Do you ever wonder what really goes into making your morning cup of coffee? It’s not something most people think twice about. Living in Colombia, one of the top coffee producers in the world, I’ve seen firsthand what it takes to make a simple cup of coffee. For many people, coffee isn’t just a refreshing hot drink. It’s their livelihood, culture, and much more.
The best place to learn about not only the production of coffee from seed to cup but also the coffee culture is Recuca. This coffee plantation, located in the municipality of Calarcá, just outside of Armenia, offers entertaining guided tours in both Spanish and English (call ahead to request a tour in English). Recuca is open every day of the year and has tours running every 30 minutes from 9am to 3pm. It’s located in the UNESCO World Heritage listed Coffee Cultural Landscape of Colombia.
We took a bus from Armenia’s bus terminal headed towards the village of Barcelona and asked the driver to let us off at the entrance to Recuca. The ride cost COP$2,000.
At the entrance, there is a gatekeeper who can call a jeep to take your party to Recuca for COP$8,000. It’s also possible to walk the 2.2km in under 30 minutes.
When we arrived, a sassy woman checked us in and sold us our tickets. There are 3 options – a 3 hour tour of the coffee process and coffee culture (COP$20,000), a traditional lunch (COP$16,000), and an hour long coffee tasting demonstration (COP$14,000). We opted for all 3 at a total price of COP$50,000. It made for a full day excursion.
The first thing we did was take a 30 minute walk to learn about the coffee cultivation process. There were different stations set up for visitors to learn about the discovery and history of coffee, a world map indicating the consumers and producers, a map of Colombia showing coffee producing regions, the types of coffee, and the ideal ecological conditions for growing coffee. It’s quite interesting to me that Colombia is such a huge producer of coffee but not a very big consumer. That’s probably why most of the coffee I find in Colombia is terrible!
We were shown seedlings, how they are originally planted in sand, and later transferred to soil as they grow.
We were also shown the diseases that affect coffee trees, such as a fungus called roya and a worm called broca.
Next, we were taken to a hall to learn a little about the culture of the region. We got to dress up in traditional costumes of coffee collectors and do some dancing. Some of it was a little embarrassing but it was all in good fun.
A wonderful presentation took place in a small theatre showing a scale model of a traditional coffee town and a parade of jeeps. The guide explained the meaning of each jeep and the people in the parade. He then put on a show with a guest to kind of make fun the jeep drivers. It was very entertaining.
The Coffee Process
It was then off to collect coffee. We were given a short demonstration of some of the modern equipment used by coffee collectors, then everyone tied a bucket around their waist and went into the field to pick coffee. We only spent about 10 minutes doing the picking before we were called back and “paid” play money for our hard work. A refreshing aguapanela drink was served to quench our thirst.
A demonstration of how the seeds are separated from the coffee cherries then took place. First, we were shown a traditional hand-cranked machine and then a modern machine. Then we were shown how the coffee is dried and finally selected.
The next part was our chance to taste the coffee. We were shown how to make a perfect cup and were given suggestions on water temperature, the amount of coffee to be used, techniques for pouring the water, and the proper way to stir coffee. I never thought coffee could be as high maintenance as wine.
That concluded the 3 hour tour and it was then off to a much anticipated lunch. We were served what they called “bitute” but it was pretty much a bandeja paisa. In fact, Marisol grew up on a coffee farm and never once heard the word “bitute”. Anyway, it was a hearty meal of beans, chorizo, egg, rice, plantain, ground beef, and arepa. It was washed down with mazamorra and aguapanela. It was delicious!
Another Coffee Tasting
The final part of our day was a very interesting coffee tasting. It began with a smell test of several concentrated liquids from different plants and fruits, such as rose, almond, cacao, and lemon. We were then given a chance to test our taste buds by sampling different spoonfuls of water. Each spoonful was either bitter, sweet, sour, salty, or neutral.
Next, we did a smell test of 6 different coffee grounds and were asked to tell the guide which ones were the highest quality and lowest quality. The guide then added water and we repeated the process. Our opinions changed! We were then given a chance to taste each coffee, and our opinions changed again! Luckily for our sense of smell and taste, we were able to correctly choose the best and worst quality coffee.
The last part of the coffee tasting was a more in-depth instruction on how to make a perfect cup of coffee. We were shown how to properly grind roasted coffee beans depending on the type of coffee we wish to make, the correct temperature of water, the amount of coffee to use per cup, how to prepare the filter, and how to pour. It was very interesting and we both came away with a lot more knowledge. We both learned that a perfect cup of high quality coffee will need absolutely no sugar and should taste amazing. Now I know that every time I have to put sugar or milk in my coffee it’s because it’s most likely bad quality coffee or badly prepared coffee.
Our day at Recuca was long but enjoyable. It wasn’t as technical as I was hoping, but it did the job. We both thought the explanation on the processing of coffee after it’s picked was weak, but they did a wonderful job of demonstrating the culture of the region. It was a good 6 hour day but it didn’t feel like it dragged at all and the guides were entertaining and funny. If you have a full day to learn about coffee, this is the best place to do it. I took a more technical tour in Salento at Finca El Ocaso, but this one was much more enjoyable.