Story and photos by Manos Angelakis
I’m an inveterate espresso coffee drinker and I recently had the privilege of visiting the area of Armenia, at the Colombian Coffee Triangle (Triángulo del Café), one of the best and largest South American coffee producing regions.
Coffee plantation originated in East Africa – Ethiopia to be exact – and coffee cultivation spread to Arabia, where it was first mentioned in writing around 900 CE. Coffee was later cultivated in Europe by the Dutch as a garden plant and introduced by them to their Java colony in the late 1600s (where the term “java” as a name for the coffee brew originated). It was eventually introduced to South America as a cash crop around 1723.
Evergreen coffee plants are grown in rows several feet apart, in plantations that also farm cocoa, plantains and avocados, as the byproducts of coffee processing are used to fertilize the other crops. “Coffee bean” is a misnomer for the seed of the coffee plant. The red or dark-orange ripe fruit, which is often referred to as a “cherry”, contains a double seed inside that is the coffee bean. When the fruit is ripe, it is handpicked, using selective picking, where only the ripe fruit is removed from the branch. Because a branch has both ripe and unripe (green) berries at the same time, one plant has to be picked several times, making harvesting the most labor intensive process of coffee production. Once the cherries are picked, they are milled to remove the husk, washed and kiln-dried. The beans are usually exported green (unroasted) as most importers prefer to roast the coffee themselves, depending on their market’s taste. Or the beans are roasted at 200° C for 12 to 16 minutes – depending on the type of roast required, ground for European or American style coffee or pulverized for Greek or Arabic style, packed and sold.
While there are several different coffee species, two main species are currently cultivated around the world. Coffea arabica, known as Arabica coffee, accounts for about 75 percent of the world's production. Coffea canephora, known as Robusta, accounts for about 25 percent and differs from the Arabica coffees in terms of taste. While Robusta coffee beans are heartier than the ones produced by the Arabica plants, they actually produce an inferior tasting beverage with much higher caffeine content. Another advantage of coffee growing is that the coffee plants have become a major source of oxygen for much of the world. Each hectare of coffee produces 86 lbs of oxygen per day.
In Colombia the coffee produced in the fincas (plantations) we visited is Arabica.
During my trip we visited a number of plantations to taste their product; some of them have been converted to eco-haciendas or fincas touristicas. We tasted coffees from about 25 different producers; many of the hotels and restaurants we stayed at and ate, grow and produce their own coffees.
In general the trip was very enjoyable. The food was fairly simple but very hearty- only one meal at the “Estacion Gourmet” in the Parque del Café was at an international level, where all the sauces were made with coffee. Other excellent meals were at Restaurante Juan B and Restaurante la Gran Trucha – in both we had very well prepared trout – and at Restaurante El Roble, we had typical local dishes, together with about 300 families that frequent the restaurant on a Sunday (the manager said they serve an average of 1500 main courses per day on the weekend).
© October 2012 LuxuryWeb Magazine. All rights reserved.