Generally, given the vast complexity and variety of coffees coming from this origin, Colombian coffees can be characterized as sweet and big bodied with notes of caramel and balanced fruitiness. They have a long-held reputation as “self-drinking” or not in need of blending in order to fill in any lack of balance. Conversely, some coffee blenders and roasters believe that Colombians, because of their great balance, are not the best blenders because they do not add single, identifiable notes, but rather a broad range of qualities and they can therefore muddle a blend when they are added.
Coffee farming in Colombia is, to put it quite simply, woven into the fabric of everyday life. People farm the land, producing most of the food and raising the animals that they eat. Money from coffee farming provides cash to improve homes, buy clothes, maintain cars, motorcycles and equipment and buy necessities for their children—and they always have children! Without the extra income that coffee provides, these farmers would be subsistence farmers. It is not uncommon to find a wet mill architecturally integrated into a coffee farmer’s home.
Colombia has well-defined growing regions and they produce an impressive variety of coffees. Colombia’s geo-political map is divided into departments, which also serve as more specific indicators of origin for Colombian coffees.
My destination? Cauca.
Why? To find some exceptional coffees and meet the people that work tirelessly to produce the coffee that you are hopefully drinking whilst reading this. The stories, knowledge, and passion they have for coffee, highlights how deeply ingrained coffee is in the culture of Colombia. Coffee tourism in Colombia is big business and part of their philosophy to travel and tourism is to include local people, tell their stories, and show visitors the reality behind the glossy images.
After a very long journey of some 20 hours, I landed in Bogota, albeit without my luggage, this seems to be a recurring theme of my travels. Bogotá has two faces. It is both a bewildering urban sprawl across a South American massif, and a hodgepodge of quaint, colonial-era villages merged together over the centuries. Quite simply put, this city is incredibly fascinating and worthy of a visit all its own.
Bogota, the capital of Colombia, home to 8 million people, is located at an elevation of 8860 ft (2640 m) above sea level, in a fertile basin of the northern Andes Mountains. This is the political and economic heart of the country, with a history that dates to 1538, when the city was founded by a Spanish expedition led by Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada.
The South and Southwest part of the city are working class areas that have little to offer the visitor. Most of the boutique hotels, shopping areas, and entertainment lie in the well-heeled north. La Candelaria is the historic heart of the city: here you’ll find cobblestone streets, historic buildings (some dating back 300 years), museums, boutique hotels and colourful cafes.
The city authorities have worked hard over the past two decades to lower crime rates, improve mass transit and clean up run-down neighbourhoods. Today Bogotá is considered one of the safest and easiest to navigate among South America’s major metro areas. More improvements are on the horizon – a new above ground metro is being planned, with completion expected in 2022. However, I was off twelve hours later to Popayán.
The flight to Popayán was uneventful and its noted that I still didn’t have my luggage, fortunately I had a shower and was provided with some deodorant!
Popayán is a city and is located between two mountain ranges, so the city is pretty much circled by mountains. Popayán is known as La Ciudad Blanca as it is a beautifully preserved colonial town, full of grand white buildings. What struck me most about Popayán is the relentless traffic, cars, buses, motorbike, cyclists…all moving together in all directions, going where? Who knows? The noise and exhaust fumes can be overwhelming to start with, but you soon become accustomed to it. Its good to know that the government mandated the addition of 10% biofuel into vehicle fuels. However, the high altitude means that emissions are very high!
Popayán lies within the Cauca region, this department includes coffees from the Inza region and those areas surrounding the colonial city. Caucas can be generalized as floral and feminine with great depth of complexity and lingering sweetness. They have low to medium body with delicate notes of peach, apricot and sugar cane. I can attest to this after sampling a variety of coffees on this trip.
As my trip extended to a week, and multiple farms, all of which are an experience and unique stories. However, I wanted to describe to you an unusual experience with coffee. Now I like you are open to local customs and experiences, but this was something that elevated my experience of coffee to a whole new level.
The day started as like many other days…
After a great night in the old part of Popayan, where we enjoyed great food and wine, we were on the last day of our expedition. However, we needed to have breakfast and apparently there is no where better in Popayan than Icono – a great place to get amazing coffees but also Crepes.
The café serves a multitude of coffees, I hasten to add, all Colombian! And you can have them served any which way you choose. The first coffee we decided to have with our crepes, was an anaerobic processed coffee roasted by none other than Banexport. They have an award winning roastery in Bogota where they select the best lots from the farms they work with, and then roast and distribute to businesses around Colombia.
Notes of yellow fruits, balanced caramel and chocolate notes finish what is a sublime coffee. I liked it so much I had to buy a bag.
Two of the family are qualified agronomists, also one of the boys is a trained barista. What this means is that the farm is very well laid out and the plants are very healthy. Having a qualified barista on the farm also ensures they can experience the coffee in a way that is more akin to how it would be consumed some 6000 miles away.
We had coffee from the farm, whilst eating yucca bread and cookies made using the local sugar, Panela. This sugar is incredibly sweet and has a floral note to it, what became evident is that some of coffees we cupped exhibited this sweet floral quality.
It was not unusual to be offered coffee and bread products when visiting the farms, the Colombians are incredibly hospitable.