Notas de Café
A Gringo’s Experience at a Coffee Farm
A Gringo’s Experience at a Coffee Farm
by Tarek Al- Halabi

Have you ever been sipping on a delicious cup of coffee and asked yourself, “Where on earth did this heavenly beverage come from?”

Lucky for you, I can help answer that question.

Recently, I was fortunate enough to visit one of Juan Valdez’s affiliate coffee farms in Colombia to get the inside scoop on the coffee making process.

And I must say, it was one breathtaking experience.

Coffee farms are usually run by local families who depend on the coffee-growing business for income. Juan Valdez works with more than 500,000 of these Colombian coffee-growing families.

The moment my group and I arrived we were greeted by the family living on the farm. They were the sweetest and most generous people I've ever had the pleasure of meeting.

Throughout the day, we got a full tour of the farm and a step-by-step explanation of the coffee growing process.

Coffee beans are initially planted in dense patches less than an inch under the soil. Farmers wait for the roots to sprout before they pick each bean and re-plant them in individual containers. Before re-planting, each root is inspected to make sure they only choose the highest quality plants, ones in which the roots are straight, not curved. The plants remain in these containers until they turn into shrubs.

Depending on the strain, it will take approximately 3-4 years for the newly planted coffee trees to bear fruit. The fruit, called the coffee cherry, turns a vibrant red when it's ripe and ready to be harvested. During February and March, coffee plants bloom with a variety of small, fragrant flowers. These flowers are especially impressive when you witness an entire field of coffee plants in full bloom, looking like they've been covered in snow.

Coffee farms typically have on major harvest a year, but in countries like Colombia where there are two annual flowerings, there is a main and secondary crop. Each of these crops is picked by hand in a difficult and labor-intensive process.

Today was a special day. The farmers had us take a bucket, strap it around our waist, and take part in the harvesting! Only yellow and red coffee cherries can be picked, but some greens ones slipped in there... I'm such a rookie.

Fun fact: a good picker averages approximately 100 to 200 pounds of coffee cherries a day!

Once the coffee has been picked, processing must begin as quickly as possible to avoid fruit spoilage. First, the freshly harvested cherries are passed through a pulping machine to separate the skin and pulp from the bean.

The beans are then separated by weight as they pass through water channels. The lighter beans float to the top, while the heavier, ripe beans sink to the bottom. The beans are then passed through a series of rotating drums, which separate them by size.

After separation, the beans are transported to several large, water-filled fermentation tanks. Depending on a combination of factors -- such as the condition of the beans, the climate, and the altitude -- they will remain in these tanks for anywhere from 12-48 hours to remove the slick layer of mucilage (called the parenchyma) that's still attached to the parchment. While resting in the tanks, naturally occurring enzymes will cause the mucilage to dissolve.

After this process is complete, fermented beans feel rough to the touch. The beans are then rinsed by going through additional water channels and are finally ready for drying.

If the beans have been processed using the wet method, the pulped and fermented beans must now be dried to approximately 11% moisture to prepare them for proper storage. These beans, still inside the parchment envelope (the endocarp), can be sun-dried by spreading them on drying tables or floors, where they are regularly turned.

There are a couple more prepping processes the coffee beans have to go through before they are ready to be exported. Unfortunately, we didn’t get the chance to go through the rest of the process.

Being a coffee enthusiast myself, I can safely say that getting to see and be part of the coffee-growing experience was an opportunity of a lifetime. But what truly made this a special experience was getting to meet the farmer and his family. I can't thank them enough for their kindness and warm-hearted hospitality.

Now that you know a little more about what goes into the coffee making process you have a little more to look forward to with every cup of gran cafe.

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