What is known as the coffee belt in Colombia is a region in the central-west part of the country.
As the Andes enter Colombian territory, it splits in two and one range continues north very close to the Pacific shoreline up until almost the Darien gap (we call it the Occidental range) and the other goes north a few miles and then it splits in two again, with one range going north-east to die in Venezuela (our Oriental range) and the other one keeping a course north en route to the Caribbean coast (the Central range).
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The Central is the highest range, with altitudes of up to 6,000 meters (18,000 feet) and many snow-capped mountains. No snow below 5,000 meters in these latitudes.
The western slope of the Central range is Paradise. No cliffs here, all mountains are soft and rounded, 100% covered in green. No wonder in 2011 UNESCO declared this region as a World Heritage Site; it is worth seeing it.
In the early 20th Century, the region began shifting from rubber to coffee, because the agro-environmental offer was excellent for this new crop. It soon became the country’s top coffee-producing region.
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This crop helped raise the standard of living of the region above the national average and, even today after so many coffee crises it is still the region with the least poverty and the lowest crime rate in Colombia. These facts influence the people in the Coffee Belt to be educated, polite, warm and generous to the point that friendliness and happiness are all over and become contagious. Here’s some info in Spanish: http://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eje_cafetero and here is more in English: http://www.lonelyplanet.com/colombia/northwest-colombia/zona-cafetera and http://www.youmustsee.com/south-america/colombia/zona-cafetera.html.
Last week, we had a visitor from Norway who is a large distributor of Brazilian coffee and is now interested in purchasing Colombian. We visited several farms and two industrial facilities.
One of them is a company in Manizales that produces soluble (instant) coffee and also is the only decaffeinating plant in Colombia. Very modern installation with state of the art machinery and laboratory, automated filling equipment and beautiful people. We tested several coffee origins and our Norse client chose the one most fit for Norway’s taste.
The other one is a small roaster in Armenia. Two brothers and one sister, continuing the legacy from their father who grew up planting and harvesting coffee, then roasting with love, have set up this facility, in association with a young gringo who fell in love with coffee and the Belt. Their scheme is to assist small and medium growers and encourage them to raise quality by careful selection. They run a small hulling machine and a hand-selecting station where they employ women who are heads of family. Roasting is made in small batches and very carefully selected. We had a cupping session at the end of which we all agreed on a blend of two farms, one from Antioquia and one from Nariño. Both coffees have excellent cups and, blended both were enhanced by each other.
Planning a visit to Colombia? Don’t miss the Coffee Belt. You’ll love it.