La Zona Cafetera, Colombia

2016-02-21

Colombia is known for having some of the finest coffee in the world and if you happen to find yourself sipping on some of that deep, dark, rich deliciousness that so many of us make a daily ritual of and can’t imagine a day without, I suggest you take a minute to appreciate what’s in your cup and what it takes to get it there.

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Farmers in Colombia certainly take pride in their arabica coffee. Baby plants are nursed until they are ready to be transplanted. Right off the bat it takes about four years for any one of them to produce anything that can be harvested. The coffee is planted with consideration. Sides of hills are ideal with every third row or so planted with some sort of other plant that offers shade, like banana trees, meaning the farmers lose money for not densely planting coffee but ultimately resulting in a better product. This is not a get rich quick scheme. This is about quality and integrity. 

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So when you let that bold, smooth aroma hit your nose just before your very first taste think about the guys in the field single handedly picking past underripe green and yellow beans to get to the perfectly red cherries all growing in a cluster on the same branch. Picture them in downpour, the best time to pick, with their shoes, baskets, everything filling with water, blurring their vision, oh and on a slope no less because that’s how coffee gets planted. Imagine sitting before a sea of beans, peeling back shells, separating the good beans from the bad and still being able to tell the difference by the light of sunset as sunrise. These tiny things that look indistinguishable when amongst thousands and yet are handled one by one, kilo after kilo. And all that’s still steps aways from making it to your cup. 

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After all that trouble, the beans still have to be separated, dried, bagged and weighed before being handed over. Separating often translates to loss as all beans are not created equal and many are denied. The entire process requires ample amounts of filtered water, not an easy thing to acquire in most coffee producing regions battling poor infrastructure. The bad beans float. All one can do it hope for a good harvest. Drying is crucial. It takes space and man power. Kilos equal dollars and kilos compound slowly as weight is lost with each one of these steps.

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Ideally the beans will be found in the hands of a careful, skilled roaster. The beans still need to be properly sifted with overlooked bits extracted, roasted under exact and consistent conditions, ground to the precise size that is best for ideal flavor, and if anyone is still paying attention at that point, hopefully poured with water that isn’t scorching hot, burning the coffee and severing the link to the chain of events leading to the grand finale.

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Well, ta-da! There you have it. Years of growth, multiple hands of individuals earning in a day what your single cup of coffee costs, careful crafting of precious beans poured with precise passion, all for you. I waited 30 minutes for these final steps to result in a hot cup of coffee in my hand and it was worth every second. The freshest cup of my life sweetened with a great big spoonful of gratitude and appreciation.

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