Sadly it is true you’re more likely to find a cup of great Colombian coffee in the U.S, Europe and Asia, than here in Bogotá. And coffee planters from Vietnam, Cambodia and increasingly India, are looking to substitute tea plantations with a growing demand for Arabica and Robusta beans.
While the world wakes up to a bonanza of organically-grown, fair trade and high quality coffees, Bogotá despite its proximity to one of the world’s most emblematic coffee zones, remains steeped in a culture of ‘tinto to go.’ Fortunately for those who do enjoy a proper cup, there are several people fighting to keep some of Colombia’s best coffee at home, and educating us to ensure we can fully appreciate it.
Colombia is the world’s largest exporter of high-quality Arabica beans, and Colombian coffee is internationally recognized as among the best in the world. Grown in 500 municipalities, across 18 departments, ranging from 1,000 to 2,000 meters above sea level, Colombian coffee’s reputation can be attributed to the cafeteros’ dedication to their crop.
Where quality meets quantity
At Café San Alberto in Buenavista, for example, beans are hand-sorted five times, a process Juan Pablo Villota, third generation coffee grower, calls ‘quintuple selección.’ This labour-intensive method, which ensures only the best beans leave the plantation, is an example of Colombia’s approach to coffee.
“It is more than a business,” Villota explains. “It’s a desire to share our long tradition, our experience in growing, and our family legacy.”
Like most high-quality Colombian coffee, the majority of Café San Alberto’s internationally awarded beans are destined for the U.S., Scandinavia and Asia. Jaime Duque of E&D Cafés says, “we don’t have enough stomachs in Colombia to drink the coffee we produce.”
Exportation is crucial to the nation’s coffee industry. However, Villota assures that Colombia is an important and growing market.
“We are still in diapers,” Duque adds, referring to the local appreciation for Colombian coffee, but things move quickly in this part of the world. Ten years ago few people had heard of a caffe latte. Now, thanks to chains like Juan Valdéz and Oma, espresso beverages are a daily habit for many.
Sharing a hot, bittersweet love
Today, select cafés across Bogotá are pushing coffee awareness even further by serving high-quality Colombian coffee with a side of education. In La Castaña Café in La Macarena, baristas explain the coffee grind and water temperature for
the ideal french press experience, and provide a timer to let customers know exactly when to depress the plunger.
In the north, Kiri Coffee roast their coffee on-site and offer espresso, drip and siphon preparations of their own Cauca blend. They also sell Hario brand home coffee equipment, and will patiently demonstrate how to prepare a gourmet-quality cup of coffee in your own kitchen.
E&D Cafés, which stands for Education and Development, put education at the heart of their business. Founder Jaime Duque and local gourmet roasters Amor Perfecto combined their 32 years of Colombian coffee experience to open their flagship café in Chapinero Alto. Duque and his team, including former national barista champion Mauricio Romero Beltrán, are conduits of information between cafeteros and coffee lovers, educating “from farm to cup.”
On a recent visit, E&D Cafes barista Juan David Torres made me a cup of single-region Cauca Caldono in the AeroPress, telling me as he worked, with careful practiced movements, that Cauca is one of Colombia’s best coffee growing regions. I also learned that the AeroPress method requires exactly 25 grams of beans, ground to a medium coarseness, and the distillation is precisely 1.5 minutes, timed by the ‘Über Boiler’ machine, which dispenses filtered water at exactly 90 degrees celsius, two degrees below Bogotá’s boiling point.
The Cauca Caldono is one of nine single-region coffees available at E&D Cafés, which the baristas will prepare using the espresso, Chemex, drip, Aero-Press, french press, or siphon methods. If you can’t decide which coffee to try, order the “Encuentro Sensorial”: four coffees prepared according to a single method for comparison.
In the company’s “Café Lab” coffee lovers can take a “cupping” workshop. Small batches of beans are roasted in 100 gram lots, ground and brewed for immediate tasting and comparison. Growers also use the Cafe Lab to test different cultivation, drying and roasting methods, and to learn how their efforts on the farm affect the coffee in the cup.
In Quipile, Café de Origen the people serving the coffee are the same people who grow it. Luisa Pizarro and Eduardo Esquivel gave up their teaching jobs in Chicago and bought a coffee plantation in Quipile, Cundinamarca. Six months ago they opened their cafe on the Parkway in La Soledad, where they serve their Rainforest Alliance certified coffee.
These teachers turned cafeteros have an experiential approach to coffee education. “We love coffee,” Pizarro says, “and we try to communicate this emotion to each customer by serving a quality cup.”
La Castaña Cafe, Carrera 5 No.26-57
Kiri Coffee, Carrera 14 No. 94A-61
E&D Cafés, Carrera 4 No.66-46
Quipile Café de Origen, Carrera 24 No.42-71