My first night in Colombia was a blur. After about 40 hours of traveling, hopping on and off flights and killing time in airports I’d finally set down in Armenia, Quindío. It was 8pm when we arrived at La Pradera, a coffee farm owned and operated by our hosts Cofinet. It wasn’t until very early the next morning however (when I was woken up by an actual rooster!) that the grandeur of where I was sank in. La Pradera sits on a plateau surrounded by several mountain ranges, aside from coffee, the main production crops are avocados and plantain. Looking out from the guest house balcony is greenery as far as the eye can see, a small out-building gently puffs out smoke in the foreground (home to the mechanical coffee driers) and local birdlife chirps noisily. Welcome to Colombia.
Several months ago I was lucky enough to be invited to visit La Pradera in Quindío and several other coffee growing regions with Cofinet and, after a lot of planning, I was finally here. First up on the agenda was several days of cup tasting and farm visits. The first few days were spent at La Pradera tasting the fresh crop of coffee destined for Australia. There were so many spectacular coffees on offer that it would be impossible to list them all here, but some highlights included: a regional lot from an indigenous community in Gaitanya, Tolima which was bursting with pineapple, milk chocolate, passionfruit and mango, a small washed Gesha from producer Luis Anibal and (my personal favourite) a honey processed Gesha from El Vergel. Farm visits were also a big part of our time in Quindío and we spent many hours trekking through coffee plantations in search of the best and most unique varietals. Just some of the amazing places we were taken to were Finca Castellon (from which we recently purchased a natural Gesha lot), Finca Santa Monica, and Finca El Roble. A common theme around Quindío is an emerging focus on natural and honey processing methods, a practice not very common in Colombia (but highly sought after in Australia).
After enjoying the hospitality of La Pradera for four nights it was time to move on to our next region, Cauca. We stayed the night in the city of Popayan before an early start and a visit to a dry mill in the city centre. It is clear that coffee is at the heart of industry in Colombia, and as we toured the dry mill this became very apparent. The sheer number of sorting machines, lab equipment, colour testers and other doodads was staggering. I had some pre-conceived ideas about what dry-milling entailed, but this was on a whole other level to what I had anticipated. We participated in a cupping the mill’s QC team had arranged for us and I was pleasantly surprised, despite the commodity grade of some of the samples, they were extremely clean and complex; a testament to the intense sorting that coffee undergoes at this mill.
The next couple of days were spent traveling between cities. We crossed the Andes mountains through heavy rain and on dirt roads, stopping to look at a few farms along the way. In the small town of San Agustin, Huila we were invited into a family home that was stocked to the roof with coffee sacks. The backyard had been entirely converted into drying patios with raised African beds. It is clear that people in Colombia are extremely passionate about their coffee; so much so that they are willing to share their bedrooms with it! It was truly a humbling experience to see how these people live, and the length at which they go to in order to produce the best coffee possible.
On our way to Garzón (our final destination before flying back to Bogota) we were lucky enough to be given a tour of Finca Villa Betuila, owned by Luis Anibal. This farm was one of the largest and most diverse ones I’ve seen. Home to over twenty different varietals (some of which I’d never heard of before) Finca Villa Betuila stands as a testament to Don Luis’ commitment to quality. As he showed us around he would point out the best trees and encourage us to taste their cherries. Ordinary coffee cherries have a sort of sweet capsicum taste to them, but these special cherries were much more complex with intense passionfruit and mango flavours. There were gesha trees aplenty as well as mutations such as pink gesha and maragesha; strange varieties like the chili bourbon and popaya, this was a real treat for the senses.
Unfortunately all good things must come to an end, and after an incredible week of coffee adventuring it was time to farewell Colombia. I came away with a much greater knowledge of, and appreciation for, this amazing and diverse nation. This trip has opened my eyes to a culture and industry that (in hindsight) I knew little about. It just goes to show that the coffee industry is such a vast and ever-changing entity. I can’t wait to bring a little bit of Colombia back home to share!