Colombian Coffee: Qundío

Now we move north. More or less in the mid-western part of the country, smack in the Central Cordillera (the central range that splits the country South to North), with the Cauca river between the Western and the Central ranges, there is a tiny Departamento named Quindío (the accent is in the second i), whose capital is Armenia. This is the heart of what is known in Colombia as the Eje Cafetero (Coffee Axis) and elsewhere as the Coffee Belt. This region was designated recently as part of the World Heritage by UNESCO. Armenia is the capital city and where the YIPAO parade takes place (4.5N, 75.7W, 1550 m alt. = 5,089 ft, almost 350,000 inhabitants) and it is dubbed “Miracle City” because of its rapid expansion especially in industry and commerce. Daily flight from Fort Lauderdale. Close by is the Parque de los Nevados (Ice-capped mountain National Park and Reserve)

All around, coffee fincas are found, of all sizes and varietals. Lodging is nice, easy, inexpensive and cozy in old haciendas whose houses have been modified for tourist accommodation.

Today we visit:

Finca Santa Fe, La Playa (The Beach) township in the Pijao Municipality.

(Prior to the Spanish conquest, this region was inhabited by the fierce Pijao tribe)

Varietals: Caturra, Castillo

1700 m = 5,577 ft

Owner: Nubia Loaiza

Cup: floral aromatics with hints of wood and tobacco in bright and citrusy, full-bodied coffee.

After her father passed away following the earthquake that shook Quindío at the beginning of 1999, Nubia slowly took over the management of the farm. Today, she personally oversees all the cultivation, harvest, washing and drying of her coffee; she also drives it down to Armenia in her ’94 Land Cruiser.

Out of the farm’s 55 hectares, 21 are planted in coffee, with the remainder divided evenly between cattle-grazing land and native forest. While much of her coffee was decimated by Colombia’s recent leaf-rust endemic, the lots that continue to thrive are largely cultivated in the shade. Ice Cream Bean (guamo), Spanish Elm (Nogales cafeteros), Pink Cedar and Andean Walnut trees, as well as plantain and banana plants, are the principal providers of this shade.

The farm’s extensive array of fauna is also quite impressive: foxes, Tiger Cats, armadillos, sloths, Redtail Coral Snakes and venomous Eyelash Vipers abound – which is to say nothing of the birds. Woodpeckers, hawks, American Kestrels, Blue-Crowned Motmots, Black-Billed Thrushes, Blue-Gray Tanagers, Tropical Kingbirds, cadmium-orange Troupials and Mountain Bluebirds.

The washing process is a traditional Colombian one. After getting de-pulped, wet parchment with mucilage intact is left to ferment for roughly 18 hours – give or take a few depending on the temperature. Once the mucilage has had ample time to break down, the coffee is passed through a washer, where the heavier, higher-quality beans sink through a metal grate into a separate tank. There, they remain until the water has had time to drain away, at which point they are moved manually to raised wooden drying beds.

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