Living in a small coffee harvesting village in the mountains of Colombia’s UNESCO World Heritage listed coffee region, I’m obviously drinking the best coffee in the world every single day, right?
Unfortunately for me and everyone else visiting the country, the best Colombian coffee doesn’t usually stay in Colombia. All the sacks of coffee that I see being loaded on jeeps and large trucks is shipped out of the village to be exported to other countries under co-ops such as Juan Valdez.
What does that leave me? A cup full of barely drinkable bitter brown water.
But there is hope. After traveling to at least 25 different villages and towns in the Colombian coffee growing axis, mainly located in the departments of Quindío, Caldas, and Risaralda, I’ve managed to stumble upon a select few cafés that are owned by or serve products from the local growers. These cafés don’t exist in every village (they’re usually in more touristy places) but they all make an exquisite cup of coffee with the finest quality beans that they’ve harvested from their own farms.
First, a simple guide to coffee in this region of Colombia. Of course you’ll find some great cappuccinos and lattes, often with liquor or additional flavors, but in this part of Colombia, its worth trying three simple cups:
- Tinto: a small cup of black coffee. Doesn’t get any simpler than this.
- Pintadito (Café con Leche): the same small cup of black coffee, but with milk.
- Café Montañero: a black coffee with a special local twist – it’s mixed with aguapanela (a sugar cane drink).
Now, what about these amazing cafés?
In every town or village I visit, I ask a local if there’s a local café direct from one of the local farmers or that serves a local brand. It’s not as easy to find as you’d think and I’m usually stuck with the bitter brown water. Out of the 25 or so villages, I’ve been fortunate enough to find just four places that have met my high standards for Colombian coffee. Each barista takes their coffee very seriously, is extremely knowledgable about the coffee they’re serving, and genuinely cares about your experience.
In touristy Salento I believe I found the cream of the crop. They easily serve the best coffee I’ve had in Colombia in my opinion. On three separate visits, I’ve tried three different coffees and each time was blown away by the quality and flavor. It’s located just off the main plaza in a small traditional house decorated with antiques.
If you like your coffee sweet, try the Café Angela. It’s black coffee with a perfect amount of foam sitting on top of condensed milk. Mix it up into a nice golden brown color and enjoy.
La Ruana Café Tertulia – Circasia, Quindío
Located just off the main plaza in the small town of Circasia, it’s also in a small traditional house full of antiques. I tried the café montañero and a cappuccino. We really enjoyed the peaceful outdoor patio.
Café Don José – Montenegro, Quindío
The third on my list is Café Don José, located in the plaza to the left of the church. This tiny place has an excellent tinto and café montañero.
Last but not least, this modern café makes special coffees with honey other flavors. There is also a small hostel attached. It’s located near the plaza.
I’m sure other places like these exist in villages I haven’t visited, but so far these are the best. If I find any more great places in different villages, I’ll be sure to add them here. What the list DOESN’T include are coffee plantation tours like Recuca in Calarcá and Finca El Ocaso in Salento, who both serve coffee that is out of this world. If you take a coffee tour, you’re pretty much guaranteed to get a great cup of coffee – no sugar necessary.