One thing you may not know about Colombia is that it’s the second biggest coffee producer in the world, behind Brazil, producing a whopping 11.5 million bags on an annual basis! Colombian coffee has its own unique character and the wide range of flavours and blends it can achieve means you can be guaranteed to find something for everyone. Colombian coffee is actually considered by many to be some of the most high quality coffee in the world.
Globally speaking coffee originates from 2 different beans: robusta and arabica. As their growing processes are very different they also have very different tastes: robusta coffee being more earthy and arabica coffee having a wider range of flavours. Arabica beans also have a lower caffeine content. Arabica is the type used in Colombia, and the plants need to be grown in high altitudes, up to 2000m above sea level. Colombia’s location gives it the perfect environment for this, with abundant mountain ranges available for cultivating coffee plants. The fact the country is bordered by two oceans also helps, since being close to the sea leads to less extreme weather conditions, therefore lengthening the growing season. These surroundings are one of the reasons why coffee from Colombia is so good.
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You don’t have to be a caffeine junkie to find the process fascinating, either. Even if you don’t like coffee, in Colombia you can get the chance to see how the tiny red seeds of a coffee plant transform into the rich dark granules we see in jars at the local supermarket, which is a really cool opportunity. Interestingly, the vast majority of coffee plantations in Colombia are small, family run businesses. They are protected and encouraged by the Colombian Coffee Growers Federation which now has around 500,000 members. The small nature of the plantations means the workers pay every attention to detail, further explaining the high quality of the coffee. They pick everything by hand, only choosing the ripest beans, which are then checked again after picking where any defective ones are removed from the pile.
In Colombia, coffee is made through the “wet beneficio” method, or “wet-processing”, a technique where water is the key factor. Ripe beans are picked when they turn red, but very carefully, as the bean will start to ferment if it breaks open. The next step involves all the ripe beans being washed and poured through a filter to separate out the less ripe ones, as they are smaller. Next, they must be de-pulped. This sees the outer red shell of the beans being removed in a machine. The remaining beans are left to ferment for a while before being filled with water, where workers will stir the coffee and push it down a smaller pipe, where any floating bits of shell can be removed. The drying process then takes place over several days, where the beans are laid out over a large surface and raked consistently about 8 times a day. After it has dried, the coffee bean will have lost all its moisture and shrunk, so there is a layer called the “parchment” which is removed. There are usually two beans inside which are a greenish colour. And voilà! This is the last step before the coffee beans are packed up and shipped off to be roasted.
As I mentioned earlier, if you’re a traveler in Colombia, there are places where you can witness this process hands on and also taste the end product. There’s even a “Parque Nacional de Café”, which is a theme park based on the history and production of coffee, with interactive museums and an ecological trail through a coffee garden!
Another great place for tourists to visit is the Toucan Café in Medellin. They can take you on a tour to an authentic coffee farm up the mountains just outside the city, where the workers will show you all about the growing, processing and roasting techniques and you’ll get to enjoy a traditional Colombian lunch in between. You can even take a barista class and learn how to make the perfect cup of coffee yourself!
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