Life of a coffee cherry.
In April of this year we travelled to Armenia, located in the Quinto department of Colombia to learn about coffee farming. We landed in Bogota and spent three days enjoying the wonderful mix of historical architecture and modern sophistication. We toured the Gold Museum and sampled some great food at the local restaurants. We also took the funicular to the top of Monserratt, where we got a bird's eye view of the expanse of Bogota. The people of Colombia are warm and welcoming. English is not very common, but with a bit of Spanish we were able to get along quite nicely. The pictures immediately below are of Candalaria, which is an older part of Bogota. I'm also including a picture of one of my favourite meals - Ajiaco, a popular dish typically made with chicken, three varieties of potatoes, and the Galinsoga parviflora herb commonly referred to in Colombia as guascas.[
Life of a Coffee Bean
The coffee bean starts life as a lovely, white flower on the coffee shrub. After the flower dies, a green cherry appears, which ripens into a rich red. Once ripe, the cherries are picked by hand in some countries and by large machine in others. In Colombia, the cherries are picked by hand. I was able to spend some time picking cherries, but wasn't fast enough to fill the 10 kilo bucket tied to my waist. A skilled cherry picker will work up to 12 hours per day, picking between 150-200 kilos of cherries each day. It's hot work and the cherries ripen at different times on the shrub, so you have to look through many shrubs to find the best ones. The pickers deliver the cherries to a station where they are sorted and depulped. This is where the skin and pulp are removed and the coffee bean is extracted. This process used to be done manually, but now machines are used to depulp the bean. We watched a demonstration of a hand-cranked machine common on smaller farms. Once depulped, the beans are fermented in large water tanks to remove the mucilage (the final layer of pulp on the bean) for about 8 hours. The beans are then dried on large flat beds or in drying machines. After drying, more sorting is done to grade the beans for commercial, regular or gourmet use, then they are bagged and shipped out. Usually, the better grade of beans are exported and the lower grade of bean is kept for local consumption.
Coffee Farms in Armenia
While in Armenia, we visited a couple of farms. Coffee shrubs take about 18 months to mature and begin producing cherries. In order to maintain a positive cash flow until the coffee crop is ready for market, the farmers also plant plantain - a local staple and a good cash crop. Other regular crops include pineapple, avocado, papaya, and two types of guava. We had a wonderful 3 hour horse back ride at Cabalgata el Carmelo, a large farm in the Quinto region. One thing that was apparent throughout our trip was the Colombians' deep love of their land. On our ride through el Carmelo, our guide was pleased to show us the beauty of the hills and rivers that flowed through his farm. At Café la Morelia, we participated in a cupping session, tasting the flavor and acidity typical in Colombian coffee. Having the opportunity to meet some of the people involved in the coffee growing industry in Colombia was a fantastic opportunity. We learned about the farming practices and made excellent connections. We hope to begin importing beans in the very near future.