If you’re in Colombia for business travel, you may not have time to see the sights or soak up with nightlife, but you will definitely be sampling the country’s most famous export. They say coffee’s not just a product here, it’s a way of life, which is easy to understand when you think about the small-farm cultivation of the prized arabica beans, and the way coffee is savoured by everyone from children to grandparents. Unfortunately, Colombia does export most of it’s finest selections to Europe, Japan, and the U.S., but with a little diligence, you will definitely come across something at least unique and authentic.
Colombians pride themselves on their reputation for high-quality coffee beans, which result from rich volcanic soil and predominantly shade-grown cultivation. As a useful guide: Black coffee is referred to as ‘un tinto’, and if you’re looking for a milky coffee, then you’ll want ‘un perico’ for just a drop of milk or a ‘cafe con leche’ for a very milky cup.
Colombians drink their coffee with meals on work breaks called media nueves or half nines and onces (eleven), a break that may occur in the morning as its name implies or in the late afternoon. Brewed coffee is widely available from street vendors – look for the ones with the tell-tale thermos flasks. You’ll notice Juan Valdez and Oma immediately, the largest national chains, which are still worth a visit. Unlike Starbucks, these chain stores are not very far removed from their suppliers. There are More than 500,000 coffee growers throughout Colombia working on family plantations, growing premium-quality coffee beans across nearly 2.2 million acres of Colombian highlands. In fact, coffee growing is the largest source of rural employment in the country.
If it’s the process of coffee-making you’re interested in, the appropriately named Coffee Region is the area to head for, and in particular Salento. Here you’ll find access to myriad coffee farms where you can take tours and find out how coffee is made, from the first bean to the cup that you drink.