Monday, November 27, 2017

Colombia day 17: Coffee break

Today we learnt why the coffee you get to drink in Colombia is generally poor. The big cooperative which the vast majority of the coffee is sold through only exports the highest quality beans, keeping the second and third class beans for domestic use. Coffee is probably the most popular hot drink we've seen, but hot chocolate (made with water or milk) has always been an option for breakfast, and herbal tea and aqua de panela (made with sugarcane) are often options. When coffee or chocolate are made with milk, they seem to be served scoldingly hot. 
After a relative lie in we had time to squeeze in a hot breakfast provided by the hostel before the jeep transporting us to our coffee farm tour arrived. It was a pretty tame 45 minute journey compared to yesterday's epic adventure. The tour group was pretty big but worked pretty well. It was almost an even split between the British, Canadians and French with a couple of Greeks and a German to complete the mix. The first part of the tour was learning about the history of coffee and the processes used to make it. Central Colombia seems to be a bit like the Goldilocks of coffee. Not too hot (or cold), too wet (or dry) or too high altitude (or low). Being close to the equator means that they harvest beans year round, although there is still a peak season for berries. We learnt a lot about the way coffee is grown in Colombia with the vast majority of producers growing only one or two hectares. The farm we visited was one of the largest in Colombia with 120 hectares of coffee plants. Colombia still manages to be the third largest coffee producer in the world however. Like almost all the coffee plantations we've seen on our travels here, coffee plants are mixed with other plants like plantains to provide shade and additional soil nutrients. 

Producers can sell direct to markets but most choose to sell through a cooperative which will guarantee a sale. Price is broadly set by the central coffee market prices (for Colombian coffee this is in New York), but is adjusted for quality and transportation costs. The cooperatives also fund research into more pest and desease resistant plants as well as more efficient machinery for processing the coffee beans. Due to the wet climate, beans here are wet processed. The fermentation part of this process has caused the smell we've frequently found on our travels. The beans we've seen on grids and on sheets on the road have been the final part of the process before the beans are bagged and sold. The cooperative generally then performs the final shelling process before the beans are ready for export. This farm sells a proportion of its beans to the tourist trade locally so has a roasting facility here. As coffee beans are best used within around three weeks of roasting, the vast majority are shipped before roasting.

After an exhaustive morning learning about coffee it was time for a relaxed lunch, before some serious hammock time before traveling back to Manizales. Much more restful than yesterday!