Colombian Coffee

After our time in Cartagena, we traveled for a full day by plane and bus to Armenia. The reason for this is because Armenia is one of the gateways to Salento, a small rural town that is known for its fincas de cafe (or coffee farms in English).

DSCI0129I must admit that I am was not a coffee drinker, but Anna insisted we go to the coffee triangle in Colombia because she loves everything coffee. During our first day in Salento, we found out that there are two coffee farms that offer tours that are relatively close to each other. One is a smaller farm named Finca Don Elias and the other is a much larger farm called Finca El Ocaso. Because the two farms were so close, we took the opportunity to visit both of them.

Colombia is known for two things, cocaine and coffee; although I do not know much about the former, I learned quite a bit about the latter during my time in Salento. The first thing I learned (the hard way) is that tours go from 8:30-4:30, but perhaps more importantly, I learned about all the effort that goes into producing your cup of Starbucks every morning. Here is a small portion of what I learned:

When planting coffee trees, you will have to wait two years before you begin to see the fruits of your labor. What I mean by that is it takes two years for the tree to start producing coffee berries. These berries can be red or yellow when ripe and contain the actual coffee beans. This is the first step in growing coffee. Next, farmhands must hand pick the ripe berries off of each tree. This is a very laborious tasks and often requires dozens of workers. On a average day during high season, one skilled picker can gather 70-90 kg in a 9 hour day. That is about 154-198 lbs per day. Even though that seems like a lot, 90% of that weight is removed during processing.

After the berries are picked, the cafeteros must remove the outer shell to expose something that looks more like a golden coffee bean. This is usually done by either a hand-cranked or electric machine. After that, the seed is laid out for 5-20 days depending on the intensity of the sun in order to dry. Once the golden seed is dried, the second layer must be removed (again by machine or by hand) to expose the actual coffee bean.
From there, the beans are separated by quality based on appearance. If they pass the initial inspection, they are put into bags and brought to the coffee co-op that most coffee farms are a part of in Colombia. The unroasted beans are graded and the cafeteros are paid based on quality and weight.

In Colombia, Grade A beans are exported to other countries that pay a premium, and the other grades are allowed to be sold to the people within the country. If you remember from my last post, the Colombian coffee chain, Juan Valdez Cafe, is the only company that has a license to sell Grade A Colombian coffee inside Colombian borders. The only other way to get this quality coffee is from the farms themselves, like from Finca El Ocaso where we took one of our tours. This particular finca was voted in the top 20 out of all the coffee farms in the entire
Remember how I said growing coffee is hard work? After just 8 years of growth, the coffee trees need to be cut down and the process starts all over again.








6 Replies to “Colombian Coffee”

  1. Ruth Dow

    Due to coffee being such a labor-intensive crop (as you note, Adam), highly susceptible to weather extremes–hot, cold, wet, dry–some farmers are tempted to grow coca (source of cocaine) instead. Coca grows without work, is VERY easy to harvest and easy to sell profitably. Coffee prices are often controlled by the coffee-importing countries. We have met farmers who couldn’t afford to harvest their coffee crop due to such low prices, especially if weather has greatly reduced the amount produced. If your children were hungry, which crop would you grow? Not an easy question! So there may be more connection between Colombia’s coffee (and in other countries) than it would seem.

    • Adam Post author

      You’re right, that is a tough question However, after hearing about the drug trade and Pablo Escobar’s cartel in Medellin, it is pretty easy for me to say that I would take the legal life of a coffee farmer instead of a wanted criminal.

  2. Annette

    Wow, that’s intense and eye opening. Thanks for such a great description. When you’re in Brazil check out the caju fruit. The cashew nut grows one per piece of fruit and similarly has layers that have to be removed. We take so much for granted and we have no idea what it even looks like growing! I tried the coca tea when I was in Bolivia and Peru and really liked it.

    • Adam Post author

      I’ll definitely check it out the caju fruit. We tried the coffee berry and it tasted sweet. Many people have also recommended the coca tea to help with the altitude so we will be needing it soon.

  3. Ryanne

    I feel like this blog was for those of us who enjoy “Starbucks Day.” While we won’t stop our trips, we will have a moment of silence on Thursday in honor of all the fine Columbian hands that help bring us our coffee.

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