Coffee Tour – Day trips from Medellin
Coffee Tour – Medellin Day Trip
*sponsored tour through Zooming Travel in Colombia*
Coffee and Colombia – those things go together like peanut butter and jelly or salt and pepper. So, during our vacation to Colombia, we wanted to delve into the coffee culture to see what all the fuss was about.
Reasons to visit a Coffee Farm in Colombia
A friend, who knows I’m a tea drinker, not a coffee drinker, asked why I was going to a coffee farm. I thought that was a really a really interesting question actually. Every traveler is different and has reasons for doing or not doing things on a vacation. For me, considering the coffee is a HUGE part of the Colombian culture and financial well being for the country, I just had to see it as a way to learn about Colombia.
Since I’m not a coffee drinker I don’t know a lot about coffee and now, after our incredible visit to the coffee farm, I know how coffee goes from the plant to the cup. Now? I wonder why coffee isn’t WAY more expensive! There are soo many steps and a lot of it is done by hand.
Options for visiting a Coffee Farm in Colombia
There are several types of options for exploring the coffee growing region and coffee farms in Colombia. For example, you can coffee shop ‘hop’ to taste different brews and flavors. Since the kids and I don’t drink coffee we didn’t think that experience was for us. Instead, we wanted to go to the farm to see first hand how the coffee comes from plant to cup. Since I love to grow things, too, I knew I’d love it, but wasn’t 100% sure how the kids would feel about it. Turns out the coffee tour and learning about the coffee growing regions of Colombia was our favorite experience!!
We chose ZoOming for our coffee tour and Maria Claire was our guide.
We had a fantastic time and wholeheartedly recommend them to you and your family! Maria Clare spoke English wonderfully and is jovial and really easy to be around. She is comfortable with all the questions we had and the challenges of a family with kids. We loved our time with her and really missed her when we had to leave Medellin! We wished we could have had her along for our entire trip! She made everything so easy and was so nice.
Family Coffee Farm
We went to a beautiful family farm which you can only visit by organized tour. It is surprisingly close to the city yet feels miles and miles and miles away – hidden in a mountaintop covered in clouds. It was so green it made me think of the jungle – just not hot!
We were greeted by stray dogs that now call this part of the coffee growing regions of Colombia home. We really love dogs and were missing our new German Shepherd puppy so this was a welcome treat. Maria, Alberto, and Valentina greeted us upon our arrival and offered us a snack and drink. A lovely welcome!
We first explored the family house which had some beautiful woodwork examples. The walls were about 18″ thick and made of an earth and manure mixture which keeps the temperature in the house very comfortable. This material is also very long lasting as the house was in great condition and will soon be 100 years old. I love the inner courtyard and can imagine sitting here, sipping the family coffee and the mountain view.
We headed off to walk to the coffee fields, after suiting up in the Juan Valdez hat and scarf. Photos in this get up are mandatory! (Not really, but why not dress up and act silly on vacation??)
COMING SOON – Who is the REAL Juan Valdez?
We tried to walk to the coffee growing area but I kept stopping dead in my tracks to admire the flowers! Since Colombia is also known for exporting flowers I shouldn’t have been surprised to see so many growing naturally…but I was!!
COMING SOON – Visiting a Flower Farm in Colombia – NOT what you expect!
This coffee tour shows how the coffee farm uses a truly organic and natural system of letting the forest nurture itself. The plants that naturally grow in the forest around the coffee help the area in so many ways!
*Plant roots help the soil stay in place and not wash away in heavy rain.
*Plants bring pollinators to the coffee plants.
*The aromas of the flowers and citrus add flavor to the coffee.
*Everything that grows brings unique ‘critters’ and organisms to the soil that benefit coffee plants.
The area is natural and just plain beautiful.
A little bit about coffee – what is the big deal? People all around the world love coffee! You can tell a lot about how much people love coffee by the memes on facebook! People in the US drink more coffee overall, but that might not be fair considering the sheer size of the US. Finland drinks the most coffee per person. The average American spends $1110 a year on coffee!
Where does coffee grow? In these top producing countries!
Worldwide Coffee Production by Volume:
Worldwide Coffee Production by Type:
There are only two types of coffee – Arabica and Robust. Arabica is considered the very best coffee.
1- Arabica Coffee (mild flavor)
- grown in Colombia and Vietnam
2- Robust Coffee (strong flavor)
- grown in Brazil and Vietnam
Arabica is considered the world’s finest quality of coffee. While Colombia only grows the arabica type of coffee, there are still many varieties of arabica coffee:
Borbon Geisha Eaturro Castillo Colombia
Colombia Coffee Growing Area UNESCO World Heritage Site
The coffee growing region in Colombia, called the Coffee Triangle, is so important that it has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Why does coffee grow so well in Colombia?
Weather is one reason coffee grows so well here. The temperatures year round are within the 46 degrees F to 75 degrees F which is also the reason this part of the world is called ‘Eternal Spring’. Coffee can not grow if the temperatures drop below freezing. The window of temperature is critical.
The coffee grows at high elevation here in the mountains near Medellin. The higher the elevation – the better the coffee taste.
To grow the perfect crop of coffee, the crop needs at least 80 inches of rainfall.
Who is Juan Valdez?
The familiar face of Juan Valdez, and his donkey, Conchita, is a fictional character created in 1958 to represent Colombian coffee farmers.
National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia
Juan Valdez is the logo for the National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia represents coffee grown and harvested in Colombia.
This National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia represents more than 500,000 producers of coffee in Colombia.
Coffee is not native to Colombia.
If coffee isn’t native to Colombia, yet it grows so perfectlyl, how did it arrive here?
Coffee, which originated in Africa, was brought to Colombia by Jesuit missionaries in the mid-1700s.
Colombian coffee is considered the best in the world! Why? The fertile soil, moisture, high altitude and bean choice make Colombian coffee offer a unique taste.
Colombians don’t drink the coffee
Most Colombians, even the farmers that grow it, don’t drink the ‘good stuff’ because the very best coffee is exported.
Coffee Tour – Exploring the Coffee Farm
First, dress up like Juan Valdez!
Why is this THE coffee outfit?
- The hat, made from local materials, shades you from the intense sun at this high altitude.
- The scarf is to cover the donkey’s eyes while you load the bags of coffee beans. Covering the eyes helps the donkey feel calm. The scarf is great for wiping hands, too.
- The ‘man bag’. This is a status symbol for the man who carries it. This isn’t an ordinary bag. Traditionally it has 13 compartments and some are quite hidden. It used to be decorated with exotic animal skins. That is now illegal so it is entirely made of cowhide.
Next – pick the beans!
Strap on the little basket to carry your findings and start picking. Picking coffee beans was such a fun treasure hunt because you are looking for just the right shade of red. The darker the red, the better the bean! Beans on a branch all ripen at a different time so you are really searching on a plant.
Processing the Coffee
The process for coffee to go from the plan to the cup is so time intensive and has so many steps that I am shocked coffee isn’t more expensive. It is also amazing that we went from, once upon a time someone saw a bean on a plant, to figuring out the exact science of all these small and important steps.
Step 1 – Grow the beans.
Growing great coffee means great soil, the perfect climate and a farm with lots of other plants. The plants work together to create the perfect coffee growing ecosystem. Time-consuming year round!
Step 2 – Hand pick the berries.
Each tiny berry is plucked off the tree by a real person. You are looking for the best coffee beans and that means a dark red color. The coffee berries on one branch do not all turn color at the same time. OMG – time-consuming.
Step 3 – Peeling
The coffee beans are really a fruit and the coffee ‘bean’ is actually the pit. So, the skin has to be removed. (You can eat this part!) There is a large grinding machine which removes it. We had fun on a small scale. It is much harder than it looks.
Step 4 – Fermenting
The beans are left to sit and ferment. The amount of time fermenting determines the taste.
Step 5 – Washing
After you remove the peel and fruit of the coffee ‘bean’ the inside pit (which is what we think of as the coffee bean) is surrounded by a slimy sweet substance called honey.
There are choices for washing options:
1- Remove ALL the honey.
2- Leave the honey.
Each washing option changes the taste. During the washing, process, the lesser quality beans float and are skimmed off the top. the heaviest, and best quality beans sink.
We often think of the best of something rising to the top – like the cream of the crop, but not in the case of coffee beans!
Right now, in Colombia, the majority of coffee beans are fully washed, but in the interested of being more ‘green’ and Earth conscious, the country is moving towards a partial wash which would leave the honey.
Step 6 – Drying
The next step in the long process of getting the coffee into your cup is the drying process. Traditionally, the coffee beans have been spread on the ground to dry. But, in the interest of space, mesh racks are being used now. Air gets under the beans and you can stack lots of racks which means you can dry a lot of beans in a small space.
To determine if the beans are dry enough, with only 12 % water, you need the very scientific method of smashing them between your hands. We all gave it a try but it was really hard! Alberto makes it look Step.
Step 7 – Selling
At this point, the beans are sold to companies and exported to countries around the world.
Step 8 – Roasting
The coffee roasting process is way more complicated than it sounds. I envisioned a cookie sheet with coffee beans on it at a certain temperature.
For example, if you want to roast a piece of meat, you preheat the oven and stick the meat inside. This is NOT how you roast coffee beans.
To roast coffee beans, you must have a roaster which bears very little resemblance to an oven. It maintains a curve of temperature – warming and cooling according to the exact directions of the company doing the roasting.
The Roasting Myth
FYI – You’ve been brainwashed!
Forget about zombies and other brainwashing worries. The people who brainwash you are marketers!
Marketing has worked overtime to convince the public that DARK roasted coffee is the best. Advertisers use world like ‘rich’ and ‘full of flavor’ about dark roasted beans when in fact, the darker the roast, the easier it is to hide lwoer quality beans.
Coffee Bean Roasting Flavors
When you brew coffee beans these flavors come out – in this order:
The trick is to stop the brewing right between sweet and acid.
Step 9 – Grind
First a lesson in permeability. Word of the day!
If you have a glass full of large ice cubes and fill it with water, the water flows through the ice cubes easily and faster than if you have a glass full of crushed ice.
The same principle of permeability (how fast something flows based on the size of the grains/ice cubes/pebbles, etc.) it has to flow through works with ground coffee. If the coffee is course ground (larger pieces) the water will flow through faster than if you have fine ground coffee (small pieces). This is important because timing is everything when you are brewing the perfect cup of coffee.
Step 10 – Brewing
Perfect brewing means the right combination of:
*amount of water
*temperature of the water
*amount of time the water brews/passes through the coffee
Brewing changes the taste
We drank the same coffee with two different brewing methods and I was so surprised at how different the taste!
The fine ground coffee brewed through a filter, using gravity as the way the water passes through the coffee was thin and mild.
French press brewing
The coarser ground coffee brewed through a French press which has a colander to separate the coffee grounds from the water was thick and bold.
I’m not a daily coffee drinker and so I have never really considered coffee before. Now I will never look at it the same way again. I marvel at the boxes and boxes and boxes of coffee in the grocery store now that I know what it takes to get that coffee to the store!
If you are in Colombia, one of the top coffee producing countries, you’ll want to taste the coffee, of course, and you will NEED to see the coffee growing regions and see the growing coffee. Channel your Juan Valdez and add a coffee farm tour to your list of things to see!
The Coffee tour with ZoOming was a highlight of our trip to Medellin. Be sure to get the kids ready for any trip by reading before you go!
Natalie, The Educational Tourist