The funny thing about Colombian coffee in Colombia, is that it is absolute garbage. They ship nearly all of their good beans outside the country to get roasted. The second class beans stay for Colombians to drink. The general rule of getting coffee in Colombia is that you will receive Nescafe. Always get cafe con leche (coffee with milk) and add heaps of sugar so you can’t actually taste the coffee.
Due to this strange but true fact, we were extremely excited to visit the Zona Cafetera south of Medellin. This is heart of coffee in Colombia. We stopped in Salento for three nights, stayed at Estrella Sin Frontiers, a hostel recommended to us by friends located just outside the main streets of the town. A bit of a bamboo jungle with the most genuine french owner.
Coffee in this town was amazing. Dark, Strong and Cheap. Also more gringos in this town then we have really seen in most of Columbia, probably drawn in by coffee too, we are very predictable.
We walked a few hours outside the town down a winding dirt road through the coffee plantations to go see what actually happens from start to finish for coffee production. We met up with our new best friend Pollo, one of the many happy town dogs, along the way. He spent the whole day with us.
Coffee farming is highly manual. All the way from planting, to picking, to sorting is done by hand. A single bean must be touched by a human so many times before it even goes for roasting. We picked our own beans like good little gringos, saw the separation process, planted a few beans, and then tasted delicious delicious tinto at the end. Pollo came to, and angrily barked at all the local pickers ( I think he is racist).
This is our tour guide Hilary. She explained that when coffee first came from Africa to Colombia, it was giant. This made it hard for pickers to access all the beans. It also wasn’t hardy to some of the local diseases, and therefore they have since created a hybrid plant that is both more hardy to certain diseases and “Colombian Size” ie. Short. You can see that both Hilary and the plant are Colombian Size.
This is a small version of the separating machine that separates the shell and inner fruit from the coffee seeds.
The weather cleared up (it had been on and off raining for a few days), just in time for us to visit the Valle de Cocora. This valley is a protected by the Colombian government in order to preserve the national tree the wax palm. We had to do some research after about why it was going extinct, but it was used to make wax candles and also palm leaves were used on palm Sunday.
The valley is very powerful, we did the 5 hour hike up the mountains and around through the valley. After getting out of the cocora’s, there were very diverse ecosystems all packed closely together (pastures, jungle, cloud forest, cedars, etc). It was a great place for photography, the landscape did not get old just more breathtaking as the clouds rolled in.
The best part of this story is we were reunited with Pollo on our final night. He was hanging out in the square, and when we yelled his name is ran all the way over to us and played very excitedly with us one last time. If we had our truck, we would have brought him home.