Finding My Inner Juan Valdez
Coffee, for me, is an essential part of the morning routine – and it’s a part that keeps getting better. Today there are a myriad of coffee choices, from light roasts to dark roasts and a variety of flavors and styles. How do you choose among such an abundance of options? Should I be purchasing beans from Sumatra, Ethiopia, Costa Rica, or from the land of Juan Valdez? Well, after a recent trip to Colombia I have to say that more of my beans are coming from there, specifically from the mountainous regions around Manizales, Armenia and Pereira, which make up Colombia’s coffee triangle.
It is here that you find the ideal growing conditions for Colombia’s 100% Arabica coffee. Preferably cultivated between 4,000 and 6,000 feet above sea level, this region has daytime temperatures that hover between 60–75 degrees and balanced rainfall of approximately 78 inches a year. All of these factors make this one of the best coffee-producing regions in the world, and there’s no better way to experience it than to visit some of the small haciendas for a coffee tasting, the same way you would visit a vineyard in Napa.
Accompanied by my Vaya colleague Jack McCabe and our wonderful guide Omar, we headed south from the Hacienda San Jose (just outside of Pereira) to the Hacienda San Alberto, located on the outskirts of Buenavista, Quindio. What a view this place has! You can enjoy a sweeping vista of the valley and mountains as you’re enjoying your tour. Here we met a young man with an obvious passion for coffee, who guided us through the different stages of production from raised beds, to trees, to the picking, weighing, drying, and finally the tasting.
I’m always up for a good cup of coffee, which we had, but I did not expect such thorough teachings on the process and flavors that make a good cup of joe. From learning about which parts of the tongue are more sensitive to different flavors, to smelling tinctures that matched the notes we’d be tasting, to the aroma of the ground coffee and finally slurping spoonfuls of coffee and taking “educated” guesses as to which was best. The experience from start to finish far surpassed my expectations. And even if I can’t tell the small subtleties of different beans and roasts, I know what it takes to produce a good cup of coffee. Colombia’s got the goods to make me cherish my morning ritual that much more.