If you missed part one of my Colombian vacation, read that first!
One of the things I really wanted to do during our trip to Colombia was visit a coffee farm. Although I’m not a huge coffee drinker (I probably have two or three cups a week) I do enjoy the taste of coffee and, what’s more, I love learning about local specialties when we travel. Similar to when we learned about making champagne in Reims or brewing beer in Belgium, I thought that seeing how coffee was produced in Colombia would help me understand a bit more about the country and its culture.
On Friday morning, a bunch of Fabio’s family members boarded a bus with us to visit the Federación Nacional de Cafeteros de Colombia, or Federation of Colombian National Coffee Growers, where we were able to tour a coffee farm!
The farm was about an hour outside Medellin, and as soon as we started driving the views got better and better.
As I mentioned in my last recap, Medellin is surrounded by mountains, so this trip took us up into this beautiful, lush landscape.
Unfortunately, after driving for about 45 minutes our bus got a flat tire! Womp womp.
Luckily we were able to find a tire repair shop on the side of the road within a few minutes, so I’m guessing this must happen pretty often on these windy, mostly dirt roads.
And just what do you think Fabio’s family does when their bus gets a flat tire? Break out the beer of course! (Even if it was only 8:55 am! I knew I agreed to marry this guy for a reason…)
Haha! Luckily there was a really cute nursery right next to the tire repair shop, so we spent some time sipping our beers and checking out the local flowers while they fixed up the bus.
There were so many beautiful and unique flowers to browse! I especially loved these succulents, which I would have happily brought home with me if I didn’t think the U.S. customs people would have kicked me out of the country.
Aside from the flower stand, this really wasn’t a bad place to get stranded – just look at the view from the side of the road!
Maybe those of you who live near the mountains aren’t as phased by these as I was, but since DC/MD/VA doesn’t have a whole lot of mountains nearby, I am always in complete awe of them when I see them. So beautiful!
Before long we were on our way again, and the beautiful views continued.
After about 15 minutes more of driving, we had arrived!
As I mentioned, we toured the national federation for coffee growers, which is basically the government department that oversees coffee growing. It’s basically like the USDA in the U.S., only just for coffee. Apparently they only do tours by appointment, so Fabio’s family pulled some strings with family friends to get us in for a tour. So nice of them! (Psst – in the future they are trying to make these tours more readily available for the public, so let me know if you are interested in going and I can connect you!)
It was also really nice for so many of Fabio’s family members to join us on the tour. 🙂 They really made our trip so much fun!
Upon arriving at the federation, which includes a conference area and a separate hotel, we were immediately offered coffee!
Don’t mind if we do! 🙂
Then we enjoyed a traditional Colombian breakfast with an untraditional view.
Can you imagine seeing this every day when you sit down to eat? Seriously. When can we move in?!
The grounds itself were also beautiful, and we walked around a bit to check out the facilities.
There was a beautiful pool overlooking the mountains…
…plus a bunch of spin bikes that I was dying to use!
I could totally work out in a place like this every day. Just saying.
After breakfast, it was time for the tour! We hopped back on the bus to take a quick drive (about 3 minutes away) to the farm.
Once again, these views were seriously breathtaking. The pictures don’t even do it justice!
First up, our tour guide (gahhh – I forgot his name!) explained to us that this particular farm is a research farm where scientists experiment on the plants to get them to perform to their best abilities. He showed us a number of high-tech instruments that the farmers use to gauge how the plants are doing and how they can help them do better.
This globe thing measures the strength of the sun and provides readings to the farmers so they know when to cover some of the plants with shade, especially the younger ones that have just been planted. Cool!
And this tool measures other elements of the climate like the wind and precipitation and reports everything back to a computer in real-time.
Our tour guide explained that while not every coffee farm in Colombia has these tools yet, it’s their goal to get all the farmers in the federation up to speed with the latest technology so they can maximize productivity.
From there we learned how to plant coffee seeds!
Our tour guide took us over to the little planting beds where were able to examine different stages of the seed as it germinates and becomes a plant. (And a random beetle that made it into the photograph. Haha!)
We even got to plant some seeds ourselves. I hope they grow!
Then we walked over to some of the more mature coffee plants, which were around two and three months old.
Hello, double rainbow!
At this point our tour guide explained to us all about the merits of chicken and pig poop, which are apparently both amazing fertilizers for coffee plants. 😉
And then we took a walk to see some of the more mature plants!
I still couldn’t get over how lush and green everything was. Sheesh!
At this point we walked through a few rows of coffee plants to where one of the farmers was already hard at work plucking the coffee beans.
Even though it was tough work, she was a wonderfully cheerful woman who truly seemed to love her job.
Here she explained that different countries have different processes for picking coffee beans, which leads to different flavors. Colombian coffee has a softer taste to it, and that’s because they only pick the beans when they are perfectly ripe. Some other countries pick the beans all at once, which leads to a bolder flavor (and also saves them time and money).
The lady showed us how to spot the perfectly ripe beans, which I naively thought were all the red ones. Here she is pointing to a mostly red one that needed something like “six more days” which apparently she could estimate that precisely just from looking at it. Well, ok then. In six days, she’ll have to come back to this very spot on this one plant to pluck this bean. Phew! That’s a lot of work.
One thing that we learned during the tour is that while Colombia works so hard to pluck only the perfectly ripe beans to preserve its well-known quality, most coffee companies in the U.S. wind up blending Colombian coffee with other country’s products anyway, which basically means this woman’s hard work winds up being for nothing. We were told that we can help prevent this by looking for the logo of the federation (which you see on our coffee cups and the sign in the photos above) to signify that the coffee is certified Colombian.
At this point I also got to taste one of the beans from inside those red pods, and found it to be sweet and a little slimy. You’re not supposed to chew the actual bean at this point – just suck on it – and I was surprised to find that it didn’t taste anything like coffee.
Next we went over to a machine that helps remove the red pod from the sweet part that I had just tasted. Even though this machine helps the farmers, it still requires a ton of manual work to sort out any beans that are too dry, misshapen, or whatever else they decide makes them unworthy. The woman we met was a pro at this, but it looked like really difficult work to me!
Then the beans get dried out for a specific amount of time in the sun…
…before they get roasted and ground! Phew, these roasted beans smelled heavenly.
Another thing that we learned is that these coffee growers work so hard every single day (no holidays when you’re a farmer!), and the return on investment is next to nothing. In the past, a few big coffee companies were buying all the Colombian coffee in a bit of a monopoly; luckily due to a recent change in government, now small, craft coffee companies can buy directly from the farmers which will hopefully begin to change things for the better for these hard-working people. Everyone we met on the tour was so incredibly friendly and joyous, and I know I’m going to do my part to shop for pure Colombian coffee from places like Whole Foods and Juan Valdez Cafe (and La Colombe and Union Market for the locals!) from now on.
After the conclusion of our tour we stopped for lunch (and another coffee!) before hopping back on our bus back to Medellin.
Oh, and one more thing – we had to stop to play with the resident puppy, obviously. 😉
Thank you so much to Fabio’s family for arranging this tour for us, and thank you to the federation for having us!
I would 100% recommend this tour to anyone who is interested in finding out a little more about how your coffee makes it into your mug. 🙂
Question of the day: How do you like your coffee?
I like mine iced with skim milk and splenda!