Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Colombian Coffee Lesson

Our first indication that here in Colombia's coffee region the locals take their Nation's (perhaps second) most popular export very seriously was this morning at breakfast. There is a little store a block down from our hostel. There is a sign out front that says "Breakfast 3000 COP" (COP=Colombian pesos- about $1.50.) There is a single table and two chairs wedged between the shop front and the slightly elevated road. We ask what breakfast includes. "Eggs, aprepa with cheese (like a thick-ish, fried corn tortilla), bread and coffee. 'Can I have tea?' I ask. The man looks confused- and its not my Spanish. He tries to give me a bottle of ice tea from the fridge. No, hot tea, I specify. He smiles, laughs and shakes his head-like I had just asked him if I could have half a pig for breakfast. Coffee black, or with milk- and those are my options.

We are in Salento, a small town in the coffee hills.  There are many small coffee plantations in the area and a visit to one seems in order- since apparently I m going to be drinking a lot of the stuff. And that is how I wind up with my second cup of coffee of the day (and of the last 10 years). We go on a wonderful stroll down through the the hills and spectacular scenery to the small, organic coffee finca 'run by the delightful and charming character Don Elias,' so our hostel says. There is a red painted sign with hand-painted yellow lettering that directs us through a banana field and down into the small, family run coffee plantation.

Don Elias is there and he is, in fact, quite charming- in his traditional cream, wide brimmed hat and warm weathered skin that suggests that he has personally spent the last 20 years out and about on his coffee plantation. His grandson, or nephew (it was lost in translation) takes us and a new Swiss friend on a private tour and speaks very slowly to us in Spanish, giving us an opportunity to at least try to glean some knowledge from his detailed explanations. We catch maybe 50%- not bad, I'd say. We just made up the rest.

This is what we learned:

Coffee grows on bushes that are about as tall as I am. They grow in clusters and look like big green peas. When the pod turns red- its done and ready to harvest. Our guide had a little woven basket strapped around his waist and picked the red pods off the bushes as we passed. In this region they are lucky and they can harvest twice a year- in the spring and fall.

When all the red pods are collected they are dumped into this  ummmm... lets call it a 'De-skinner'. J turned the crank and the skins all got separated from the beans. Each red skin held two little coffee beans. The beans all ended up in a bucket and the skins ended up on the floor.

At this point the coffee beans are cream coloured. They are spread out on plastic sheets on the ground to dry in the sun. They dry for a period of time- getting raked around every once in a while.

It turns out that this cream coloured coffee bean is actually a second shell. Crisp from the sun, the shell can easily be cracked open like a peanut and THEN there is the actual coffee bean. Its a grey-ish colour and doesn't look quite as appetizing.

One hour in a pan over an open fire and the grey beans transform into the wonderfully aromatic, chocolate-y brown roasted beans we all know. I don't even like coffee and they smell delicious!

 Now its my turn to do some work. The roasted beans get poured into the grinder and I crank another handle, grinding the beans into a semi-fine dust. All hand work here at Don Elias. All the beans are grown without chemicals, they are hand picked, shelled, dried and ground all without the use of any machines or electricity.

Our fresh coffee grounds are delivered to the kitchen were the coffee is brewed up and served to us at a small table with views of banana and coffee plants. With a healthy spoonful of sugar- its actually quite delicious. Tastes like all our hard work payed off!

Where we stayed in Salento: La Floresta: 45,000 COP for a private room with an ensuite
La Serrana: 55,000 COP for a private room, shared bathroom and breakfast

1 comment:

Parentals said...

Hi J & K
great to 'skype' with you last night! looking forward to hearing about your snorkeling adventure.
I'm sure you will be bringing back some 'fresh' roasted coffee beans....