It’s impossible to avoid the coffee topic when in Colombia. Coffee is their pride and they make it very hard not to notice, as you can smell it in every street and corner. Colombia is one of the main coffee producers around the world, along with Brazil, Indonesia and Vietnam, but Colombians claim that they produce the smoothest coffee. In Colombia, they only plant Arabica coffee, which is of the highest quality.
One coffee farm as big as 18 hectars can produce as much as 18-20 tonnes of coffee yearly! Can you imagine how much 2.2 million acres of the coffee farms in Colombia produce?
But what makes it the smoothest coffee in the world? Colombia has the ideal conditions for coffee production. The best quality is altitude; the ideal is between 1100m and 2000m above sea level. Other important factors for enriching the coffees’ characteristics are are low temperature at night and fresh air.
If you’re visiting Colombia you are most likely to go to Eje Cafetero, the coffee triangle. The Coffee Triangle, is a region between the basins of the rivers Campoalegre , Otún and La Vieja. This is where most of Colombia’s coffee is produced, and you can’t visit this region without going on a coffee tour!
The tour is a fun way to get to know more about the production of coffee in Colombia. First you get all the information of planting to harvesting. Get ready to be a coffee picker for a while too! Then you will learn about the milling process as well as the harvesting. And the best part is the tasting.
So how is it actually made? The coffee seeds are planted in river sand. River sand, why? Because it is easy to remove it from river sand and that way they protect the root. They turn in what they look like matches and two weeks later they turn into Chapolas flowers. This is when they are transferred from the river sand into a soil. When they are transferred to the fields, the most important factor is distance.
When planting the coffee plants 1 meter is measured between them, and 2 meters are given between the rows to form the furrows. This gives enough space for the harvester to work comfortably. Each hectare can hold up to a maximum of 5,000 coffee trees. Within the same area, they would plant other trees, such as banana, plantain, oranges and walnuts. But why do they do this?
To create a double shadow effect- The more shadow the tree has, the sweeter the bean becomes. When the coffee plant is protected from the sun, it uses less energy allowing it to become more productive at a lower cost. This is because it requires less fertilizer, and the extra shade causes the coffee plant to produce more sugars, which can be noted in the taste of the final cup.
To distract the birds- The other trees around the coffee trees act as decoys for birds so that they when they come to the farm to feed themselves, they do not eat the coffee beans.
The plant grows for 18 months and at that time reaches maturity at about 1.3 meters tall. This is when the Asaar flower blooms. This flower neither require wind nor birds or insects to pollinate as it does it on its own. But these flowers die in 3 days to give us the green coffee beans. In 9 months these beans turn into red beans or yellow beans; the latter being sweeter in taste. The beans are collected together and mixed but for a special edition coffee they are separated. If a green cherry falls in the mix of ripe cherries, it can affect the final taste of the coffee, giving it a bitter, sour taste.
Coffee plants produce for 5 years, twice a year. From March to May, and from September to November. The third year is the best crop, while the fifth is the smallest crop.
Coffee pickers start working early morning during the coffee harvest seasons to collect the ripe coffee beans into baskets. These are then weighed. Normally a coffee picked would collect between 80-100kgs daily depending on the lot, the age of the lot, the elevation, the terrain and the time of harvest.
Coffee pickers are paid COP$500 per Kilogram, and collect around 100kg of coffee beans per day. That’s around €16 per day.
The milling process
The coffee beans are dumped in to ‘hopper’ and searched for foreign objects such as leaves, sticks, green beams (not ripe). Then they are sent down to the ‘de-pulper’ which squeezes the beans and separates the pulp. A drum separates the coffee into sizes, the big ones are used for 1st class coffee and the small beans are used for 2nd class.
First the beams are allowed to ferment in water for 14-18 hours and then dried either of the two methods:
In an over with hot air at 55 degrees Celsius. The shell from the beans itself as used as fuel
Outside in a green house. This takes 5-20 days depending on the weather. Unless it is a special edition coffee which can take between 3 to 6 months depending on the type being produced.
After the drying process the beans are chosen by hand into 1st class (dried white beans) and 2nd class (black dried beans). This is a job only a woman can do, why? Because us women have an eye for detail!
The roasting and grinding part are done in the city of Armenia. Roasting can be done light, medium or dark. In Colombia only medium roasting is done for 1st class coffee to give it a chocolate colour.
75% of the coffee produced in Colombia is sold to the National Federation who export the coffee, only 25% is used in Colombia itself.
After the roasting, some of the coffee is grinded. Depending on type of coarseness the coffee can be used for several types:
Finely ground- used for espresso and Italian Mocha
Medium ground- used for Italian mocha and French Press
Course ground- used for French Press
If you are going to buy coffee from Colombia make sure it has the logo Çafe de Colombia to show you it’s first class coffee, if you want to impress your family and friends back home. For a complete coffee as served by the Colombians, use 7-8 grams of coffee per cup of water. Use the fibre filter method to serve them the coffee and pour the hot water (ideally between 87-97 degrees Celsius) in circles to wet all the ground coffee.
Asking for sugar or milk with your coffee during a coffee tasting on a coffee farm is offensive!
Other things to do in the Eje Cafetero area check out the blog Salento