I love coffee. Having lived in the Bay Area for the past seven years (minus the past year of backpacking), I can safely say I’m a coffee snob. I’m not so bad as to swirl a mug and say something like “There’s notes of pencil shavings in the nose,” but I can definitely taste things like over-extraction and bitterness, and I will go way out of my way for a good cup of single origin, third wave coffee. Planning our trip to South America, we were interested to tour a Colombia coffee farm, but we weren’t expecting Colombia coffee to be some of the best coffee we’ve ever had. Turns out that we were very wrong. During our Colombia coffee farm tour in Salento, we learned that Colombian coffee has been sorely mistreated in the USA. Colombian coffee isn’t meant to be dark roasted and bitter (and shouldn’t be relegated to the likes of Folgers et al)! We tasted farm fresh light and medium roasted coffee and learned about the truth behind Colombian coffee.
Colombia is one of the world’s biggest coffee exporters to USA. What that means is that all the best beans go stateside and Colombia gets the second class run off. So typically, Colombian coffee is best enjoyed outside of Colombia.
That is, unless you go on a Colombian coffee farm tour.
We took Colombia coffee farm tours in both Minca and Salento, and by far our favorite Colombia coffee farm tour experience was Finca el Ocaso in Salento!
Visiting Finca el Ocaso in Salento
One afternoon in Salento, Colombia – a beautiful town in the middle of the Eje Cafetero, Colombia’s coffee region – Lia and I strapped on our Camelback, popped an SD Card in our camera, zipped up our luxury tent flaps, said adios to the resident hostel puppy, and headed down the street from our hostel (the scenic and incredible La Serrana) to Finca el Ocaso, akaOcaso Coffee Farm. Finca el Ocaso is probably the most well known and widely advertised coffee farm in the Salento area, which we usually find off putting, but their reviews were great so we decided to give it a shot.
We started on our 2 km downhill stroll in the most us way possible: the wrong way. Instead of taking the road we were supposed to, we took a sketch overgrown trail on accident. It was going in the right general direction so we saw it to the end, where it thankfully met the actual road (which is why this post is about doing a Colombia coffee farm tour, instead of getting lost in a coffee plantation somewhere in Colombia and having to find our way back to civilization). Even though we technically got lost for a while, it was an easy walk and we were #blessed with sweeping views of the surrounding landscape: Colombia coffee farms as far as the eye can see! Salento is absolutely stunning, y’all.
Finca el Ocaso has handy inspirational signs that countdown the distance for you along the way, which kept us in high spirits as we approached the coffee farm. But once we reached the cheerful “0 meters left!” sign, we realized the signs were full of lies and we still had the obscenely long driveway to walk up.
As we approached the farmhouse, we were greeted by a farmer taking a break in the shade of a banana tree, because everyone in Colombia is the most friendly person ever. We meandered around the winding driveway and took in the gorgeous view of the grounds. Finca el Ocaso looks exactly like what you’d imagine a picturesque Colombia coffee farm to look like: a red and white colonial farmhouse set in a lush green landscape, with a cheerful road winding right up to it.
Colombia Coffee Farm Tour at Finca el Ocaso
At the main house we were greeted by an employee and happily paid our tour fee, which at $3.50 was roughly the cost of a good cup of coffee back home (and of course, the tour includes a cup of fresh coffee).
The first thing you do on the tour is put on a super fashionable coffee picker basket, which is basically a wicker fanny pack; this is to deposit the coffee fruits of your labor, and is what actual coffee pickers wear (they probably pull it off more than we did). After a quick uphill jaunt, our tour guide Alex explained the whole process of growing coffee, then walked us through it as if we were coffee farmers ourselves. He told us that the peak seasons for Colombia coffee farms are March to June (55% of the annual harvest) and October to December (30% of the annual), so if you’re interested in coffee tours in Colombia or Salento coffee tours, that would be the best time to do one! We came during the off season, so ripe coffee berries were few and far between.
Lia and I combined managed to pick only 4 ripe berries in 15 minutes. We would make terrible coffee farmers.
Ocaso Coffee Farm boasts certifications for being sustainable, organic, and ethical, which is not only great for the planet but also results in a higher quality cup of coffee. The farm utilizes “Double Shade” to bring out more of the sweetness naturally found in South American coffee. They plant of indigenous non-coffee plants in each coffee hectare, including banana trees, guava trees, ginger plants and more. These plants provide extra shade for the coffee, which results in a slower ripening process and more developed sugars. In addition to shade, the fallen leaves and fruit add to the organic composted mulch in which the coffee trees grow, and insects are attracted to the other plants instead of the coffee. It’s incredible to see such a sustainable system in place!
Alex walked us through the process of removing the bean, washing the pulp off, drying, quality control, and shipment of the green, unroasted bean. Something we’d never heard of before visiting Colombia is the “cafe natural” method of brewing coffee. Basically, the coffee bean is dried in the berry rather then being separated and then dried. The berry is removed right before the roast. The result is an even sweeter bean, since it was dried in delicious, sweet pulp. Colombia coffee is already naturally sweeter than most coffee due to the soil, climate, and nearby plants; a cup of “cafe natural” tastes so good black that even the most Starbucks addicted would never think to add sugar!
Finca el Ocaso is one of the few Colombia coffee farms utilizing this method for a small batch, and you can buy a bag of their coffee beans at the farm. The farm keeps a small amount of their “first class” product to roast and sell in house, and the rest is exported to the USA (hopefully to high quality third wave coffee shops, who can appreciate a bean this good).
We finished our Colombia coffee farm tour with a cup of delicious, first class Colombian coffee, roasted and ground right in front of us. It was sweet and acidic and everything you’d expect from an organic, single origin, small batch cup of coffee (and I say that with the snobbiest of fancy coffee expectations).
Third Wave Coffee in Colombia
The fact that Finca el Ocaso keeps some of the good stuff for themselves interested me. Here I thought Colombia was stuck with the second tier beans due to the high percentage of exported beans to the USA, but I was wrong. Third wave coffee is alive and well in the USA, but it’s also taking root here at the source!
By exporting their beans as Colombia has done almost exclusively in the past, the quality control and roast of the beans is entirely in the hands of the American roasters. Sadly, often the beans are exported en masse to companies like Starbucks, Philz, Peet’s, or even Folger’s (*shudder*) who have no regard for the nuance of the origin. As a result, they roast the shit out of it, and people like me grow to think Colombian coffee is dark roasted crap.
But in the hands of someone with the national pride of the origin, the coffee is roasted it in a manner that provides the best possible representation: often a medium roast, sometimes light, but differently handled depending on the region, the variety of tree, and the method of drying the bean. Basically, a Colombian coffee expert treats Colombian coffee completely different than what you’re probably used to when you think of “Colombian coffee”. Throughout our time in Colombia, we’ve been impressed time and time again with the availability of high quality roasts and brewing precision. Even the Colombian version of Starbucks, Juan Valdez Cafe, is designed specifically to celebrate Colombian coffee, and features a range of roasts from various regions in Colombia treated with different brewing methods such as Chemex, V60 pour over, or siphon. It’s delightful to see such pride in their main export, and the Third Wave Coffee movement – while fairly new to take hold in Colombia – is alive and well.
So while I’m here, I don’t miss my Kenyan or Ethiopian beans. I’m perfectly content pouring another cup of Colombian gold.
Practical Information about the Finca el Ocaso Salento Coffee Tour
Cost: 10.000 COP/ $3.50 for a basic tour; or 50.000 COP/$17 for a premium tour
What to Expect: 1.5 hours of exploring the plantation, learning about the coffee production process, and of course a delicious cup of fresh made Colombian coffee. Tours are offered in both English and Spanish.
Hours: Tours are offered daily at regular intervals from 9am until 4pm. Tour times can be found here.
How to get to Finca el Ocaso: From the center plaza of Salento, take a Willy. This is the only form of public transportation in Salento, and it’s super fun. (More information about Willys and other public transit
Practical Information about Visiting Salento, Colombia
How to get to Salento: We took a bus from Medellin – it was cheap and incredibly scenic, but also 12 hours long. Alternatively, you can fly from anywhere within Colombia to Periera or Armenia, and bus from there.
What else to do in Salento: Salento is a haven for lovers of the outdoors (and coffee, obviously). The most famous and beautiful hike in all of Colombia is here: the Valle de Cocora. You can spend your days horseback riding, trekking, bird watching, or just relaxing and watch the sun set over the valley. Honestly, Salento was our favorite place to relax in Colombia, and that’s saying a lot, because we loved everywhere in Colombia.