THE DON EDUARDO COFFEE TOUR
I didn’t know a cup of joe could taste this good. The Don Eduardo Coffee Experience was an extremely informative coffee tour in Salento, Colombia. I am still thinking about the beautiful aroma of the freshly toasted and ground coffee beans.
Salento is a town and municipality in the north-east of the department of Quindío, Colombia. It is a quaint little town with traditional colonial architecture. Located in the eje cafetero, it is home to many coffee fincas. There are plenty of coffee tours to choose from, each one different. This article is a review of and a recommendation for the Don Eduardo Coffee Tour.
This article is going to break down exactly what was learnt, it is a long one, so here are some bookmarks for you to skip to what interests you.
TYPES OF COFFEE
- Some more information about Arabica Coffee
- The Minor Farms
- The Mega Farms
- The Coffee System in Colombia
- A Colombian Coffee Farm
- Growing and Harvesting Coffee
- Pea Bree
- Roasting Coffee
- Making Coffee
- Buying Coffee
Don Eduardo runs daily tours, two of them. The first at 9.00am in English and the other at 3.00pm in Spanish.
This was my first coffee tour in English and needless to say, I understood a whole lot more. The tour lasts about three hours, every second informative and Tim ‘el jefe’, makes it fun.
The tour costs 20,000CLP, but if you stay at the Plantation House Hostel, every night you get 5000CLP off the price of the tour. It is a pretty good deal, considering Salento is a place that you come for a day and stay for a week.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT COFFEE
TYPES OF COFFEE
There are two commercial types of coffee – ‘Robusta’ & ‘Arabica’
Each have their own properties and qualities the main difference being that Robusta is easier to grow, more ‘robust’ like a Trojan horse, but the coffee bean is of a lesser quality. Arabica produces a higher quality bean, but is more ‘complicated’, a delicate plant that requires the optimum conditions.
You can’t have it all.
Here are more specs on both:
- Originates from West Africa
- Less caffeine
- Less taste
- Strong plant
- Grows ideally at 1000m above sea level
- Only criteria is that it can’t have frost.
- Originates from Ethiopia
- More caffeine
- More taste
- More complicated
- Also can’t have frost
- Only grows between two tropics
- Needs to grow between 1200m abs and 1600m abs. Any coffee grown above 1600m is considered ‘High mountain coffee’, which sounds really cool. Anything grown below 1200m is just considered ‘coffee’. Doesn’t sound as cool.
COFFEE AROUND THE WORLD
Brazil is the number one producer and exporter of coffee in the world. They produce 1/3 of the worlds coffee, majority of which is Arabica, a little being Robusta.
In second place we have Vietnam! Vietnams coffee is considered ‘low grade’ as it is mainly Robusta with some Arabica.
Third and Fourth are close. But third place belongs to Indonesia, which produces Arabica and Robusta.
Finally in fourth place, and arguably the best coffee, is Colombia. Colombia produces mainly Arabica and a little Robusta, but only exports Arabica, hence the quality.
Next up in fifth place is Ethiopia. Where coffee was first discovered. Ethiopia produces mainly Arabica coffee.
COFFEE IN COLOMBIA
Here is when things get interesting.
Everybody knows that Colombia grows and exports great coffee beans. But the taste of coffee is subjective. There is no world standard for coffee. It is traded as a variety of commodities.
Colombia exports ‘great coffee’, but if there was a ‘system’ it could be ‘exceptional coffee’.
Here is how the current ‘system’ works:
THE MINOR FARMS
There are over 300,000 coffee farms in Colombia. All farms are small, approximately 1-2 hectares, and don’t produce enough coffee for a consistent annual harvest.
The smaller farms sell their beans to coffee merchants, hence most coffee in Colombia is a blend from each farm. It is too hard to administer, therefore they do not try.
THE MEGA FARMS
On the opposite side of the scale are the ‘mega farms’, which are about 100-300,000 hectares in size each. The mega farms have their own contracts with exporters, but because they have contracts they have sold their idea on a certain ‘taste’. This means that their standards are particular and they must always produce beans to the ‘taste’ that they agreed upon in their original contract.
The problem here is that the taste of the beans are affected by so many different things.
THE COFFEE SYSTEM IN COLOMBIA
There is one thing that everybody can agree about coffee in Colombia – the size of the bean. This is why coffee is sold by bean size. The larger the bean, the higher the price per sack. A healthier plant will produce bigger beans with more flavour, hence the higher price tag for a sack of large beans.
Other logistical reasons for sorting by bean size is that they have a consistent size for roasting/toasting.
As mentioned before, there are the traditional plants and the hybrid plants. The hybrids have a little ‘Robusta’ in them produced in a lab, hence they grow shorter and more plants can be planted per farm. The traditional plants arguably have the better tasting coffee beans, but because coffee is sold on bean size and they are all mixed in the end, there is no point in growing traditional plants. The hybrids, produce more, are easier to harvest and are therefore more lucrative for the farmer. ‘Lucrative’ might not be the right word choice for the farmers as they aren’t paid enough for what they do, perhaps ‘logical’.
Same goes for the variety of plant. As mentioned earlier there are over 100 types of Arabica coffee plants. All are different. Here, on Don Eduardos Farm he has 4 varieties of Arabica. Two traditional and two Hybrids. Some produce yellow cherries, some red.
If they were to be sold to a coffee merchant, the colour of the cherry has no standing on price. Once the skins are removed, the beans look identical, even though they will have distinctly different flavours. Again it is the size of the bean that matters in Colombia.
COFFEE FROM SEED TO CUP
The process from seed to cup is quite a lengthy and difficult process. So next time you have a great cup of coffee, I want you to appreciate it. I am going to lay it down for you, so next time you take a sip of that liquid silk you can spare a thought for all involved.
A COLOMBIAN COFFEE FARM
Coffee needs good volcanic soil to grow properly; hence coffee in this region thrives.
Coffee also likes shade. It doesn’t need it, but it likes it. This means that with shade, more moisture is kept in the soil.
The shade typically comes from trees. Traditionally a row of trees is planted, then two rows of coffee plants, then trees again. Repeat. Plantain or banana trees are usually used. They provide great shade with their large umbrella like leaves and the fruit doubles up in use for consumption, in EVERY SINGLE COLOMBIAN DISH.
Coffee Farms don’t have a perfectly manicured look as you would with a vineyard or an orchard. They are raw and rustic looking.
Lush green vegetation and steep slopes is the best way to describe their appearance. That is, here in Colombia.
GROWING AND HARVESTING COFFEE
A ‘parchment seed’ is planted in 1m by 4m growing beds filled with sand. For those of you who don’t know what a ‘parchment seed’ is, read on, it will become apparent as the coffee growing cycle does.
The sand is the best growing medium for when coffee plants are propagated because it allows the roots to grow straight and strong.
Within 4 weeks Colombian time (12 weeks real world time) the coffee plant has reached the height of a matchstick.
The parchment around the seed protects it from external elements.
After 16 weeks the plant is given a sweet name of ‘Chapola’. At this stage it is time to change homes/growing medium as the sand doesn’t have enough nutrients. This is when the roots are visually inspected. Any kinked, spiraled, or broken roots are discarded and used as compost.
The Chapola are moved to individual black bags with a 50/50 mix of black soil and fertilizer. The delicate process involves the use of an empty beer bottle to prod a hole in the growing medium for the new root system.
After five months the plant will grow to 15cm.
After nine months the plant will be 40cm tall. At this point the plant should be forked at the top with two branches meaning it is ready to be put in the ground with more fertilizer and plenty of water.
The coffee plants are planted every metre.
The coffee plant then grows all year round. Nine months later, or after 18 months from the seed being put into the sand for the first time, the coffee plant should have a height of approximately 1.4m and will bloom for the first time.
The flower is white, has five petals and is self-pollinating. No need for the birds and the bees. The flower lives longer than a butterfly but still dies after three days. But it dies for our enjoyment and consumption as this is when the green coffee fruit forms.
The coffee fruit stays green and grows for nine months until it becomes red or yellow (depending on the variety), which signalizes the time to harvest. These are known as ‘coffee cherries’.
Once a coffee cherry has been picked from a particular point on a branch, no new fruits will grow from that spot. The beans then form further and further up the branch.
Now spare a thought for the coffee pickers. They pick coffee in the rain. Coffee is harvested in the wet season as this is when most cherries are ripe. October to November is the wet season in Colombia. 85% of coffee is harvested during this period. The other wet season is April to May, however only 10% is harvested during this period. At this point some math whizzes will be saying, ‘hang on, that’s only 95%, what about the other 5%’. The remaining is harvested throughout the rest of the year. The beans are always ripening at different stages.
Side note, for some reason the harvesting season in Salento are swapped and the larger harvest is in April-May.
The coffee pickers, for lack of a better term, pick the coloured cherries in a trendy whicker basket, sometimes plastic. The baskets hold up to 10kg worth of cherries. They then empty them an ingenious coffee pulping machine designed and patented by Douglas Gordon. This machine separates the cherry skin and the two glorious seeds within.
The seeds fall on and through a mesh, which filters the remaining skin. They land on a tray, which is then filled with water to wash the slimy sugary film off the beans. You have to wash this off to avoid having bitter beans when roasted. Then you can put how many spoon fulls of sugar in your cup of joe later. Irony.
Two things happen here. Some seeds begin to float. Others sink. The ones that sink are the keepers. Anything that floats is considered a bad seed and are immediately removed with a sieve for questioning and composting.
The second thing that happens is the water begins to turn brown as the delicious sugary film is removed. The water needs to be changed 5-6 times before all the sugar is removed. This process takes up to 18-72 hours. This ‘sugar-water’ can then be used to make alcohol. Delicious ‘coffee wine’ and ‘whiskey’.
By this stage, the seeds are clean, but have now absorbed plenty of water and weighing more than they should but lose this additional weight by being dried in the sun.
Any flat surface is used to dry seeds, however there is a slight problem here as the seeds are harvested and washed in the wet season, so typically they are dried in green houses. They can be dried up to one foot deep, but need to be turned constantly to ensure the ones at the bottom get their time in the sun.
During the harvest season in the coffee district, all the roads, schools, playgrounds and football fields are covered with coffee seeds.
Once the coffee seeds are dry they are now in their ‘parchment form’. At this point ‘parchment form’ seeds have two optional career paths. They are either planted back in the planting beds to give birth to a new generation of coffee plants, or the seeds are sold to a wholesaler.
Before they can be sold or replanted, the coffee seeds are inspected by hand and any seeds with defects are removed.
The beans are then sorted by size and sold to a wholesaler by the sack. A wholesaler would grab a handful of beans and rub them together in his hands. He does this to remove the skin to reveal the seeds in their green form. If the skin comes off easily, it means the seeds have been properly dried. If it is hard to remove the skin, it means that the beans are still wet. The beans are sold by the dry weight, thus a wet bean will affect the weight and will therefore not be bought.
The seeds are inspected by eye and are then put through a filter. The big beans earn a higher price because they are considered more healthy and have more flavour.
The seeds are then taken to a regional warehouse where they are mixed with other seeds from the other farmers. Here a Triodora machine is used to take off the skin by rubbing the seeds very fast. Once the skin is removed the seeds are then green. It is in this state that they are either roasted or moved around the world in their green form.
Before they can be roasted or distributed, the green seeds are inspected again. At this stage they can have up to one of fourteen different defects, making them unsuitable for consumption. The inspection is done by eye.
This is where coffee goes from ‘great’ to ‘exceptional’ to ‘legendary’.
‘Pea Bree’ is the term given to the coffee seeds that are larger than normal size. Each cherry has two seeds, usually with a 50/50 split in size. On occasion some cherries produce seeds with a 25/75 ratio split. The ‘75’ seeds are what they call ‘Pea Bree’. The theory is that they have more taste because they are healthier.
To find these ‘Pea Bree‘, the seeds are searched after they have been dried by a group of workers. On a good day one worker can find a kilo of ‘Pea Bree’. These are separated from the batch and sold separately as they receive a higher price per kilo. Coffee officianatos pay more for this.
Roasting is done when the coffee is in its green form. No oil, no butter – a dry roast. This can either be done in an oven or on a stove.
On the stove the green beans are thrown into a wok and stirred constantly with a wooden spoon. It takes about 10-20 minutes. In this time the seeds begin to darken, first to a caramel and then a deep chocolate brown. The darker the roast the more bitter the coffee, which also means, less caffeine. A good grade of seed is needed for a chocolate brown.
You know he seeds are ready when you hear them cracking. You could say that roasting coffee is like a combination of cooking steak and popcorn. At the point when the seeds stop cracking the heat should be turned off.
While stirring it is good practice to blow on the seeds to remove excess skin, which go flying into the air on each puff of air.
The seeds should continue to be stirred until they stop smoking. After this they are put onto a mesh net and shaken to remove the remaining skin.
Only after this should they be taken out of the wok and allowed to cool. Then inspected once again for defects.
Here they continue to cook inside from the residual heat.
Here is the best part – the smell. The rich coffee aroma grows stronger as the beans get darker. If you have ever licked a rainbow, the sensation is similar to that!
Once you have your roasted beans, you need to grind them into ‘ground coffee’.
The ratio is 10% coffee to water.
Use 8g of ground coffee for an 80ml cup of water. This is approximately 1 tablespoon.
Once the coffee is in the filter, flatten with the weight of the spoon, but not too hard, otherwise the water will not filter through.
Do not use water that is boiling. Water should be between 91°C and 96°C, or to gauge by eye – when the small bubbles begin forming.
When pouring the water through the filter, the more foam on top means the beans are more fresh.
When buying coffee to make in your home, you should buy bags with a valve in them. This is to ensure that pressure is released when flying. The valve also aerates the coffee and allow you to smell the goods inside.
You can buy coffee in three forms – ground, roasted beans, & green beans.
All coffee degrades over time. Ground coffee has more surface area and hence will degrade faster.
Roasted coffee beans maintain their aroma for longer and green beans are as fresh as they get, you do however have to roast them yourself before you can consume and enjoy.
THE DON EDUARDO VISION
Tim, El Jefe, or ‘Don Eduardo’ has a coffee vision. He wants people to being able to taste traditional coffee from a certain plant directly form his farm. He doesn’t want the beans to be mixed up as part of the ‘system’. For this reason he is working on a concept where you can lease coffee plants on his farm. You will get to watch your plants grow, your beans being harvested, processed and then shipped directly to your front door.
Unfortunately Australia and New Zealand are exempt due to the intrinsic import processes.
Tim’s vision is not operational as of yet. He has the name and website ready to be launched but they are working on the finer details on the farm – www.yourcoffeefarm.com. I am looking forward to the release because the coffee straight from the farm is loaded with flavour.
GETTING TO SALENTO
Salento is north-east of the department of Quindío, Colombia. It is possible to get buses to Salento directly from the major cities - Bogotá, Cali and Medellin. But is is more common to get a bus from any of the above to Pereira (the closest major town) and then another from Pereira to Salento.
Buses leave during the week:
- 14:50; and
Note: Buses leave on the weekend hourly from 07:50 to 17:50.
Take a bus going to Armenia and ask the driver to stop at Las Flores. From there, you just cross the road and wait for a bus coming from Armenia. Then hop on and it will take you to Salento.
From Armenia (1 hour)
Everyday. Every 20 minutes from 06:00 to 21:00