It’s fair to say Colombia is famous for a few things (thank you, Netflix). Despite it’s tainted history, we found Colombia captivating, colourful and full of kindness.
Tourism has exploded in recent years, and Colombians are keen to shake-off the country’s shady reputation. It seems to be working because more than 2.5 million visitors were registered in 2015, marking a 250% increase in the last decade.
The people of Colombia are proud of their country, and so they should be. From the Caribbean charm of Cartagena (let’s not talk about the humidity), to colourful colonial towns like Jardín and Guatapé – Colombia has a little something for everyone.
Of course, no visit to Colombia would be complete without sampling some of its (second) most famous export…
As self-confessed caffeine junkies, and after weathering the storm of terrible coffees throughout South America (#middleclassproblems), Colombia was our light at the end of the tunnel. So, imagine our distress when we arrived only to find that 70% of the good stuff is exported to the US and Europe – we were more likely to enjoy a cup of Colombian coffee in the UK than in actual Colombia!
Not ones to be easily deterred, we hot-footed it to Colombia’s famous coffee triangle to satisfy our caffeine cravings and learn a little along the way. Our first stop was the peaceful and picturesque village of Salento, where we picked our own coffee beans at Finca El Ocaso and had our first taste of real Colombian coffee. (Spoiler: eI wasn’t a fan).
With our caffeine-levels restored to HIGH, we buzzed on towards Hacienda Venecia – one of the biggest coffee farms in the country.
Coffee is grown in over 1 million hectares of land across Colombia, by half a million families, most commonly in micro-farms spanning just two hectares. Hacienda Venecia boasts 200 hectares, second-only to La Victoria in Minca which has 700 hectares of farmland. Not only does Venecia have a vast coffee farm, but a beautiful hotel, guesthouse and hostel all of which overlook rolling hills carpeted by dense forest.
After a few too many beers the night before (well, we were wide-awake, what else were we to do?!) Hacienda Venecia was just what the doctor ordered. Over the next few days, in amongst lolling in hammocks and lazing by the pool, we took a closer look at where coffee comes from.
Here’s what we learned…
- Coffee is the second-most traded commodity in the world, after oil.
- 75% of the world’s coffee is produced by just four countries – Brazil, Vietnam, Indonesia and Colombia.
- Colombia is one of the only places in the world where coffee is produced all year round (Kenya and Tanzania are the others).
- The climate and altitude of the coffee-producing regions in Colombia make for sweet, rich-flavoured coffee.
- Arabica coffee is the most common in Colombia, but there are many variations, all of which taste different.
- From the moment the first seeds are planted in the sand, it takes 2-3 years for the plant to yield its fruit.
- The coffee tree produces a white flower, which in time is replaced by a coffee cherry. The cherries are green at first, and then become red or yellow when ripe.
- A single coffee tree can host all three stages of the coffee lifecycle on just one branch (flower, green cherry and ripe cherry).
- The lifespan of one coffee plant is typically 4 – 5 years, after which time the tree is cut down and new trees grow from the old trunk.
- Plantain (banana) trees are often found in close proximity to coffee farms because they provide much-needed shade and nutrients for the plants.
- Coffee beans in their natural form are slimy, coated by a protective jelly which is washed before the drying process.
- The un-roasted ‘almond’ is the only part of the coffee bean that is exported. It is then roasted locally.
- Coffee is roasted differently around the world, with the flavours heavily influenced by local culture.
After a good two hours in the classroom, we gave our brains a rest and put our tastebuds to the test. Juan Pablo, general manager of Venecia, talked us through the tasting process, otherwise known as cupping. Noticing our alarmed faces, Juan Pablo went on to describe the cupping practice as becoming familiar with the smell, texture and taste of the coffee. Phew.
Much like wine-tasting, coffee tasting is both a science and an art. One which, I can confirm, neither Adam or I have commendable skill for (unlike wine-tasting which I continue to practice in earnest). The bottled aromas were potent, but impossible to identify without a little direction from our teacher. The dry coffee aroma all smelled the same; slightly peat-y with a touch of smoke. It was only when water was added that the magic really happened. The familiar smell of freshly brewed coffee filled the air. Jackpot.
We tasted three different types of coffee, each one slurped gracefully (is that even a thing?!) from a special spoon. Slurping is all part of the fun; unleashing your inner five-year-old and dramatically hoovering up the liquid with a gulp of air to release the flavours.
Several slurps later, I have to confess, I was a bit confused. Partly because our blind taste test had been muddled up so none of us were sure whether we were tasting 1, 2 and then 3 or 3, 2 and then 1. But mostly because… I didn’t like it.
Admittedly, I arrived fashionably late to the whole coffee scene. Unlike Adam, who has had espresso running through his veins since birth, I didn’t even really drink coffee until a few years ago.(I didn’t eat avocado either, but now I’ve seen the light). However, these days I consider myself fully on the caffeine-wagon; a solid coffee shop is usually top of my search list when arriving in a new city. Along with ‘free wifi’, ‘cheap beer’ and ‘best pizza’ (for Adam, obvs).
I was expecting greatness. Whizzbang flavours and delicate undertones. I guess my uneducated palette needs a little time to mature because I definitely didn’t taste caramel, or vanilla. There wasn’t so much as a hint of honey or almond. To me, it just tasted like… coffee, but bitter-er. Adam, the hardcore coffee-drinker that he is, slurped away with gusto but I gave up after three slurps. What can I say? I’m a rookie.
During our short stay at Hacienda Venecia, we learned a lot. In particular, how much hard work goes in to producing a perfect cup of coffee. From the handpicked beans, to the delicate roasting process, the coffee industry keeps many a folk in Colombia busy. Meanwhile, I also discovered, I’m totally comfortable being a fair weather coffee drinker; if it’s not a flat white, it’s not coming in.
We’ve got plenty of tips for places to see, sleep and eat in the coffee triangle. Feel free to get in touch for more info. You can also follow us on insta and Facebook for exclusive videos and pictures of Our Taste of Travel.