It's the end of October, which means we have just under 8 months to prepare for our first class in June. While there's a lot to do, my favorite task by far is quality control of our scheduled excursions. We want to make sure that the experience for our students is nothing short of phenomenal. That means we have the boring job of touring this amazing country and making sure the activities are fun and safe for our students.
Today, we went on the coffee plantation tour here in the coffee region of Colombia. Our tour guide Juan was a ton of fun and super knowledgeable about every aspect of coffee growing and making. After a full day on the plantation, we left with an enjoyable buzz, a deep respect for the industry, and a sense of pride knowing the experience is exactly what we want for our students.
Colombia is the world's third largest exporter of coffee at $2.66B per year. Most of this comes from Colombia's coffee region which has the perfect natural conditions for producing world-class coffee.
Surprisingly, all of the farms in this region rely only on natural rain water and sunlight for their coffee production. The plantation we visited - Don Modesto, is one of the larger farms in the area with a total land area of 200 acres. On average, the farms in this area are just 5 acres - making coffee accessible as a family business for Colombians running a small farm.
According to our guide Juan, a 5 acre farm produces around 1,1200kg of raw coffee beans every year.
It's a surprisingly low-tech operation, using just boots and their bare hands, the coffee pickers pluck the beans from the branches and load them in burlap sacks. In a typical day, each worker can harvest 140kg of raw coffee beans, for which they are paid a wage of 500 pesos/kg. This is the equivalent of $23 USD for the days work.
Harvesting the beans is just the beginning. To maintain the highest quality product, the coffee must be sorted, inspected, and graded. A lot of beans are designated for low and normal grade coffee. As a result, for every 100 kg of coffee harvested, only 14 kg will result in export quality product.
Like wine, coffee quality varies with every season. The amount of rain, sunshine, and air temperature affect the yield and flavor of the coffee. On average, export grade coffee sells for 900.000 COP ($300 USD) per 140kg, but can vary greatly in price.
Grounds to Riches
Juan told us the story of an old lady who one year produced extraordinarily high quality coffee on her small farm. Although her farm produced just 20 loads (2,800 kg) for the season, her harvest was valued at 8.000.000 COP per load ($2,661 USD), or roughly 9 times the average price of export quality coffee. Sadly, the lady ended up in a psychiatric ward after receiving such recognition and wealth.
Disconcertingly, global warming has been affecting coffee farmers in Colombia. Traditionally, the ideal altitude to grow coffee has been between 4000 - 6000 meters above sea level. However, in recent years the highest quality coffees are coming from farms at higher elevations. This is due to the ideal temperature needed for the coffee plants to grow, which is now at higher altitudes than ever because of hotter temperatures year round.
Brewing the Perfect Cup of Coffee
According to Juan, a former barista and our coffee tour guide, the French Press is the best way to brew coffee. While he appreciates coffee from all around the globe, he asserts that Colombian coffee is the smoothest in the world. Lucky for us, he brewed us a delicious cup of coffee and was happy to share his technique:
- Brewing Method: French Press
- Coffee: 10g fresh Colombian coffee (Arabica)
- Water: 100ml just off the boil
- Steeping Time: 4 minutes
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