When you drink your cup of coffee, do you ever wonder how it was made? I’m not talking about how the barista carefully prepared the right ratio of milk, sugar and coffee. I’m talking about the coffee beans. Colombian coffee is considered some of the finest in the world (and Colombia is the third biggest coffee producer), so we made sure we visited its famous “Zona Cafeteria” and do a coffee tour in Salento to see how it’s made.
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From Salento, a scenic Colombian colonial town, we walked along a dusty road headed for Finca las Brisas (Cafe Don Elias), where we planned to do our coffee tour. We’d already walked about 1/3 of the way (I’d read it was 4 km to the farm) when a guy in a jeep offered us a ride – and we gladly took it. Upon our arrival at the coffee farm, we were introduced to Don Elias, the owner. It was nice to meet the guy who grew the coffee I was about to drink! We also met Carlos, our guide for the coffee tour. He spoke great English, apparently he learnt while listening to punk bands like Blink 182.
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About Finca las Brisas (Cafe Don Elias)
The Finca las Brasas (Cafe Don Elias) is a family-run organic coffee farm in Salento that has been around for 23 years. The coffee farm area covers 4 hectares and produces 3-4 tons of coffee per year. They produce two different varieties of coffee: Arabica and Colombiana. According to Carlos, these two have the same flavour and intensity but their colours are different: Arabica coffee cherries turn red when it’s ripe and Colombiana coffee cherries turn yellow.
The Finca las Brisas coffee farm seems quite small but the arrangement of the coffee plants along the hills is pretty impressive. The proximity of the coffee farm to the family’s house shows how coffee is a big part of the family’s life. According to the Colombian Coffee Growers’ Association, there are over 500,000 families that have their own coffee farms in Colombia. It is amazing how they all dedicate themselves to the craft of making world-class coffee. According to Carlos, Finca las Brasas, along with most family-owned coffee plantations, is part of the Colombian Coffee Growers Federation (FNC), a non-profit organization that helps promote Colombian coffee to the rest of the world.
Coffee Tour in Salento’s Finca las Brisas (Cafe Don Elias)
The Coffee Plant: Flowers, Coffee Berries and Coffee Beans
The season was just perfect for a coffee tour in Salento. The coffee plants were in different stages of growth and it was easy to spot flowers and coffee cherries. Carlos pointed to the coffee flowers and told us how they were similar to jasmine flowers. (Jasmine is the national flower of the Philippines, and referred to as sampaguita.) The coffee flowers only last a few days and later on produce small green cherries. When the coffee cherries ripen (after five months’ time) they become bright red (Arabica) or yellow (Colombiana), which means they are ready for picking. Each coffee cherry produces two coffee beans (coffee seeds).
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Harvesting the Coffee Cherries
Unlike most coffee producing countries that only harvest once a year, in Colombia, there are two harvest periods: April to May and November to December. The coffee cherries are harvested by hand. At Finca las Brisas (Cafe Don Elias), the harvest is done by 8 people; most of the work is divided among the family members. They work from 6am to 6pm daily.
The Life of a Coffee Plant
It takes about 2 years for coffee plants to bloom flowers. A coffee plant’s peak is reached in its 8th year so usually the plants are trimmed to maintain this age. A coffee plant can be harvested until it is 25 years old but at Finca las Brisas they only utilize the plants only till 17 years old to ensure quality of the coffee beans.
Organic Coffee Farming
What does it mean to be an organic coffee farm? No synthetic fertilizers or pesticides are used at Finca las Brisas (Cafe Don Elias). There are other fruit bearing trees in the coffee farm which support the growth of the coffee plants. Plantain trees provide shade and retain the water in the soil, yuca plants help to stabilize the soil, dropped avocados from trees act as natural compost to fertile the land and pineapple plants attract the bugs away from the coffee plants. I guess this is one of the reasons why Colombian coffee is really good.
Coffee Cherries to Roasted Coffee Beans
After the coffee tour, we headed inside the house to see the rest of the coffee-making process. After harvesting the ripe coffee cherries, the outer flesh is removed to expose the beans which are then allowed to ferment for a day. The fermented beans are then soaked in water. According to Carlos, if the coffee bean floats it means its low quality. Most farmers sell these low quality beans to bigger mass-produced coffee companies. At Finca las Brisas (Cafe Don Elias, since it is an organic farm, they only yield a small percentage of the low quality coffee beans, which they use for compost. The washed coffee beans are then allowed to dry by laying them on concrete under the sun. It takes 8 to 25 days for the coffee beans to dry. The dried beans are then hulled to remove the parchment layer. Then, finally, they are roasted and ground. The freshly roasted coffee beans smelled really good!
A Taste of Organic Colombian Coffee in Salento
A cup of freshly-brewed coffee was handed to each of us at the end of the tour. It was delicious! The coffee was very mild and did not have a bitter after-taste. It tasted really good even without any milk. The coffee tour in Salento definitely changed my understanding about coffee and made me appreciate coffee even more. I realized the benefits of organic farming to the end product and how much dedication Colombian families place with each harvest.
Colombian coffee definitely stands out in terms of taste and in terms of the work involved. The next time you buy a cup of coffee, definitely consider where the coffee beans come from – it makes such a big difference. Even Jon, who doesn’t drink coffee, liked the Colombian coffee served to us. We also bought 2 packs of the coffee in support for the farm and because it tasted really good! If you’re planning to visit Colombia, make sure to do a coffee tour in Salento.
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Coffee Tour in Salento: The Details
The coffee tour in Salento, at Finca las Brisas (Cafe Don Elias) costs 6,000 Colombian Pesos per person and lasts for 30 to 45 minutes. It also includes a small cup of coffee at the end of the tour. You can also buy the roasted ground coffee or roasted whole beans at 15,000 Colombian Pesos per 250 gram pack.
Most coffee farm tours are held in small groups in Spanish. The coffee farm tour in Finca las Brisas was done in Spanish but our guide, Carlos clarified some items in English when we asked.
You can reach Finca las Brisas by walking 4km from the center of Salento. The walk starts along Carrera 5/ Calle 12a then just follow the signs for the coffee tour. Shared transport to the coffee farms costs 5,000 Colombian Pesos per person.
Have you tried Colombian (Arabica) coffee? Have you done the coffee tour in Salento or other parts of Latin America? How was it? Let us know.
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