Sunday, September 16, 2012

Day 10: My Visit to a Coffee Farm (Where I Wear a Funny Costume)


A burro! Just like in the old Juan Valdez commercials
Day Diez of La Gran Aventura Colombiana.  This day will feature the final bit of organized touring:  my visit to a coffe farm operated by RECUCA, Recorrido de la Cultura Cafetera.  The purpose of the tour is to learn about the region's most important crop and to see how things were done in the old days of coffee processing.  For those of you reading this from the comfort of the Beaver Valley region of Pennsylvania, think of this as my field trip to the Old Economy Village of Coffee Culture.

But first it was time to pack up and say good-bye to the Hotel del Campo outside Quimbaya.  It was a beautiful, albeit isolated hotel out in the middle of farm country.

Hotel Del Campo
It even had a parrot loose on the premises, which is (almost) always a good thing.  The big blue parrot hung out in this tree.  See if you can spot him:

A parrot! In a tree!
From there it was an hour-long drive closer to Armenia to the RECUCA demonstration coffee farm.

Entrance to RECUCA
It's the off season, so it was only me and my translator-guide when we got there.  Oh.  And a cat.  Asleep on a saddle.

A cat. On a saddle.
This was noteworthy to me because I have seen VERY few cats in Colombia.  Hundreds of dogs.  Colombia is most definitely dog's country.  But this was, I think, only the second living domestic feline I have seen all trip (not including the jaguar imagery in the San Agustín statuary).  At least I think this cat was living.  It was still there two hours later at the end of the trip.

We saw coffee plants:

Coffee
We saw baby coffee plants being germinated in river sand:

Baby fetal coffee plants
We saw coffee-covered hills:

A view of the coffee plant covered hillside
I learned how and why Colombian coffee is the richest coffee in the world.  (Juan Valdez was an advertising masterpiece.  The guy has been off TV for 35+ years and those of my generation still remember what he looked like and his advertising slogan.)

And why is Colombian coffee the richest in the world?  Arabica beans.  Arabica coffee will grow only between 1000m and 2000m above sea level.  So they don't grow cheap, nasty, bitter low-elevation Robusta like they do in Brazil (World's #1 coffee producer) or Vietnam (#2).  They don't sun dry the Arabica like the Brazilians or Africans who grow Arabica do.

From there, it was time to learn about coffee processing.  And while those cheap nasty Brazilian and Vietnamese knock-off coffees can be harvested by machine, Colombian coffee must be hand-picked.  And that the first step in coffee processing:  the picking.  I was directed to go out into the fields and hand-pick only the best, the richest Colombian coffee, which I did:

Dressed in my coffee-picking clothes
I dressed for coffee picking in my coffee picking clothes!  Which consisted of protective sleeves, a big ol' bandana/poncho for my head, and a bucket strapped to my waist.  I've come around on wearing funny costumes (and headgear) when I travel.  I used to think that I was "too cool" to do such things.  But then I realized that you can't be "too cool" if you're not even "cool" in the first place.  I've got no "cool" to lose!  So why the hell not!  Dress me up in a funny costume to experience the full tourist experience.  And if the funny costume has funny headgear, even better!  Wearing this coffee-picking outfit makes me no less cool than I already am. 

Assisted by a young man in the traditional Juan Valdez costume
Still, I was so slow searching around the bushes for the bright red coffee cherries that the young man leading the tour -- he's the one in the traditional Juan Valdez garb -- starting helping me with the picking, figuring I'd be there until 8:00PM the next day picking enough to proceed to the next step.

And the next step was separating the bean from the pulp of the coffee cherry.  Originally this was done mortar and pestle style.  Then this ingenious machine was invented to separate them with the turn of a crank.  I'm not sure how it worked, but it did.

Cranking the separatin' machine
As you can see, I am very happy about that.  Once separated, the beans are set out to dry while the pulp is taken away to compost, to become part of the organic fertilizer for the next year's crop.

Coffee being dried
The dried beans are what is shipped.  The roasting is not done on the farm because that typically is done by the buyer, in accordance with local tastes.  Still, to sample the coffee from the RECUCA farm, they did roast and grind some beans to what I would guess would qualify as a "light city roast," still a crayon brown and not the deep blackish brown of a good French Roast.  The young man in the traditional Juan Valdez garb went through an elaborate process to brew up three cups of fresh coffee for me, my guide, and our driver.

Home-brewed
It was good coffee.  Less strong than I like, but absolutely no bitterness.  You wanna know why?  They only used 100% Colombian coffee.  The richest in the world.

And that concluded the organized touring part of La Gran Aventura.  I was then driven to the Armenia bus station and put on a bus bound for the big city of Medellín, my final stop on this nearly-completed trip through Colombia.

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