|in Salento's center, Cafe Willy's outdoor coffee shop|
|Salento street on|
After hours and hours of travel, I finally arrive in Salento, a small, charming town in Colombia's coffee region, whose higher elevation and cooler temperatures are a relief after having just trekked through a mosquito infested jungle for days.
My host arranges a horse for me, and minutes after dropping off my bag, I'm trailing a ten year old cabellero guide on my way to the Don Elias coffee plantation.
|a beautiful flower on the way|
|La Zona Cafeteria|
I believe there must be a provable scientific correlation between living in such a breathtaking area and overall human happiness. The beauty activates a tranquility, a calmness within, slowing all thought; there is far less room for anger to exist.
|Coffee growing on branches at the Don Elias Organic Plantation|
It was a display so warm, so loving, it exemplifies the reason we love dogs.
His master is in fact Don Elias himself, the owner of the small plantation. His face is worn, but incredibly kind. There's no doubt in my mind he's lead a good life, and although he relates his history of having worked on fincas (farms) since he was young, he seems to have the air of a fulfilled and happy person. Possibly it's transference from the energy of his pup, but I instantly like the guy immensely.
watch this pup going crazy with excitement, then greeting his master
|coffee beans growing on the vine|
Coffee plants do best in moderate climates, with conditions ideal in mountainous regions between 4,000 and 6,000 feet where cooler temperatures prolong bean development. This longer maturation process imbues the coffee bean with more complex sugars, yielding deeper, and more interesting flavors.
|oranges growing, absorbing the ground acid|
"The tree is large, providing protective shade for the coffee plants," he explains, "but the flip side is that as an old tree, the fruit is not as high quality, not that tasty, thus we let the avocado fall to the ground and provide nutrients for the soil and the coffee."
"Now, the orange tree over there also provides shade and nutrients, though we do some of the fruit. But its other function as a citrus tree, is to absorb acids from the ground, decreasing the acidity of the coffee bean."
|recently picked Arabic beans|
Two types of coffee are grown here- Arabic and Colombian. The Arabic version of the bean has a slightly stronger flavor, and the only way to tell the plants apart physically is that when the beans are ripe the Colombian version is yellow while the Arabic is red. Though the beans are normally harvested in December, due to a severe lack of rain this year, they will be harvesting the beans in January/February.
|a pineapple plant|
Interestingly, nitrogen and chemical based fertilizers increase yields by 60-70%. The trade-off with the man made soil conditioners are that the quality of the beans decrease drastically.
Nearby is a pineapple plant, whose delicious fruit is prominently on display, it's purpose is to attract bugs and other pests to its strong smell who would otherwise attack and harm the coffee plants.
|bananas on the vine- up close and personal|
|skin and bean|
Despite the ability to live to 100, trees are uprooted and replaced before quality drops.
When the beans are ripe, they are picked and placed in a simple machine which separates the skin from the bean. The seeds are dried for a night and then tested by dropping them into a vat of water; those that float are of lower quality and on the Don Elias farm, join the pulp and skin in the compost heap, while other, less discerning farms sell the beans cheaply to large coffee serving corporations like Starbucks, Tim Hortons, McDonalds, etc.
|dried beans ready to be heated- stirred with wooden spoon|
It's a competitive and harsh business, but being on this beautiful plantation, with my gracious host, and an excitable and joyful puppy, I find myself buying many bags of the product straight from Don Elias himself, gladly paying a premium with a greater understanding of what goes into production of a truly premium product.
God it's beautiful here.
(Watch the video below for a full tour!)
|making a cup of premium coffee|