It’s been a hot start to the summer for us at Coffee Labs, and it seems like we never stop traveling. Alicia was in Ireland for two weeks, we both went to Las Vegas for a few days for a wedding, and I just got back from Bogota, Colombia visiting a farm we are working with for the second time called La Palma y El Tucan. So we’ve been busy, but in a really good way! Bogota as it turns out is an absolutely awesome city for coffee culture. I’m so glad I had the opportunity to go there. I arrived in Bogota at about 7:00pm local time from Las Vegas, and spent the night at the airport hotel in the city. I was going to be meeting with my contacts at 9:00 am, and after spending a few days in Vegas it was time to get some very needed rest In the morning my contacts Elisa and Felipe arrived from La Palma y El Tucan. Elisa and Felipe are the owners and operators of the farm. Lauren, a journalist and blogger for the village voice and her husband Bart were along for the ride. She will be writing an article in the village voice blog about this trip. We all hit it off great, talking about coffee, wine, travel and other fortunately shared interests on the ride up. I was very happy to have Lauren and Bart along. I enjoy taking people who aren’t familiar with coffee out to farms so I can show them first hand the whole picture of what it takes to grow and produce coffee.
The first stop on the road up to the farm was a fantastic little pan de maize (corn bread) stand. I had some stuffed with cheese for a mid morning snack and we all continued along the road. A short 45 minutes later were arrived at the estate and drove through the gate. To see the to see the farm and plants for the first time has always been one of my favorite parts of visiting a coffee farm. There were beautiful flowering geisha shrubs lining the dirt road, it was just beautiful. I hoped this was a sign of things to come, and it was. We got out of the car and headed straight for the wet mill, where we got right down to business, discussing every aspect of the coffee on the farm. We discussed the differences in processing, the importance of the PH level of the soil, cherry picking techniques, quality control, brim content, pulping methods, fermentation times, the list goes on and on. The attention to detail here is just what I look for in a great coffee operation. We also took a quick stroll up to the raised drying beds to see the honey process coffee. Honey processed coffee has always been my favorite, so that was a treat. The coffee fields were filled with a variety of very healthy coffee trees all interspersed between other fruits and vegetables. The reason these plants are here is that they allow farms to produce two separate harvests every year, while also boosting the biodiversity of the farm. It is a system of farming that is good for the plants, the environment, and the farmers.
This coffee project has taken the usual aspects of a coffee farm and taken them to a whole new level. Ordinarily, staying on a coffee farm is a pretty rugged experience. There’s often no running water or electricity or any conveniences so far out in the wilderness. However, this was one of the most comfortable stays on a farm I have ever had. Elise and Felipe have gone to fantastic lengths to make this possible, especially considering the very small budget a coffee farm usually has to work with. It was like staying in nice hotel, only up in the mountains, basically in the middle of nowhere. There are currently five cabins around the farm along with a cupping lab, which is made out of a shipping container, and roasting facility. There are plans to build five more cabins and barista training facility. The cabins and facilities also promote tourism on the farm, which is another added source of income for the estate. Facilities like these are almost unheard of on a coffee farm, but Elise and Felipe are serious about their business and are willing to go to great lengths to make sure it thrives. Overall I was very impressed.
We started winding down the day in the fields with a stop in the cupping lab, where we did a couple of hours of sensory evaluation. When we were done we went outside for a couple of beers and played a few rounds of a traditional Colombian game called “Tejo”. It’s sort of like horseshoes, but instead of a pole you’re trying to hit a box of gunpowder. I really do love my job. The next morning we left the farm and parted ways with Jess and Bart, who were on their way to another region and farm for their story. I was going back to Bogota to meet another contact named Jonathan and to see his new retail shop in downtown called Café Bourbon and to see the city and the coffee scene. Bogota did not disappoint. I was blown away by how lively the coffee scene in the city was, and how much momentum the specialty coffee industry is gaining. After visiting Jonathan’s shop, he and I headed out into the city for a “coffee crawl”. The shops in the area had some great espresso with well-balanced and well-crafted flavor profiles. One in particular, Varietale Café, had only been roasting for a few months and already had coffee with a great body and flavor. One of the shops was a really cool repurposed shipping container with a raised deck. I met up with Elise who was down in the city one last time during this crawl to say goodbye and then I was off back to the airport hotel to catch an early flight.
I could go on and on about how great the coffee crawl was, and how great the country was in general but I’ll wrap up by saying this. Colombian coffee has come a really long way and has great potential for the future, and I was happy to be a part of that for a few days. I look forward to roasting some great Colombian beans in my own shop so you all can taste some.