Colombia, Day One in Bogota

Day one in Colombia has been long but great. My red eye flight over was only 7 hours and I had a window seat. Unfortunately I was seated next to an elderly gentleman who couldn’t get out of the seat by himself to let me over to my seat. He at first expected me to just climb over his legs. I mean, have you seen how much leg room there is? None. After I said no about 6 times he finally called a flight attendant to help him get up so I could sit down. After a few hours we tried to make polite conversation with one another but his no English and my no Spanish got old after a few minutes. We went back to smiling and nodding.

After being picked up from the airport in Bogota, the first thing I noticed were the cars and how they really follow no rules while on the road. It’s kind of like – if it will fit in there, go ahead and go for it. They ride three or four wide in two lanes, maybe 2 inches away from each other, and honk at each other impatiently. After the first few near misses I kind of got used to it and relaxed. People cross right in front of cars going fast, get honked at and keep moving. There are motor bikes everywhere weaving in and out of all the cars. Cars turning left from the far right lane. It’s pretty exciting.

After lunch we went to the National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia headquarters where we had the opportunity to watch some of their processes and how they quality control the coffee that gets exported. The Federation’s mission is to ensure the well-being of Colombian coffee growing families through an effective, not-for-profit, democratic, grassroots organization. The Federation has three main goals: to achieve a sustainable coffee culture, to strengthen community networks in coffee growing regions, and to promote Colombian coffee’s superior quality worldwide. The Federation guarantees growers the purchase of their coffee crop at a fair price and the growers vote directly for their representatives in the Federation.

Ivan Lamilla Munoz, a Quality Assurance Officer, was our tour guide.

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He explained how the beans can taste different depending on which region they are grown in. The altitude, soil and humidity all make the bean have a particular taste.

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He showed us the green Arabica coffee beans and demonstrated how the husks get removed.

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Here he is showing us the filters that the coffee beans go through to separate them into like sizes.

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We saw how they hand pick through the beans to remove the ones that are inferior.

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And then we had a taste test. First we smelled the coffee grounds.

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Then we stirred and smelled the grounds with the hot water releasing the aroma.

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And then we tasted the four kinds and compared them to one another. (The way the professional tasters suck in the spoons of coffee with so much force sounds like a machine. My lame sucking in was nothing compared with theirs. And they spit better, too. I always had a little drool.)

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No shocker that my favorite was the one that is exported to the United States. It has less acidity and a bolder flavor. I didn’t care for the ones with high acidity but apparently they are hot in China.

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Did you know the roasting actually happens after export? I assumed they were roasted prior. And a darker roast is not used on great, flavorful beans because it would cover up the flavor. Usually the dark roasts are covering up some imperfection in the quality. This I did not know.

After the taste test, we watched a video with Santiago Echavarria R. of Public Affairs.

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The video was all about Juan Valdez and how that marketing campaign has helped the Federation. Do you remember this commercial? (During the video, a woman in a smart blue skirt with pompadour hair came by the table and poured us a cup of coffee. As she did each pour she pulled the cup away, away, away from the carafe and then brought it back up again. It was quite remarkable.)

But the really great thing that the Federation does is put the money back into the lives of the 512,000 Cafeteros and their families. For more than eight decades the FNC has invested heavily in coffee growers’ life quality, and with the ongoing support of the Colombian government, has brought schools, roads, healthcare centers, aqueducts and electricity to Colombia’s coffee growing regions.

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