A few hours north of Cali is Salento, in the Colombian Coffee Zone. We stayed at the wonderful Plantation House Hostel, on the outskirts of this laid-back town. The Australian-Colombian owners also operate a coffee farm ten minutes down the hill. We learned a lot about Colombian coffee practices (see below), drank the freshest cup possible, and even stayed a night in the finca ‘penthouse’ room (turned out to be much too basic for us). Other highlights in Salento included hiking in the Valle de Cocora, playing Tejo (somewhere between cornhole and horseshoes, but with explosions) and watching beautiful sunsets.
What we learned about Colombian coffee: Colombia is the fourth largest producer of coffee in the world (Brazil, Vietnam and Indonesia are higher). Unlike most other countries, Colombia only produces Arabica coffee. Most of the plants in the country are modern plants, meaning “lab developed” so that they could be planted closer, produce more, not grow as tall, not require shade, and resist diseases.
Colombia has many small farms, which means that most farms can’t support a commercial yield. Local buyers purchase coffee beans from the smaller farms and then sell combined yields to foreign buyers, so quality control and origin can be a little hard to pin down. However, due to steep terrain, almost all Colombian coffee is hand-picked. This ensures that only ripe beans are picked, thus higher quality. Another interesting fact is that beans are usually washed after being peeled, removing sugars. In countries that don’t have potable water, this washing can’t occur, which results in a bitter end-product. Buying 100% Washed Arabica beans ensures a pretty high quality. Some people think “high mountain” plants produce better coffee (above 1,600 meters), so you could look for that as well. Apparently the term “shade grown” means about as much as “natural.”