On to Cup 2, finally! If you're not up to date on Cup 1, click here for the run down. See you in a few…
I arrived in Medellín, Antioquia (Colombia) in late May of 2019 and was eager to get this trip going! A few set-backs left me with about 3-4 weeks to settle into my new home and explore a deeper part of Medellin's coffee culture. Interesting fact in case you didn’t know, most coffee producing countries, such as Colombia, do not have a specialty coffee culture like we do in the western world. Typically, only the finest and highest quality coffees are exported and the low-quality coffees are left in the country of origin for commercial consumption, often referred to as "tinto". Colombian's typically drink "tinto" in the form of instant coffee or use commercial drip machines. However, it was impressive to experience how Medellín is quickly trying to elevate their specialty coffee culture and preserve Colombia's finest coffees for themselves. Colombian coffee brands such as Pergamino, Cafe Velvet, Cafe San Alberto, Cafe Las Margaritas, Cafe Yipao, Rituales, and many more are leading the way towards lifting Colombia's specialty coffee culture and it's absolutely inspiring! As I immersed myself in the region, I realized that through their continuous improvement, the region is quickly establishing itself as a top contender in the specialty coffee industry.
After a few weeks of exploring Medellín (more on that later), I was finally off to Colombia's coffee region, El Eje Cafetero (The Coffee Axis), at the end of June. How was I able to make these “finca” visit arrangements? Well, I was fortunate to have a week organized by Pro-Colombia in the Eje Cafetero, which included a coffee expo (Eje Expo Cafe) in Armenia, Quindio organized by Cafe La Morelia, finca visits (coffee farms), meetings with exporters and roasters, and cuppings! Cupping? Promise I’ll get to that soon.
Before I go any further, it's important to understand where El Eje Cafetero is located and what that means for Colombian coffee production. El Eje Cafetero consists of 3 Colombian departments - Quindio, Risaralda, Caldas – located in a triangle on the map. This is essentially where most coffee trade happens and most exportations begin. It’s a safe, beautiful region for nature and coffee tourist attractions; however, that doesn't mean other parts of Colombia don't produce coffee. Departments such as Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Huila, Tolima, Nariño, and Antioquia are a few departments that are known for producing some of Colombia's best coffees by some of Colombia's most unique farms and people.
During the Eje Expo Cafe, I was fortunate to build a solid foundation of a network that consisted of not only Colombian producers and exporters but also contacts from China, Korea, and Ecuador. This expo also offered me the opportunity to participate in my first cupping session and prepare myself with knowledge before going into a busy week.
After 3 days at the coffee expo, I was finally off visiting fincas with Pro-Colombia's Quindio representative. We started in Buenavista, Quindio, where we visited Cafe San Alberto and Cafe Las Margaritas, and then followed by a drive to Sevilla, Valle del Cauca visiting another finca. It was incredibly humbling visiting these fincas and being able to get a hands-on experience on coffee cultivation. I was also able to gain a better understanding of the danger and effort that coffee pickers face during harvest.
Traditional coffee fincas often times sit on steep mountain sides so that the sun is not constantly hitting the coffee plants. Fun fact: For the most part, coffee plants love shade, which means the more shade they get, the better the quality.
After my experience in Quindio, I was driven to Pereira, Risaralda where I was once again accompanied by Pro-Colombia's Risaralda representative. I met with more producers, exporters, and roasters. It was then that I began to understand the differences between each region. My time in Risaralda was short, and after a day, I quickly continued to Manizales, Caldas where I had more hands-on opportunities in fincas and with exporters. Unlike Medellín's valley landscape, Manizales is a hilly city that sits at roughly 7,000 ft (2100 m) above sea level, making it ideal for coffee cultivation. Manizales is not only known for coffee but also known as a safe college town.
My first meeting was a finca visit just outside Manizales where I was able to pick more coffee with my friend Wilson (pictured below). Not only did I pick more coffee, but I also learned more about exotic arabica varieties such as the Geisha and Pink Bourbon varieties. Following this finca visit, I met with more exporters in the area and gained more knowledge of the various mechanisms involving exportation and the supply chain across Colombia.
Meet Wilson: He's a 51-year old coffee farmer that has picked coffee his entire life. Fact: Colombian coffee cultivators have an average age of 55-years old, meaning young Colombian's don't see a future in coffee cultivation.
After a week in El Eje Cafetero, it was time to head to back to Medellín to begin planning the next move on this journey. That week in the coffee region was epic! I will forever be thankful for the opportunity I had in meeting some amazing people while enjoying delicious and carefully crafted coffee. It was at that moment that truly motivated and inspired me to do more with Global Origins Inc for coffee producers worldwide!
Cup 3 will be coming soon!