Salento is fast becoming a must-stop for travelers in Colombia. Drawn here by the spectacular Valle de Cocora and its quaint streets dotted with bohemian cafes, it’s one of the best places to unwind and rest.
One of the activities offered in Salento is visiting a coffee farm. There are a few that charge a small sum of money to give visitors an introduction to coffee plantation and the process of coffee from beans to your cup. And Colombian coffee is world famous.
I’ve been to Salento twice and both time I visited Don Elias coffee farm. The reason I went to this farm is because it’s a family-run, organic, artisan coffee farm and Don Elias is a really nice and hospitable host; he will answer questions patiently and always seems to have time for everyone.
After the tour, while sipping my coffee prepared by his wife, I decided to have a chat with him
Q: What’s your name?
E: My name is Elias Pulgarin, but people called me Don Elias.
Q: How old are you?
E: I’m 78 years old.
Q: Are you originally from Salento?
E: No, I was born in a village near Cali. But I’ve lived in Salento for the past 20 years.
Q: What did you move to Salento?
E: After my father passed away I decided to move my family to a new place. We came to this area and I like the terrain here. And I found this 4 hectare land where I started coffee farming.
Q: Do you plant only one or various types of coffee beans?
E: In my farm I have two types of coffee beans; the Arabica and the Colombian variety. The trees and the beans look different but in essence and taste they are similar.
Q: Why are there banana and mandarin trees in your coffee farm?
E: It’s because the leaves from these trees give shade to the coffee plants. So most coffee farms will have some other trees, usually banana, planted among their coffee trees to give shade.
Q: Can you tell me briefly the process of coffee from plant to cup?
E: Coffee seeds are planted in a nursery for about 5-6 months before they are planted in the farm. From then it takes about 2 years for the tree to grow and bear fruits. Once a tree starts to bear fruit, it can bear fruit up to 50 years.
Q: That’s a long time.
E: Yes, but we usually uproot the trees after 20 years. Because the quality of the beans they produce after 20 years aren’t as good. So we will uproot any trees over 20 years old and plant new coffee trees.
Q: And do you harvest once a year?
E: Actually here we harvest twice a year: April-May and October-November.
Q: What do you do with the beans once they are harvested?
E: We spread them out to dry in the sun. Depending on the weather, if it’s sunny without rain, this process will take about a week for each batch. Once the beans are dry, we remove the husks and then we roast them.
Q: Do you have special machine or oven to roast your beans?
E: No, since we are small family run artisan coffee farm, we use traditional method, by cooking the beans in a wok over wood fire. Once the beans are roasted, we can pack them for sell or we grind them into powder and then pack them for sell.
Q: It sounds like a tough job being a coffee farmer.
E: Actually it isn’t that tough. We are only busy during harvesting seasons, the rest of the year is quite relaxing.
Q: Do they help you with the farm?
E: No, they all live in other cities, quite far away. I had wished that some of them would follow my footstep but I’ve come to accept that they have their own life and I’m happy for them.
Q: So you hire workers during the busy periods?
E: Yes, I usually hire 8 workers during harvesting seasons. And I have 6 family members who help me during the rest of the year.
Q: How and when did you start giving coffee farm tour?
E: I started about 8 years ago. Someone from a hostel ask me if I was willing to show tourists around my farm and that’s how it started.
Q: Do you enjoy giving tours to people who come to your farm?
E: Yes I do. I enjoy showing them around my farm and explaining to them the different types of beans and the process. Especially when it’s not harvesting time, these tours fill my days and I get to meet interesting people from all over the world.
If you are in Salento, don’t forget to pay Don Elias a visit. His finca is located about 45 minutes walk outside the village, just ask in your hostel or people on the road, they will be able to point you in the right direction.