The valleys of Pereira offer a glimpse into one of Colombia’s well-known treasures: its coffee. One of the world’s top coffee producers, it roasts arabica and robusta beans before shipping them around the world. In fact, due to the demand for Colombian coffee worldwide, many locals drink second-grade coffee, and it takes visits to a few tucked-away coffee shops to discover those that brew the coveted best beans of their homeland.
Even as Colombia struggles to shake off its dangerous image, which is propelled by shoot-outs in movies such as Mr and Mrs Smith, it’s fighting to hold on to its coffee roots, which were first brought over the border by a priest who lured farmers into his church by promising them free coffee beans for every service they attended. The past few years, however, farmers have been fighting the red spider plague, which has crept over their crops and slashed production to half of its output from 1992. Brazil, Vietnam, and Indonesia have skipped ahead of Colombia in production numbers, making worldwide coffee prices drop, and the heavy rains that have attacked the country in the past few years have spelled disaster for many coffee farmers in Colombia, who are now looking to the government to provide aid. With protests springing up, the coffee business stands on shaky legs.
At the Hacienda Combia coffee farm in Pereira, though, its owner, Manuel Sabogal Restrepo, says the current crisis doesn’t change anything for him. ‘Coffee is in our blood,’ he says, stopping by a young arabica bush to suck on a raw coffee bean and savour its sweetness. ‘We’re not going to stop just because we’ve had a bad year or two.’ And indeed, with four generations of Restrepos managing the farm, a few bad years is simply a hiccup to be lost in history.
Instead, Hacienda Combia’s found other ways to keep the coffee culture alive. Coffee prices have been below the cost of production for over a year now, but tourists are finally making their way back into the country, albeit slowly. Hacienda Combia has set up a tour in their backyard to take tourists through the process of making coffee, from picking the perfect bean to roasting it at a perfect 180 – 220 C temperature. After a jeep ride through mountains in an UNESCO Heritage Site piled with canefora trees and bamboo shoots, nothing is quite as rewarding as a cup of black coffee overlooking the valley.