images

Coffee Triangle:

the secrets of colombian coffee

Victor Gouvêa

Photo: Victor Affaro / Illustration: Meire de Oliveira

Vamos/LATAM took Marina Klink, a Brazilian woman who's crazy about coffee, to Pereira, in Colombia, to visit some of the best coffee farms in the world. The encounter is part of a series of actions promoting an exchange of experiences in Latin America 

 

It was after midnight when we arrived in Pereira, the biggest city in Colombia's coffee triangle, imbedded in the country's central-west region and known for producing some of the best varieties on Earth. Marina Klink, a Brazilian lecturer, coffee enthusiast and owner of the Instagram profile 1 Café e a Conta, is traveling to the region for the first time in order to exchange knowledge with local producers. She is caffeine personified, showing no sign of tiring. “I can't believe I'm here,” she says in a low voice. And in the light of the next morning, the Paisaje Cultural Cafetero (the landscape of coffee plantations), a UNESCO World Heritage Site, unfolds before us with its peaks and valleys formed by the Andes.

 

images

Communicative, she relates her complete travel experiences on her blog. “Coffee is more than just a beverage; there's a culture that surrounds it. The dishware, the table, the kind of climate,” she says. Her passion began four years ago, when having a cup of coffee became a rite of arrival in each of the 40-plus countries she visited with her husband, navigator Amyr Klink, and family. On the way to Hacienda Venecia, located an hour from Pereira, she points out the coffee trees on the side of the road. She recalls how the plantations in Brazil, which are more familiar to her, are different, always contained within farms.

 

Historical giant

At the century-old Venecia farmhouse, built out of bamboo and rammed earth in the Antioquenian-style architecture typical of the region, host Juan Pablo Echeverri welcomes visitors with a cup in hand. Wearing a Panama hat and jeans and with a few days since his last shave, he combines a paced, professorial way of speaking with the air of a bon vivant. Juan is the fourth generation of the family to work with the product. He shows us a dusty photo of his great-grandfather, Gabriel Jaramillo, at the first coffee congress 90 years ago. The meeting would give way to the Federación Nacional de Cafeteros de Colombia, which represents over 500,000 coffee-producing families. “Five hundred thousand?!” exclaims Marina. Juan remarks that his 200-hectare property is an exception: the national average is just 1% its size.

 

images

Brazil is the world's largest coffee producer (five times bigger than Colombia), but the market value of the Colombian product is, on average, 25% higher. And the differences don't stop there. While in Brazil the harvest is generally automated, in Colombia it's done manually because of the mountain terrain. In the former, the fruit is dried on the plant naturally by the sun; in the latter, it is cleaned to obtain the beans. Altitude, soil, climate. These characteristics of the terroir in each country result in distinct products.  

 

It's 10 a.m. and Juan Pablo and Marina have already had five cups, like old friends who haven't seen each other in a while. He decides to show her the collection with 30 plant varieties. Aboard a Willys jeep, Marina admires the delicate flowers, whose scent resembles jasmine. In Brazil, the flowers last just two days and disappear all at once. Because of the altitude, two rainy seasons and two other dry seasons, in Colombia it's possible to see flowers and both green and red coffee beans all at the same time. She picks a fruit and puts it in her mouth, savoring its sweet flavor. Juan grabs a handful of green coffee beans (dried and peeled) to toast together.

 

The aroma of the beans being toasted invades the atmosphere until they start to pop like popcorn, the sign that they're ready for a light shade. “Now this is coffee!” says Marina. With the grounds placed in paper filters, they start trying different varieties of toast times and grinding fineness and celebrating the beverage. “I'd like for you to be able to understand my people and my culture in one cup,” Juan Pablo affirms. Of coffee's many characteristics, perhaps the most beautiful is its ability to bring people together.

 

The Gift of Coffee

images

With a production that's 12 times less than Hacienda Venecia, Don Manolo, owner of the ranch of the same name, personally takes visitors on a morning tour. With a clipboard in hand, the friendly owner doles out historical and technical facts, harkening back to his days as a teacher, which he left behind when he decided to buy his own piece of land. After presenting the complete cycle, he calls on his son, Manuelito, to demonstrate his 17 brewing methods – including the aeropress, syphon and Italian coffee makers. More than just theorizing about them, the barista asks that the group select four in order to savor their differences in practice. “Coffee is a magical drink,” Marina says in Portuguese, and Don Manolo, seated observantly in his chair, agrees, nodding his head and smiling.

 

Coffee bean craftsman

images

We're nearing the end of our trip. Followed by his cat Cappuccino, Luis Fernando Velez goes into the woods to show his experimental, organic and sustainable coffee plantation in the shadow of the forest. “I want to preserve what was lost. This is my paradise,” he says, telling a little about the natural fertilizations he applies and the advantages of having other plants for the coffee's well-being. Each year, they produce at least 10 sacks of 154 pounds [70 kg], and a total of just three people (himself included) take care of everything. You need to rent a car or hire a tour in advance in order to arrive at his ranch Brisas del Cauca via a poorly signed dirt road. Once there, visitors are welcomed with tea made from herbs grown on the farm in agate mugs and patacones made with pressed bananas and a tomato and cilantro salsa. Marina is impressed with the unorthodox methodologies, and enchanted with the man's passion for coffee-field utopias.

 

Visit the farms

Hacienda Venecia

Tours are held every day (in English) and can include lunch. There are vans that go there from Manizalle. Reservations are required.

 

Don Manolo

Open from Saturday to Wednesday, with tours twice a day on Thursday. You need to make reservations by phone. You can get there by taxi from Pereira.

 

Brisas del Cauca

More remote, this place requires reservations. Excursions start in the morning and can include rural activities with coffee and cocoa.

 

Getting there

Pereira is part of the coffee triangle. From there, you can get to other points in the circuit via dirt roads: Manizales and Armênia, which have beautiful landscapes, and towns like Salento.

 

Special thanks to: PROCOLOMBIA

 

images

Marina Klink

A Brazilian coffee enthusiast who owns the website 1 Café e a Conta (her Instagram profile is @1_cafe_e_a_conta)

 

images

Juan Pablo Echeverri

Director of Hacienda Venecia and a fourth generation coffee producer

 

images

Don Manolo

Owner of the small Don Manolo ranch on the outskirts of Pereira

 

images

Luis Fernando Velez

A former business administrator, he gave it all up to grow organic, sustainable coffee