hands on way that gives you a new found appreciation every time you drink a cup. But the coolest part is actually walking the coffee farm. As you make your way through the coffee trees, up steep walkways, and weave between bananas and coffee, the hard work that goes into something we take for granted really hits you.
Specialty coffee is very artisanal and hand made in a world that is growing to be more efficient and faster. Speaking with Juan Carlos, he told us how this season there was a shortage of coffee pickers, something he has never experienced before. As coffee lovers a trip to a coffee farm was a must! But it is truly something everyone should do. It can be a science learning experience for kids and a pretty cool experience for adults too.
Contact Info for Finca El Placer’s Coffee Tour: Juan Carlos Ortega
- $30,000 Colombian Pesos (about $10-$15 USD depending on the current exchange)