Return to Finca El Silencio

Our 4th day saw us returning to the farm to finish what we had started. Our coffee beans had been moved into the second tank for their final washings, after which they were loaded into baskets to be taken to the drying beds to dry.

I was able to be part of the process as the beans need to be moved around the tank to help break down the mucilage that is still stuck to them, and to help remove any beans that aren’t ripe. In the picture above, everything floating on the surface will be skimmed off and sold as a lower grade coffee locally. Below the surface are the beans ready to be drained and washed again before being put out to dry. We then carried the washed coffees over to the drying beds where they will be left for the next 3 days to dry before being packaged to be taken to the mill to have the parchment removed, the beans graded and prepared for export. It was a great experience to be able to see the entire process.

Laura took us on a late morning hike up one of the hills that they grow their coffee on. We enjoyed a small picnic with local fruit, guava chips, and a tutti frutti type drink with juice and fresh fruit cut up in it. Very refreshing. It was a fantastic way to end our time at the farm.

We then returned to our house for another fantastic local meal, and then had the afternoon to relax before we hit the road tomorrow for 5 days of travel and farm visits. It will be a busy 5 days, so the down time was very welcome.

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Cenicafe – Science and coffee

One of the most exciting parts of our trip was a visit to Cenicafe, the FNC or Colombia Coffee Federation’s Research and Development Division. For me, it was an opportunity to see first hand the work being done in Colombia to help the farmers improve in 3 key areas on their farms: productivity, reducing the cost of production, and increasing prices to help the farmers increase their profits. Cenicafe is the scientific hub, and certainly a world leader in coffee science and development.

 

One of the most amazing parts of Cenicafe is how they seem to be ahead of the curve in planning for what’s to come. Roya, or coffee leaf rust, has been devastating crops throughout Central and South America. Years ago, Cenicafe started creating new strains of rust resistant coffees in preparation for this. Today, the coffee industry is thriving in Colombia due to these resistant strains, while many other countries are struggling to keep farms alive. And like many diseases, Roya is constantly mutating to try to affect coffee plants. Cenicafe has been able to stay ahead of these mutations with their ongoing research. It was an amazing morning to see how Cenicafe is benefiting and helping Colombia coffee farmers succeed.

We then traveled to a coffee mill that Single Origin Coffee uses in the final steps of preparation for coffee to be shipped. Once the coffee has been dried at the farms, it is called parchment. This is the last layer of protection around the beans. It’s a dry covering, much like wheat chaff. The mill removes this final layer, grades and sizes the beans, and prepares them for export. This mill works with Single Origin as part of the chain of custody to ensure all the coffees that have their logo on the bag are actually from where it says. The advantage to using this mill is that they will prepare small microlots to be shipped and guarantee no cross mixing with other coffees. The last picture is an example of how this process works and what the final product looks like before it is shipped to Canada for sale to roasters.

It was a great day with lots of travel. We finished it off with a delicious meal at Mama’s house. It was a fantastic dinner to celebrate Thanksgiving for those of us from Canada. I think the pictures of the food tell the story pretty well.

Finca El Silencio

Our morning started with a fantastic breakfast at Hotel Zandu. Arepa with fresh cheese (queso) and hot chocolate (chocolatte) We were then picked up in a 1954 Jeep to travel out to the farm. I knew it was going to be a great day when I saw the Jeep.

We met Laura at the hotel. She is the owner of the farm with her husband Cesar. I was encouraged by the fact that Laura is quite young for a coffee farm owner, so hopefully the farm stays in her family for a long time.

After arriving, we were treated to a coffee, orange, mint and cardamon drink for refreshment, then we had a tour of the farm and area. We were able to cup 4 coffees that Laura is working on at the farm to market, and they were all very good. It was then time for lunch. A very traditional Colombian meal for us, and it was delicious.

The farm itself does not rely solely on coffee. Laura is a very forward thinking owner (who also speaks English) and has expanded what they do to include guava, bananas and plantain that are made into delicious chips, and guadua, which is a larger variety of bamboo useful in construction jobs. Many of the buildings used this guadua as support for the roofing surfaces.

We then had a chance to go and pick coffee cherries and have a little fun competition to see who could pick the most. After picking for almost an hour, I can honestly say that is one job I wouldn’t be very good at. First you are working on sloped fields, which makes it difficult to navigate and work. Add to that the large amount of rain they had received and it was very slippery. Second, being so tall I’m not really made out for that kind of work. But I do have a much greater appreciation for the work that the pickers do. You have to be very selective when you pick so that you only choose the ripe red cherries. And then you also have to carry your pickings down to the weigh station, as that’s how you get paid, by the kilo of cherries you pick. We then depulped our pickings so they could be washed and left to dry overnight.

Of course, the competitive side of me kicked in and I was able to squeek out a victory by less than a kilo over my closest competition Kia.

We then returned to the house we were staying at to unwind and get ready for the evening. More local food and music. A trio of gentlemen arrived to sing to us for about an hour, while we visited and ate meatballs, some different breads, and a variety of arepa’s. It was a perfect end to the day. Tomorrow, we return to Finca El Silencio to move our picked cherries from the wash station to the drying beds. Another first time experience for me.

Bogota Experience

Day 2 of our trip saw us spending it in Bogota. We began with breakfast at the Marriot Hotel as guests of two men who are part of the FNC, or Colombia Coffee Federation. The FNC works hard in Colombia to help the coffee growers succeed, both financially, as well as in their overall operations. They provide a number of services to the coffee growers through their “yellow shirts” who you’ll hear about in later days. Enrique and Henry are both friends of Carlos (who we traveled with) and are men I met on my previous trip. Breakfast had many items including a variety of breads as well as all the fresh fruit you could imagine.

From breakfast we were then taken to the FNC (Colombia Coffee Federation) building for a tour. Not many people get to tour the building and see what goes on in the various departments, so it was a privilege to be there and see the work being done. We were also taken to their sample testing area to learn about what is involved in the detailed process of exporting Colombian coffee. From there we made a quick stop at the gift shop before returning to our hotel to check out and head to the coffee Expo.

After checking out of the hotel, we took a 30 minute ride to the Colombia Coffee Expo. The Expo is similar to a local Home and Garden show, only it involves coffee. Wholesalers, retailers, and anyone else involved in coffee has a booth there trying to sell you something, as well as a barista competition.  Because I don’t speak Spanish, it’s pretty tough to sell me anything, so it’s more of an opportunity to walk around and see what’s happening in the coffee world. We spent about 3 hours there before heading to the airport to fly to Pareida for the next leg of our adventure.

After landing in Pareida, we called it an early night. We checked into the Hotel Zandu. A quaint little place in downtown Pareida. Wonderful old furniture everywhere. If you’ve seen the movie Romancing the Stone, this could be the hotel in that movie. We were all exhausted and looking forward to a good nights sleep.

Tomorrow, off to our first farm visit.

Long first day

As our first day of travel to Colombia began at 12:30 am, who knew we would be traveling for almost 24 hours to get to Bogota. The first leg to Houston was uneventful but a number of delays set us back over 2 hours from our original schedule. We finally departed Houston around 7 pm and arrived in Bogota at 11:15 pm. We cleared customs and immigration without incident, and after a 20 minute cab ride arrived at the Celebrity Suites hotel for our very short sleep. It was almost 1:30 before we got to bed, with a 6 am alarm set as we had an early breakfast meeting planned with two very important Colombia Coffee Federation gentlemen. Our hotel suite was huge, with two bedrooms, two bathrooms, and giant seating area, large kitchen and laundry area. Ironic we would only be sleeping for 4 and a half hours and then be gone all morning before checking out. Such is the life of the traveler. We arrived safe, and were looking forward to the beginning of our adventure.