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On my trip to South America, I stopped at a Colombian coffee plantation to get an in-depth understanding of what it takes to grow and distribute good coffee. Not only that, I took 2 separate coffee museum tours in Peru.
From the plants, the equipment used, and the people growing this remarkable little bean, my tours were one of the highlights of my trip. I’ll try and explain the process the best I can.
The beans are grown on bushes that generally have about a 20 year growing span. Since coffee is actually a berry, you have to pick the ripe, bright red or yellow ones and separate the beans.
The berry is first put into a pulping machine to grind the berries. The grinder has little holes that catch the bean while the pulp is ground away.
The next process is to ferment the beans in water to soften the remnants of the berry on the bean. When the farmer thinks the beans are ready, they’re washed with water to get any berry residue off the bean. After this stage, the bean is pretty brittle.
To harden them up, the bean is dried by the sun for 2-3 days. My guide said that sometimes they stay in the drying process for a week if it’s really humid. Good coffee takes time!
Not every bean is useable, either. Some can wither and blacken while others are too green and have to be meticulously sorted out to get ready for roasting.
Most roasting machines are giant tumblers that roast the beans to an exact temperature and color.
They generally have a small tube in the tumbler that catches samples to make sure it’s roasted to the highest standards.
Then, the beans are shot into a big basin with an agitator spinning around while instantly getting enveloped in cold water as they’re dropping.
The beans are so hot at this point that as soon as water makes contact with the bean, it’s instantly cooled down and the water evaporates. The agitator in the basin spins the beans around to make sure it drops to room temperature efficiently.
The coffee beans are now officially considered ready for being consumed. They’re generally sent to manufacturing plants to be packaged and shipped all over the world.
When I was at the plantation, I was lucky enough to get a side-by-side comparison of good coffee and bad coffee. They showed me high-quality beans that have been grown to very lofty standards against beans that a local farmer produced that were for mass production (I’m talking to you Starbucks).
The smells, color, texture after it was ground, and taste were eye-opening for me.
The representative from the plantation that gave me the tour also showed me a few techniques and tricks to give you a good cup of coffee out of the beans you’re using.
I’ll post another article on those mentioned techniques, as I’d prefer to do an instructional article instead of an informative article on the subject.
Saying the coffee industry is huge is definitely an understatement. I’ve found conflicting data to say how significant the agricultural reach of this small bean is but it’s consistently ranked in the top 5 legal commodities in the world.
America imports 4 billion USD of coffee alone every year and considering Hawaii is the only legitimate place in America to actually produce coffee, that number isn’t surprising.
The small coffee plantation I traveled to in Colombia and the museums in Peru all respectively sold me some of their good quality coffee to travel home with. I used most of the Peruvian coffee in Utah but I brought all the coffee from Colombia down with me to Antarctica to enjoy strictly once a week on my day off.
Since I’ve scoured the internet looking for the specific coffee brand that my pleasant little plantation in Colombia produced with no luck, I generally can recommend my favorite coffee from the States. Koa Coffee brand produces 100% Kona coffee, one of the purest, best tasting strands of coffee I know of and is produced in the small strip of land in Hawaii known as the Kona District.
Arabica is the type of coffee Kona is derived from but the mineral-rich volcanic soil and mild environment makes for extremely ideal growing conditions, giving it a unique taste. In fact, Kona was given the title of “America’s best coffee” from Forbes.
Though I guess it is worth mentioning that there is only competition in other parts of Hawaii. That’s the only place with enough temperate conditions to actually grow good coffee.
This means the Kona region is really only in competition with other parts of Hawaii. Still, only 1% of the coffee production in the world is Kona coffee, which makes it pretty rare.
I didn’t grow up with coffee in my life, as my mother didn’t drink it so she never had it around. I quickly learned that drinking coffee was a helluva lot healthier for you than drinking caffeine-riddled sodas, which is why I switched.
My journey through South America helped me understand coffee and it’s influence on many different cultures, too. Everybody I met in South America that’s associated with the coffee industry have all rivaled my general enthusiasm about anything related to food, which surprised me.
I guess when you work for a coffee plantation or museums to help understand the industry, you would too. Drinking the coffee all day with a bunch of tourists probably helps, too 🙂
Let me know what your favorite coffee brands are in the comments below! I’ll do some research on them to see how they stack up against my favorite brands and possibly order some for myself.