If you’re looking for a coffee tour in Salento look no further! Las Acasias is a small family-run affair with a very knowledgeable daily tour. Read on to find out more!
We’re all familiar with the smell of roasted coffee and for some of us the function of our eyelids and the quality of our social skills is highly dependent upon having a cup of this black goodness in the morning. How many of us though have ever really stopped to consider where this popular beverage comes from? While in Salento, the coffee triangle of Colombia, Phil and I endeavoured to get to the bottom of this mystery!
There are lots of different coffee farms tours you can join near Salento. We were overwhelmed and asked our hostel, El Zorzal, for a recommendation – as usual they pulled through for us and suggested a small finca (farm/ranch) called Las Acacias. It was exactly what we wanted, a small farm with traditional farming techniques, where the tour numbers were small and the guide could speak English.
Las Acasias – The Tour
The farm is around a 40 minute walk from the town centre of Salento. You can easily get a willy (jeep) from the square (we were told they left every 15-30 minutes), or do what we did and enjoy the wonderful views and stretch your legs. There are no set times for the start of the tours, from what we understand it’s quite flexible and depends on when a group arrives. We arrived just after two German girls had got there (it turns out they were also staying at El Zorzal and had been recommended Las Acacias!) and our guide, Christian, led us as a group of four people. Las Acacias run tours in both Spanish and English throughout the day, depending on the group. Each tour costs 8000 COP (about £2) and lasts between 45-60 minutes depending on how inquisitive the group is.
Christian was very knowledgable and patient when answering the groups’ questions. He first showed us how the coffee plants are grown and nurtured out of the ground until they are big enough to be planted (this takes about 8-12 months). Once in the ground the plant can take up to five years before producing a crop, and it will be at it’s most productive until it’s around 15 years old, although it can continue to produce coffee after this but the yield will be smalller.
Harvesting the fruits
What I’m about to tell you will blow your mind, but here goes!… A coffee bean isn’t a ‘bean’ at all, it’s a seed! The coffee plant produces fruit, called cherries, and its seeds resemble beans, hence the name. These seeds are harvested when the coffee fruits are at their reddest.
In its original state the coffee seed/bean looks very little like the coffee you would see in your kitchen. If you peel back the red fruit the seed is very pale and slimy and it’s really hard to imagine that this is what goes into your morning cup of caffeine! If you look carefully though you can just make out the coffee’s well know shape. There are several stages of work needed to turn this strange little alien seed into the beautifully aromatic brown coffee bean that we all recognise!
The flavour of coffee
Coffee inherits different flavours from the plants which are growing close to it, so for instance at Las Acacias they grow lots of citrus fruits which not only help to maintain the soil quality but also add a bitter edge to the coffee. Other farms might grow fruit such as mango to sweeten the coffee. Next time you’re in the supermarket and you are choosing which bag of coffee to buy you will be reading the ‘Notes of….’ comments on the bag in a whole new light!
Drying the seeds
Once harvested, the pulp is removed from the seed so that the seed can be dried. On the Las Acacias farm the seeds are dried wherever possible using the sun.
After the beans are dried they are sorted for quality control. One thing both Phil and I have been amazed at is how hard it can be to get a good cup of coffee in Colombia – it’s the home of high quality coffee!! The truth is that until very recently all the high quality coffee beans were exported out of Colombia and on to the international market. What was left in Colombia were the lower quality beans, and the famous Colombian cup of tinto (which translates to ‘ink’) is made by boiling these beans in water, usually in a traditional jug. A cloth filter is used to seperate the beans from the thick, bitter beverage which is often sweetened to make it more palatable. A coffee revolution is currently taking place in Colombia at the moment and an appreciation is growing for the ‘Western way’ of making and drinking coffee. It is much more expensive than tinto however and the largest percentage of coffee grown in Colombia is still exported overseas.
Coffee & Tourism
As a small farm Las Acacias makes its living by selling its coffee produce to its visitors so there is no need to export the beans. The price of coffee often fluctuates on the international coffee market and so Las Acacias keeps itself safe from these fluctuations by selling in this way.
We really enjoyed the coffee tour, it was fascinating to find out how the coffee that we know and love is nutured, grown and processed on the other side of the planet, before reaching our cup. We will now always have an appreciation for just how much love, time and hard work has gone into making our delicious cuppa.
If you’re in Salento, or a planning a trip there, check out what else there is to do in the area. Our favourites include Kasaguadua, a cloud forest conservation project, and the colourful little town of Filandia, which makes a perfect day trip!