Day 1: Coffee Region - Pereira
It was a morning flight from Bogota to Pereira, one of the three major towns in Colombia's verdant coffee region. As the plane approached Pereira all I could see was mile-upon-mile of lush green mountains. We were greeted at the airport and whisked away to our hacienda where we were served the freshest Colombian fruit juice (passionfruit is widespread here and with good reason extremely popular).
After a filling lunch and some energetic dancing from some Colombian dancers, we moved on to the wonderful Hacienda Venecia, where the owner, Juan, gave us an extremely informative and interesting tour of his vast coffee plantation. There is a real science to coffee cultivation and he explained the challenges of unpredictable climate and trading in the international market. Starting from seedlings and the careful nurturing of the coffee plant, once the first leaves start to appear, the plant is shifted to the main plantation where it is nurtured until the coffee beans bear fruit. Only once the beans turn from green to red are they picked by hand.
Colombia is known the world over for the finest washed Arabica coffee, and the soil and climate lends the bean a sweet flavour. Juan then went on to show us the complex machinery used to 'wash' the beans. After washing, the beans have a green tinge and are then stored in large coffee sacks ready to be sold in the international market. Due to the ever-growing demand for coffee and the prices that can be fetched for raw beans, Colombia exports its best beans, which are then roasted abroad and sold in supermarkets and drank in huge volumes in coffee shops around the world.
Juan also showed us how the roasting process is carried out using a small roasting machine. In just 7 minutes, these green beans took on a deep brown colour, expanded in size, giving off the most delightful aroma. He then served us cafe tinto (black coffee) which tasted sublime. It was easily the smoothest cup of coffee I remember having in a long time. and the slightly sweet undertones also came through.
Just spending a few hours in Juan's company, I felt humbled by the hard work and dedication these coffee farmers put into cultivating the finest coffee beans. There is no doubt coffee is vital for Colombia and is one of its major exports. Numerous livelihoods depend on coffee production and all those involved take great pride in it. Having tasted real Colombian coffee, I can't see myself drinking coffee from anywhere else!