Why is Colombian Coffee the Best in the World?
Interesting Facts You Can Learn During a Coffee Tour in Colombia
We recently travelled through the Coffee Region of Colombia and took a coffee tour at La Hacienda Guayabal, near Chinchiná. There we discovered that Colombian Coffee is the best in the world – and why. And we’ve got a certificate to prove it.
The certificate claims ‘the best coffee of Colombian origin’, but our teacher at the coffee school proceeded to educate us in the reasons why Colombian Coffee in general is superior. Felipe is a young man, with a lot of knowledge, and an interesting way to share it.
The first hour and a half of the Coffee Tour at La Hacienda Guayabal is spent in the ‘schoolroom’. Felipe took us through the process from growing to picking to processing to drinking. Here are the important things we learned from him during this session:
- Colombian Coffee is 100% Arabica.
- The environment in Colombia is the best for growing coffee.
- Everything is done by hand or with simple machines.
- Almost all bi-products from the processing are recycled or reused.
- Columbian Coffee is the best coffee in the world.
There are 10 steps from picking the ripe coffee until the beans are packed and exported: the first 6 happen on the fincas and haciendas where the coffee is grown; the last 4 are in the hands of the Federación Nacional de Cafeteros de Colombia (National Federation of coffee growers of Colombia), which buys the beans from the farmers.
- Picking: coffee is always hand-picked in Colombia (in some other countries, like Brazil, they are harvested by machine). There are 2 picking seasons and selective harvesting is practiced – only red or yellow cherries are picked, leaving the green ones behind until they ripen.
- De-pulping: the outer fruit skin is removed and used as compost for the coffee trees. (In other countries – like Brazil – they don’t remove the outer skin, but instead dry the whole cherry.)
- Washing: after the pulp is removed, the coffee beans are placed in a huge water bath to remove a sugary coating – mucilage.
- Selection: in this bath, the 2nd grade beans float to the top. They are the beans which have been attacked by ‘la broca’ (a coffee insect pest, which originates in Brazil). It bores holes into the bean and these air holes make the bean float. Unaffected beans sink. The 2nd grade beans are processed into instant coffee.
- Drying: can be done either in the sun or an oven. At Hacienda Guayabal they use oven-drying. It takes 24 hours – 12 hours pre-drying on top of the oven, and 12 in the oven at 60 degrees.
- Packing: the beans are packed into bags and shipped to the National Federation.
- De-husking: the dried bean still has an outer skin, or parchment. This is removed in a de-husking machine. The husks are returned to grower to fire the drying ovens.
- Sorting by colour: the colour of the bean indicates level of humidity. For export, humidity must be from 8-12%. This grading used to be done by hand, but now some type of spectrometer is used. It sorts around 700 beans per second.
- Sorting by size: through wire meshes. The larger the bean, the better the quality.
- Finally, the best coffee is packed and exported. The roasting process takes place in the destination countries.
Please click thumbnails below for a larger photo with description.
Felipe described these processes and demonstrated some of them using antiquated machines they have in the schoolroom. Then it was time to taste the coffee. For this purpose Diego arrived. He is the coffee taster for this farm. He made the coffee and we tasted through 4 stages. Most of it was unpalatable, and this was the point. Coffee must be made properly to taste good. The temperature must be just right and it must run through completely to get the required taste.
In the Field
We then left the schoolroom for a field trip, carrying a picking basket to get the whole experience.
First stop was an explanation and demonstration about how the coffee trees are started from a single bean. It’s quite a long process, taking many months before the seedling becomes a tree and can be planted out on the mountainside. Once there, it’s another 2 year growing phase before they start producing.
Trees produce coffee cherries for 5 years. At this time they are cut back and allowed to re-shoot, producing 2 stems. Wait another 2 years, produce for 5 years, and then cut them off again. Another 7 year cycle, and the trees are replaced by a new one.
During the 2 year growing period, other crops are grown in between the trees. Some plants like cacao and citrus fruits will pass their flavour over to the coffee, but bananas, plantains, beans, and corn don’t.
Everything in the field is done by hand. Workers and their families are provided with housing for the 2 picking seasons per year. In between they go elsewhere for other seasonal work. The picking seasons coincide with Colombia’s 2 rain seasons. Life is certainly hard for the pickers – they have to work on very steep slopes and usually it’s raining.
We walked a long way through the coffee fields, stopping to pick some of the coffee cherries – not a simple process when practicing selective harvesting. (In other countries they simply strip the cherries from the branches and worry about removing the green ones later. And mechanical harvesters do that too – like in Brazil.)
The scenery is magnificent. There are many waterways in the valleys, which are usually full of bamboo. We learned that you need special permission in Colombia to harvest bamboo for commercial purposes; but you can use bamboo from your own land for your own building purposes, without a permit.
The end of this tour took us through the processing plants. We saw where the first 6 steps were carried out.
No matter what any coffee producing country claims, in the end the proof is in the tasting. Luckily there are many countries producing coffee and hence many different coffees to choose from. Our personal preference has always been Arabicas – and 100% Arabica coffee from Colombia is hard to beat.