25 March 2013

What is behind your cup of coffee?

Posted in Blog

Coffee is probably among the first mental associations that come to people's minds when they hear the name 'Colombia'.

The figure of Juan Valdez and his mule Conchita inviting you to have a delicious cup of coffee; the same coffee you drink when you are home, on your way to the office, in a cafe, at any time, with friends or by yourself.

Colombian coffee is normally sold at a premium in the international markets do to its quality, smoothness and richness of flavour.

Why does Colombian coffee taste different?

With coffee, as with all great drinks (whisky, wine) the distinctive flavours are intrinsically related to the land where the product was produced.

In this particular case, the coffee region in Colombia is blessed with the perfect conditions to grow the best quality product in terms of weather, quality of the soil, humidity, etc. These unique characteristics are complemented by the careful treatment of the coffee beans following very strict standards of quality as part of a process that, over the decades has been established as one of Colombia's best kept traditions.

Over the years, life around the production of coffee has developed into a great industry, proudly preserving the traditional and distinctive way of life of the coffee farmer, the architecture of the farms, the food, music, and even its carnivals and fairs.

When you visit Colombia, if you decide to visit one of the towns in the traditional coffee region, you will understand why the area was declared World Heritage by Unesco in 2011. Generations of coffee farmers in the departments of Caldas, Quindío, Risaralda y Valle del Cauca have built this marvellous heritage on the basis of hard work and entrepreneurism in the difficult geographic conditions of the mountain of Colombia.

Coffee Region, Salento, Colombia

Coffee Region, Salento, Colombia

Coffee Cherries

Coffee Cherries

Travelling around the coffee region is an opportunity to meet the arriero (or peasant from the coffee region), a local character who, throughout generations, opened new paths along the hills with his donkey or mule.

The arriero still maintains his traditional attire: sombrero (hat), carriel (traditional 'carry-all' bag), ruana and poncho. Juan Valdes, the image of Colombian coffee, is a representation of a real arriero, a farmer proud of growing the best coffee in the world.

Salento, Quindio

Salento, Quindio

Salento, Quindio

Beautiful houses in Salento, Quindio

The coffee triangle covers an extensive area encompassing 47 municipalities among four departments; this means a great deal of choice in terms of places to visit. This is a short list of the most picturesque towns in the coffee region:

  • Belalcazar, Chinchina, Riosucio, and Salamina in Caldas;
  • Armenia, Circacia, Filandia, Montenegro, Quimbaya and Salento in Quindío;
  • Apía, Belén de Umbría, Marsella, Santa Rosa de Cabal and Santuario in Risaralda; and,
  • Caicedonia, El Cairo, Riofrío and Sevilla in Valle del Cauca.

All of the 47 municipalities hold fairs and festivals throughout the year, some of our favourites include:

  • The Manizales fair (Manizales, Caldas) - Held in January,
  • The bambuco national contest (Pereira, Risaralda) - Held in May,
  • The festival of the bandola (Sevilla - Valle del Cauca)
  • The guadua fair (Cordoba, Quindio) - Held in April,
  • The San Pedro and San Pacho fair (Chinchía, Risaralda) - Held in December,
  • The pasillo festival (Aguadas, Caldas) - Held in August,
  • The landscape fair (Belalcazar, Caldas) - Held in November every other year.
  • The duets contest (Armenia, Quindio) - Held in June,
  • The coffee picker fair (Chinchiná, Caldas) - Held in November,
  • The national coffee fair (Calarcá, Quindio) - Held in October,
  • The coffee fair (Montenegro, Quindio) - Held in October,
  • The canasto (coffee bean basket) fair (Filandia, Quindio) - Held in August every other year, and
  • The harvest fair (Pereira, Risaralda) - Held in August.

Salento, Quindio

Handicraft shop in Salento

Finally, besides the beautiful coffee farms, the charming architecture of the towns and the local festivities and traditions, there are also other great places to visit in the coffee region including thematic parks where you can experience the coffee culture and even get to dress up as an arriero, or try different products made of coffee.

The region also has a number of natural parks of which the Cocora Valley is perhaps the most famous. There is no shortage of breathtaking views, picture-perfect landscapes and local flora and fauna around the towns and paths that connect them across the mountains.

Valle de Cocora

Valle de Cocora

In summary, there is no shortage of options when it comes to visiting Colombia's coffee region.

Next time you have your regular cup of coffee, think of Juan Valdez and then ask yourself if you would like to be there, at the very place where this delicious coffee is grown and produced by thousands of hard-working arrieros.

Perhaps you would like to have a coffee with one of them or stay at their farms some time?

If so, make sure you get in touch. We'll be delighted to take you there and show you around!

The Uncover Colombia team.