Every time I have a cup of coffee I am transported back to Salento, a small town in Colombia, where I worked on a coffee farm. The smell of roasted coffee beans reminds me of quiet afternoons enjoying the lull in activity after being out in the fields, under the hot sun all morning. The rich, dark brew from Finca Don Eduardo in Salento, Colombia remains the best coffee I’ve ever had. This is coming from a non-coffee drinker; so how did working on the farm make me a coffee convert?
My first day on the farm, work started early, which was no problem for all the coffee drinkers as they guzzled their caffeine in a cup. I couldn’t stop yawning and that’s when I decided to give the coffee a try even though there was no sugar and milk to make it palatable. Much to my surprise it was delicious, and within minutes I was transformed from a zombie into a work horse. We hit the steep slopes of the farm to pick coffee berries and within hours came back with baskets full.
Back at the farm I tried my best to follow along with the next steps of the process despite my poor Spanish. We soaked the berries and I learned most good coffee is first wet processed to remove the outer skin, pulp (which is actually fermented away), and inner parchment skin. Then the inner seed, or bean, is dried and becomes the green coffee that is shipped and stored around the world. Green coffee is similar to dried beans- they can be stored for a long time yet still become a fresh and aromatic food item after they are roasted.
With the berries set out to dry on the roof we moved on to the kitchen where we grabbed some already dru berries and learned about the roasting process. The science of roasting and the fancy gadgets that we use in the U.S. to get it just right were not part of the simple process we practiced in Colombia. The berries were simply put in a cast iron pot, stirred over heat and occasionally given a gentle blow to remove the chaff, the light weight outer skins. I took my turn stirring as the beans roasted for nearly 20 minutes to achieve the dark brown you see below.
You can see the light chaff all over the stove surrounding the pot as the beans are roasting.
Once the beans were roasted to a rich, dark brown- for a heavier cup of coffee we moved on to grinding, which was done by hand. It seemed easy enough, but after trying my hand at it, I realized it took a little more muscle than I expected.
You want to grind the beans as close to the brewing time as possible and we took this guideline to heart, within minutes of creating the fine brown dust we were adding hot water. With the coffee ready for brewing we were getting close to a sample of our days work. The smell of fresh roasted and finely ground coffee hung in the air like a heavy perfume and got me excited for the final product.
The grounds were put in a coffee filter and then hot water was poured through the fine grounds to create a steaming pot of fresh coffee. The process was straight forward and fragrant- no coffee machine or fancy brewing device, just the ground and hot water. A general guideline for the water to grounds ratio is 1 to 2 tablespoons of ground coffee for every six ounces of water.
Finally the grounds were removed and the last drips of coffee were added to the pot before we each got a cup to try. It was fruity, fresh and not bitter at all. It was one of the first cups of coffee sans sugar or milk and it was amazing. Having a hand in the process, picking the berries and roasting them myself, may have given me a better appreciation for my morning pick me up. Whatever it was, coffee has never tastes as good as it did on the farm.
WHEN YOU GO:
Come ready to work, I know I describe the process and glaze over the time in the fields, but be ready to spend time in the hot sun getting bitten by bugs. Wear clothes you don’t mind getting dirty as part of my responsibilities included weeding and planting as well.
Do your research, I worked at The Plantation House and stayed on their farm. It was a great experience and perfect for what I wanted, but there are several farms in the area that offer similar experiences.