Colombia is among the world’s largest coffee-producing countries alongside Brazil, Vietnam, Indonesia and India. Not surprisingly, many travelers in Colombia want to see this with their own eyes. Although coffee is widely produced in almost every region of the country, Eje Cafetero, also called the Coffee Triangle or Zona Cafetera, is the most famous place to visit a coffee finca. This area is also on the UNESCO’s World Heritage List. I myself have been to a coffee finca in several places, including three times in the coffee triangle and once near Bogotá in this finca in Machetá. Coffee is also produced in Santander, Antioquia, Boyacá, Cauca and Huila, among other places. However, tourism has not yet found these coffee fincas as it has in Eje Cafetero, and the fincas there are more difficult to visit. So the coffee triangle is the easiest way to do a coffee tour. But which finca do you choose? I can’t give you the answer to that question (yet), since I haven’t visited all the coffee plantations. However, I can tell you what I thought of Finca El Ocaso, how the tour works and how it compares to the other tours I have done. El Ocaso: follow the route of the coffee bean.
El Ocaso: a family business in coffee
The finca El Ocaso, which means sunset, was built more than 100 years ago. You can also see it in the typical colorful style so recognizable to this region. The finca is located less than 5 kilometers from the picturesque coffee village of Salento, in the middle of beautiful nature. Before the tour begins, I walk around a bit and enjoy the beautiful views, the cows and horses and the colorful flowers.
The coffee tour
There are two tours at the finca, the “traditional” and “premium” coffee tour. Both are possible in both English and Spanish. We did the first one of 1.5 hours and cost 20,000 pesos per person (January 2019). During this tour, you will learn about the coffee plantation, get to pick your own beans, see how they plant coffee trees, learn about the process of bean drying and, of course, you get a cup of fresh coffee. A very informative tour. It is also possible to dive even deeper into the process of coffee, namely during the premium coffee tour. It lasts 3 hours and costs 65,000 pesos and is available from 2 people. You do need to book these in advance. Here you can find more information about prices, times and content of both options, among other things.
Where did that cup of coffee come from?
I’ve brought this up before, but here again in short: how does that coffee actually get into your cup?
The ideal conditions for growing coffee
Coffee beans prefer to grow between 1300 and 2000 meters in altitude, in the shade. Hence the many banana trees among the coffee, as the large leaves provide shade. The coffee at El Ocaso grows in the rainforest. Because of the shade, the coffee ripens more slowly, which means it contains more sugar and achieves ideal acidity for the best flavor.
The coffee bean
Once the coffee bean turns red you can pick it. So in this case we were not lucky, because everything was still green. Should you get the chance, crack open a red fruit and taste the slippery coffee bean. In fact, contrary to what you might expect, the taste of this is very sweet.
After the hard work of picking beans is over, they go through the machine to separate the bean from its casing. Then they end up in a container of water, where the good beans remain at the bottom and the bad ones float to the top. The good beans are mostly exported, but there are also plenty of places in Colombia itself where you can get good coffee, and you can buy it (almost) everywhere in the supermarket.
Next, the beans must be dried. How this is done varies by coffee finca. This can be in the sun, but in the case of El Ocaso, it is done in a kind of greenhouse.
After drying, the beans are roasted and can be ground for use. Jimmy always buys the coffee in beans and then grinds it himself in a certain way. The method of roasting also helps determine the taste.
There are many different ways you can prepare coffee. You still get the best results with the old-fashioned coffee filter. It is best to use water with a temperature just below the boiling point and put the coffee in a preheated cup. There is a lot to learn about making coffee. Jimmy is fascinated by coffee, so at home we not only have a coffee maker, but also a grinder and a percolator. For his birthday, I gave him a course to become a barista at café Amor Perfecto. This one he is going to follow as soon as we get back to Bogotá. Want to drink really good coffee brewed in a special way? Then be sure to visit a café of Amor Perfecto!
What did I think of El Ocaso?
Previously I have been twice to finca Recuca, which is quite massive and has unfortunately become far too touristy in recent years. However, this finca is vast and you learn not only about coffee but also about the culture. I really liked the small scale of El Ocaso. The place to pick the beans was a little less idyllic and you don’t see a very large part of the finca. But all in all, I absolutely recommend it. However, I would like to visit the somewhat larger (and more expensive) fincas to better compare. In fact, it seems that there is a big difference in quality. But as with everything, there are pros and cons. Thus, El Ocaso is very affordable, making it perfect for the budget traveler. In addition, it is easy to get to and you learn a lot about coffee and its production to get a good idea. Although I have heard the coffee story many times, for my friend it was the first time and she found it very enjoyable and informative. So El Ocaso is definitely one of the good options to visit when in Salento.
Fun to know: I always bring a bag of coffee beans from everywhere home for Jimmy, and as a coffee lover, he thought El Ocaso’s coffee was the tastiest he had had in ages. Unfortunately, I couldn’t “just go back” to buy a second bag of coffee….
Where to stay.
El Ocaso is very easy to reach from anywhere in Salento or beyond. I myself stayed in Eco Hotel La Cabaña (highly recommended!), where they took us by jeep to El Ocaso. You can also stay overnight at the finca itself.
How to get there.
Because of its location near Salento, you can even walk there from the village, in about an hour. There are also Willy’s going to and from the finca from the square in Salento. So I myself got there with transportation from my residence, and back to Salento with the Willy. More information on how to get there can be found here.
Secretly, I don’t like coffee at all, but I always find a visit to a coffee finca immensely enjoyable anyway! Do you enjoy drinking coffee and have you ever been to a coffee plantation?