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The secret to Colombian coffee is in how they pick and cultivate their beans

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Ask any coffee connoisseur which country produces the best coffee in the world, and (almost) invariably, you’ll hear Colombia.

When I was planning this trip, I knew I wanted to visit a finca, or coffee plantation. After all, one of Colombia’s most famous exports is….coffee! (…What did you think I was going to say?) What I did not know, though, is that upon arriving to the finca, I’d have a bucket strapped to me and be put to work collecting coffee beans right off the plant. And this is an immersive experience anyone can have in Colombia, one that will make you look at your daily cup of joe with so much more appreciation than you probably already do.

We visited a plantation called Palacio Verde, where they produce a coffee brand called Luna Llena (Full Moon). The finca is in a gorgeous little town called Fredonia, tucked into the mountains roughly two hours outside Medellín. It’s a family run place, with a man called Don Gustavo as the head. I asked him why is it that Colombia produces such a superior bean, and he explained that it’s all in the process.

First though, a coffee bean sprout looks like this, because the coffee bean is actually the seed.

There are two kinds of coffee: Arabica, and Robust. Colombia only produces Arabica beans, because the climate and soil are ideal for it. Quite literally shoots out of the coffee bean, which then grows into a beautiful, vibrant plant full of colors. In Colombia, Don Gustavo says they only pick the beans that are red, because the green and yellow beans are technically not ripe. But in other coffee producing countries, they tend to pick the beans in all states - red, yellow, and green. That’s called strip picking, which tends to be easier to do because it can be done with a machine.

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In Colombia, they pick only the red ones, and only by hand. No machines. This is the part I was thrown into - strapped into a bucket, and sent to pick the ripe beans. It’s a labor intensive process, but Don Gustavo swears it is because of this process that Colombian coffee stands out.

For the toasting, we drove to a different finca in Fredonia, one that produces a brand called Cafe Los Frailes. This part is down to a science, where beans are carefully monitored inside a massive toaster. The contraption looks like an iron lung, and it rotates the beans constantly in an internal barrel. They’re never left alone - someone is standing there the whole time taking the temperature of the beans, and testing them for the perfect color. Then they’re ground on site, packaged, and sent to major markets across the whole world.

So, that cup of Colombian coffee you drink every morning? A human being - not a machine - in Colombia carefully picked the most sweet and ripe beans, and cultivated them from start to finish. Pretty cool thing to think about, in an age of machines.

Check out other pieces from our time in Colombia. We went to Pablo Escobar's old mansion, Hacienda Napoles, to see the family amusement park it has been converted into. We also saw some of Pablo's hippos, who are still thriving and multiplying on the property. And we spoke to some Colombians who explained why the country is more than ready to move past the memory of Pablo Escobar, and be known for something else.

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There's technically nothing wrong with sipping piña coladas poolside at an all-inclusive resort, but sometimes, you're just craving a trip that lets you see a little bit more of the world. Because there is a lot to see out there.

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