Part 1: Return to Origin
Back in December 2019, our Directors Alice and Chris Edgcumbe-Rendle returned to Colombia to visit a clutch of extraordinary coffee plantations whilst taking the opportunity to soak up some of the vibrant Colombian culture. From the hustle and bustle of the huge capital Bogota, to the epic mountain range of Sierra Nevada, Alice and Chris explored the lush tropical jungles and spent many afternoons doing what they enjoy best: confirming that Colombia really IS home to some of the world’s best coffees…(just to save the suspense, the coffee didn’t, ever, disappoint!).
To give you a full and in-depth account of all things Colombia, Coffee and Culture, our directors wanted to share their travel blog with you. Read about their wild adventures hiking to the most picturesque and inaccessible points and relaxing in traditional and modern cafes. But, most importantly, getting to know the welcoming farming communities that grow the amazing Colombian coffees we all enjoy and love here in the UK.
“Edgcumbes sources speciality beans from far-flung locations” Alice explains. “We roast them in our Dutch barn close to the historic town of Arundel in the UK, serving coffee loving customers and visitors in Sussex and beyond!
There is something that draws me to Colombia. Myriad reasons – its people who are unfailingly warm hearted and welcoming to visitors. Its culture of art, design and music; its architecture from the Havanesque Cartagena to the hip streets of Medellin.
But above all it has to be the land –imposing mountainous ranges, rainforests, inaccessible small holdings, babbling brooks and languid rivers…. Aaah!! Have I set the scene?
We decided to return to visit some of the coffee people with whom we work on a regular basis. We were excited to cup new crop samples and order pallets of green beans, which are destined to be shipped half way across the world back home to our Sussex Roastery.
The coffee supply chain is a long one. Starting with the farmer, who grows the tree from seed, harvests and processes it. The receiving mill prepares the coffee ready for export to the world. Followed by shippers who bring it to our shores, then roasters (us!) who morph the hard green bean into that tantalising, aroma-filled final result…and then, the barista (also us!) who turns the bean into the cup of Joe that we all love and recognise.
The trip we planned was going to mean 9 flights in 2 weeks. It is hard to imagine sometimes just how large Colombia is! From the Caribbean coastline to high up in the Andes where the air is as thin as you will find in the Alps – Colombia has it all.
Bogota, the capital of Colombia was our initial destination. Vibrant, with a population of over 10 million, it is perched high in the Andes where the air is clear and the nights are cold!
We realised that our arrival had coincided with a major round of street protests which kept us busy, huddled in some of the local coffee shops. I must say, they have hugely improved since my last visit in 2015.
It is great news that the speciality coffee scene is now flourishing in the countries of origin. For far too many years they had the worst, while the rest of the world got the pick of the crop. Mind you, one of the cafes had a rather lovely blend all the way from Australia! Such is the power of the speciality coffee scene.
Coffee truly is a global product.
Escape to the mountains:
The next day it was an early flight to Valledupar for our Sierra Nevada adventure. We landed in searing heat and bounced our way from the airport in one of the many taxis for whom decent suspension is an alien concept.
The views of the Sierra Nevada Mountains surround this small town and they are truly spectacular. It felt almost as if we had fallen straight into a David Attenborough documentary with the edginess of a Steven Spielberg movie. Indeed, this is one of the highest coastal mountains range in the world and is the home to 4 indigenous tribes, some members of whom we had arranged to meet.
Coffee & Climate:
The small town of Pueblo Bello was our destination – an hour from the plains of Valledupar, climbing steeply on a well-constructed road (a welcome change from the Costa Rican roads which are atrocious!). We first stopped off at one of the Coffee Research Stations which are owned and managed by the National Federation of Coffee Growers.
The station is invaluable as a weather-vane for monitoring the effects of climate change which is a hot topic in the area. They have seen temperatures rising, which means that coffee has to be grown in higher altitudes. This in itself is not a bad thing for lovers of quality, for speciality coffee thrives in these conditions. However, it makes the process harder, less accessible and ultimately more expensive. With the current low prices being paid for coffee, the status quo will have to change if we are to have a strong coffee economy in the future. Many young people are deciding against a career in coffee which will have long term ramifications for the whole supply chain in coming years.
This is why we believe that these trips to meet the growers are of significance as they help to foster links and build trade that will hopefully encourage more farmers to grow coffee.
Just as we in the UK are starting to realise the value of genuine collaboration on a local level, so the coffee industry is developing ties and links with coffee roasters in the consuming countries all over the world. This breaks down barriers and keeps the issue of sustainability and provenance high on the agenda.
The Research Station is a working farm and we were given a tour of the coffee nursery. We were fascinated to see where the seedlings are grown and propagated. Moving on to the compost farm where specially imported Californian worms do their bit to break down the ‘cascara’ (the outer skin of the coffee cherry that is discarded in the process of obtaining the coffee beans). Finally, we were welcomed into living quarters for itinerant workers who visit at harvest time. By the way, Colombia is one of the few coffee-producing countries that has two annual harvests, rather than the more common single annual one.
Even after many years in the industry, we are still amazed at the investment of time and energy in coffee processing. We never tire of learning and the opportunity it gives us to share that knowledge back home. The next day was going to be particularly exciting as we were going to have a meeting with some very special people- the coffee growing Arhuaco Tribe. We felt like children on Christmas Eve! We couldn’t wait to visit Wilbur Mestre…”
Meet Wilbur Mestre in Part 2!