Colombia is the world’s third-largest coffee producer, most famous for its production of the intense Arabica bean. Its Coffee Triangle has been recognized by Unesco as a World Heritage Site and the tourism board are trying to relabel it as the “Coffee Cultural Landscape”.
Landscape or Triangle, coffee is a vitally important crop in the area and the vast majority of farmers are small producers. At the San Alberto Estate, where the coffee has been recognized with many international awards, I join a masterclass to learn more, sitting on a terrace looking out on an amazing view of coffee trees. Nearby, birds of paradise flit through trees bearing guava, banana and avocado.
Juan Pablo Villota Leyva is the estate’s director and his family has been making coffee here for more than 45 years. “Colombian coffee is well known for its softness, acidity, balance and exotic attributes,” he says. “The best are the single estate coffees. Each reflects its terroir, with its own history, prestige, awards and, of course, particular quality and profile. The richness of the culture and the region’s diversity surprises most visitors. You can enjoy coffee in more than 21 regions, with more than 86 microclimates from north to south, east to west.”
He talks me through how to make a good cup of coffee, using Colombian premium single estate coffee that he insists must be ground just minutes before brewing. “You must use also pure water, as 98 per cent of a coffee is water,” he says. “The temperature of the water should be just below boiling point and you need the correct ratio of 7-9gm of coffee against 100ml of water. Always drink fresh coffee and, if you have premium coffee, you need never add sugar to it.”
He recommends I use water that is as neutral as possible and so will not provide too many minerals. I learn that coffee is judged on fragrance, from roasted and ground beans; aroma, smelling the infusion; taste; the first aftertaste, from the stimulation of the vapors produced in the mouth when sipping; a second aftertaste, after swallowing the first sip; and finally the body that assesses the density and texture of the drink.
Señor Leyva tells me he enjoys living here because of the short distances that put everything he needs close at hand. “You can travel from one town to another in no more than 45 minutes by car as the roads are excellent,” he says. “We are a well developed region with a lovely landscape and friendly, hard-working people who love coffee. The other thing that surprises visitors is the food: you have to try dishes such as bandeja paisa, chicharrón and patacón.”
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