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On our roadtrip through the Zona de Cafetera, we drove first to Medellin, Salento, and last but not least Armenia, where we stumbled upon a tour almost by accident. As a self-proclaimed coffee addict, I could not leave Colombia without visiting.

As we were chatting about what to do in Armenia, our friend Harvey suggested looking up is uncle who owns a traditional Colombian coffee farm. Harvey gave him a call and he was pleased to have us, so we drove through the small dirt roads outside of Pareia until at last we came to a set of low buildings covered it bright red tiles. The cluster of buildings were ringed by a fence with a tall gate through which we walked, following Harvey’s uncle past a porch into a covered patio open to the air on one side, where there were a few small tables and a pool table, inviting us to come and spend the evening (with beers in hand, of course).

As I put my bags down my gaze swept over the farm and a smile came to my lips. Harvey’s uncle’s passion is to preserve the culture of his country, so the farm was decorated in the traditional fashion with an open layout in the center of the complex, and a large kitchen, for large Colombian meals. From where we stood on the patio, we could see fields stretching away from us, lined with dark green coffee plants.

The authenticity spread all the way to Harvey’s uncle himself, who dressed in traditional white pants and shirt with the fedora-like hat that colombians have worn for generations. After being in Bogota, the capital, where most of the people look and dress like anyone else in any other big city in the world, it was something special to see strong colombian roots.

After a much needed nights rest, we arose to a very colombian breakfast. Our host prepared tinto and eggs and I made arepas, a common Colombian pancake-like bread made out of corn, on which we spread homemade ham. Over breakfast, we discussed how to spend the day, though we were already on a coffee farm it wasn’t fully operational that time of year so there wasn’t much to see in terms of coffee production.

Originally, we thought we’d follow the tourist trail and go to Parque de Cafe, but after looking into it we discovered it was just a theme park with a steep entrance fee. We wanted something more authentic, and more related to coffee. Harvey’s Uncle suggested we go to Recuca, a nearly 100 year old farm open to tours and tastings year-round. So we climbed back into the white van and drove off towards Recuca, just 20 minutes outside of Armenia.

The tour was more than we had hoped for, and though it was more commercial that Harvey’s uncle’s farm, it gave us another insight into colombian history and culture, especially surrounding coffee. During the three hour tour, our guide taught us everything there is to know about coffee, from soil conditions, to types of beans.

We even went out into a field, armed with a bucket slung round our waists, and got to pick beans. I never realized how labor intensive coffee picking was until I tried it for myself, but their harvesting method is what sets Colombia apart. Brazil technically grows better beans, but they use machines to collect it, harvesting green and ripe beans alike, so the final product doesn’t have the high quality of Colombian growers, who still employ people to hand pick only the best beans from the often precarious slopes of the mountainous region.

After taking you through their production process, the tour guide teaches you about the culture of the cafeteros (the people from the coffee region) by taking you through a re enactment of life on the farm when it first opened a hundred years ago, complete with costumes, dancing, and a mock fight. Our friend, Tom, was selected for “the fight” and left everyone howling with laughter at the surprisingly authentic Paisa phrases coming out of a 6”2’, light-skinned Kiwi.

As the tour came to a close, we sat down to have lunch at the farm, where they serve a local Paisa dish. After downing our food, we booked a sophisticated coffee tasting for just 13,000 COP (about $4 USD), which was by far my favorite experience on the farm.

First, they train your senses by smelling vials of extracts and tasting spoonfuls of mystery liquid, trying to guess what notes they contain. After training your inner coffee connoisseur, you gather around a table laden with 8 different coffee grounds.

I won’t spoil the surprise for you, but it was extremely entertaining determining the quality the grounds, from the most refined to what our Colombian friend, Harvey, vehemently proclaimed the “shit coffee!” (and this is coming from a man who brews a toxic tinto, worse than the crappy instant coffee that my grandfather spoons out of a tin he bought sometime during the 60s to “stock up”). In fact, just getting a Colombian to open their eyes and appreciate the beautiful coffee that their homeland produces was worth every penny!

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