El Eje Cafetero: Salento (part 2)
After our rather tiring day unexpectedly hiking down to the river, we decided to take it easy during our second day in Salento. (You can read about that crazy hike here.) We slept in and then headed to a coffee farm tour that was recommended by our hostel. The Don Elías’ Finca Las Brisas was about an hour’s walk from our hostel. It would have been shorter but we kept stopping to take pictures of the gorgeous countryside.
The weather in Salento in the morning is perfect. It is neither hot nor cold which made our walk even more enjoyable. Once we reached the farm, we met our tour guide Carlos and fellow travelers who were also there for the tour. Carlos began by explaining to us that the farm was a small family-owned business. They only had about 4,000 coffee plants and 5 out of 7 workers were family members. The farm was 100% organic and Rainforest Alliance Certified.
The planning of the ecosystem of the farm was really impressive. Las Brisas cultivates plantains and bananas with their coffee plants. These plants provide shade. Once they bear their fruit (which is also sold by the farm), they are cut down and the trunks are left to decompose and provide fertilizer. Yucca is also produced with the baby coffee plants because the roots of the yucca plant grow very deep which prevents soil erosion. Fruits such as pineapple are grown with the coffee plants because bugs that eat coffee beans prefer to eat the leaves of the fruit plants because they smell sweeter. Because the bugs eat the leaves first, the fruit is still able to be harvested and sold.
Las Brisas uses all of their own seeds and although coffee plants produce for 25 years, they only use their plants for 16 years in order to ensure a high quality harvest. The coffee beans are hand-picked when yellow (the Colombian plant) or red (the Arabic plant). All coffee beans in Colombia are hand-picked because coffee is only grown in mountainous regions of Colombia which do not allow for harvesting machines.
After the beans are picked, the shells are removed using a machine that is powered by hand. The beans are left to ferment overnight. The next morning, water is added to the tub where they were fermenting. All beans that float to the top are removed and burned. Floaters indicate that these beans have probably had bugs inside them or didn’t receive sufficient nutrients and would produce a lower quality coffee. After the floaters are removed, the coffee beans are washed and placed in a tent that is similar to a greenhouse to dry. The drying process takes 7-25 days, depending on weather conditions.
Once the beans are dry, the second shell is removed with a similar machine (also powered by human arms) and the beans are toasted over a gas stove. Someone has to constantly stir the beans. After this hour, the beans are toasted and are either bagged to be sold or are hand ground and then packaged to be sold.
After finishing the tour, Carlos prepared coffee for us to try. It was fantastic (of course). They also sell their coffee there for $11,000COP/250 grams ($5.50USD). I was really impressed by the process and how thorough they are in ensuring that it is sustainable and environmentally friendly. I was disappointed that I couldn’t bring back an entire suitcase of their coffee.