Didem Doğan

The long journey of coffee

Welcome to Colombia’a coffee zone where world’s most high quality coffee is grown throughout the year. In Spanish they call it ‘Eje Cafetero’; it is the interior region of Colombia, the State of Armenia made up with mountains and valleys with a suitable climate throughout the year for coffee growing. First let’s have a look at world map: Brazil, Vietnam, Colombia, these three countries produce the 56 % of the whole coffee in the world. Yet the Colombian coffee is known as having the best quality among them. Why and how? The privilege of Colombia is that coffee production is consistent and high quality. They get coffee in these lands throughout the year. There are two harvest seasons: from March to June the 27 % and from September to December 70 % of the coffee is produced. When we say coffee actually we are talking about a tree: there are two types of coffee trees with two different aromas: Robusta and Arabica. Arabica that is grown in 18 to 24 degrees celsius is the less bitter one, with 1.3 degree of caffeine and has a more fruity flavour, whereas Robusta grows in 25 to 33 degrees, a more durable tree to heat and it has more caffeine in it. So how does the coffee grow? There are two time periods: one for the coffee bean the other for the coffee tree and nature has well defined them. A coffee cherry is the bean that has reached the red colour when it’s ready for the harvest. It takes nine months for a seed (that little yellow flower) to grow as a bean. As for the tree the leaves that are not yet a tree are first kept for ten months in a pot, then they are planted in the land for them to be a tree. The first year they do not give anything, the second year is when they start to flourish and during the third year they give the best performance; after five years the branches are cut (and kept on the land for the ecosystem) and they can thus be used like this for 21 years. The harvest time is also arranged according to the production period of the bats; the coffee cherries need to be collected before bats start eating them. So farmers never stay away from nature’s clock perfectly ticking.In Colombia there are micro coffee producers with each having aprox. 1.7 hectare of land. They sell their products to international buyers which is then sold to distributors and exported to other countries. The price is set in three main markets: London sets the price per kilo for dry coffee, Sao Paulo sets for Arabica and New York sets for washed coffee. There are also much bigger farms belonging to ‘Hacienda’s, farm houses. Colombia has an interesting story of marketing which made it known throughout the World.In the 80s the Colombians wanted to establish a certain criteria for their high quality coffee to distinguish among other products in World markets. They created a fictive coffee farmer called Juan Valdez and made a logo with his illustration; this symbolised the product that is high quality and with a certain price. But what is the high quality coffee? How do they know it? When coffee beans are collected they pass to the production process where machines also enter the stage. The beans are put in water; the ones that stay above are selected and the ones that stay below the water are separated (these ones later are peeled and put again in water, the ones stay above are selected as second quality and the ones below are separated as third quality). So the first ones continue with the process (drying, fermentation and roasting) and are sold with this logo of the Colombian farmer (and a silhouette of a mountain, all in a frame) are sold as the high quality coffee. The international buyers can be sure of buying a coffee that will never disappoint them. And this coffee is only for export, it can be bought in shops in Colombia as well but for the locals it is expensive (2500 pesos is the price which equals to one day’s minimum wage). So it is why Colombians drink more chocolate than coffee.Roasting is another important phase of coffee production. So when we drink coffee we never think of this long supply chain and we usually find it expensive without imagining this long process of coffee production; and the best way to see it is to visit a ‘hacienda’ in Colombia’s Coffee lands!