Journey to the source: Colombian coffee

The ultimate treat for coffee lovers is also a relaxing break that leaves you full of beans.

Every day, 1.6 billion cups of coffee are drunk around the world, according to the International Coffee Organisation, the brew's rather grand-sounding trade body. I'm not immune; indeed I took my love affair a step beyond the morning cup and travelled right to the source, to the slopes of the Colombian Andes.

While the idea of a holiday based around a global commodity may not sound promising, coffee production is much more picturesque than, say, cobalt or aluminium. You stay in a gorgeous colonial-style hacienda, for a start. You see, Colombian coffee doesn't grow just anywhere: the heights of the Andes are too cold, and down at sea-level the plants won't survive the withering heat. But these lush mountain slopes, ideally between 1,300 and 1,700 metres altitude, are just right.

I was staying on the family-run coffee plantation Hacienda Venecia, a 20-minute drive from the regional capital, Manizales, in highland Colombia. The hacienda is airy and genteel, with wide mountain views. A veranda runs around the outside, with large hammocks slung at regular intervals.

The best moment was very early morning. I'd like to say that you wake up and smell the coffee, but during harvest you hear it first. At sunrise the pickers are already high up on the hillsides, calling out to each other. There's also the sound of water from the nearby river, and small irrigation streams running all around. All this on top of raucous birdsong, which fades as the day gets hotter.

The humid, tropical slopes of the coffee region are saturated with colour. Layer upon layer of verdant mountains fold away into the distance, the lush green studded with iridescent flowers.

This is one of the most fertile areas on earth, and it teems with life. The ruby-spotted swallowtail butterflies are so big they seem to flap in slow-motion. Glittering dragonflies land on pouting orchids. At night fireflies zip around and frogs boom. Colombia's coffee zone is so fecund that, unlike most producer countries, it has two harvests a year – October to December and February to March.

Juan Pablo Echeverri is a fourth-generation coffee farmer. He runs Hacienda Venecia, and has recently started coffee tours. His enthusiasm is contagious: "We take sunlight, oxygen, energy, thoughts and ideas, and all of those we transform into aromas and flavours for you to drink!"

Our tour began in a sunny room overlooking coffee bushes. Juan Pablo took us briefly through the story of how coffee harvesting began in Ethiopia in the 15th century, spreading all around the world with Arabic traders.

He gave us each a handful of green (unroasted) coffee to sort. This meant choosing the best beans, rejecting any that weren't the perfect colour or shape. The misfits can give an acidic taste, apparently. Then we roasted, ground and "cupped" them. This is as it sounds, brewing up some beans, then tasting. Juan Pablo exalted the aromas of coffee in terms you'd expect of a sommelier. He used a wooden chest of tiny bottles containing essences of a huge range of smells (everything from honey to boiled rice) to help us discern the subtleties emanating from our cups.

After the classroom, we headed outside. The bushes have cherries and blossom at the same time, and the fragrance is heavy, a bit like jasmine. The cherries are sweet and pulpy, and contain a pip that will become the coffee bean. They're not unpleasant to eat, but there is no clue as to their future flavour.

Once picked, the beans go to the beneficiadero, a big shed where they are skinned, de-pulped, dried and put into sacks. It was like a tropical Willy Wonka experience. From here, the coffee is taken away to be roasted and exported.

Enjoying the slight coffee overdose, I walked back to the hacienda to cool down in the pool. An iguana lumbered down from a tree and birds darted around: the yellow and black calandria, the dazzling red titiribi and hummingbirds fighting for their territory.

There's something wholesome in the beauty of this land. Coffee production is largely operated through co-operatives, and unlike the vast industrialised estates in Brazil and Vietnam, Colombians pick by hand on much smaller farms. The coffee is interspersed with papaya, banana, guava and bamboo.

Colombians are proud of their country's biodiversity. I was told that there are at least 116 bird species here; that the landscape nearby swoops from the snow-topped Nevado del Ruiz at 5,000m down to a temperate 1,300m; that there are nearly 3,000 varieties of orchid on these slopes.

It reminds me of when a Colombian friend once told me that the sea around one local island had no fewer than 14 colours. Strange to say, but when you're there, it doesn't seem quite so improbable.

Travel essentials: Colombia

Getting there

* There are no direct flights between the UK and Colombia. The main approaches are on American Airlines (020-7365 0777; via Miami, Air France (0870 142 4343; via Paris or Iberia (0870 609 0500; via Madrid.

* The low-cost carrier Aires ( has connections onwards to Manizales for around US$130 (£80) each way.

Staying there

* Hacienda Venecia (00 57 312 850 9270; haciendavenecia. com) Taza, Manizales. Doubles start at 220,000 pesos (£70), including breakfast. Hostel rooms start at 60,000 pesos (£19), including breakfast. * Coffee tours cost from 30,000 pesos (£9.50) per person.

More information

* Colombia tourism: 00 57 1 427 9000;

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Life and Style

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law

Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
footballCSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Premier League champions let two goal lead slip in Russia
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    SCRUM Master

    £30 - 50k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a SCRUM Master to joi...

    Franchise Support Assistant

    £13,520: Recruitment Genius: As this role can be customer facing at times, the...

    Financial Controller

    £50000 - £60000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: A successful entertainment, even...

    Direct Marketing Executive - Offline - SW London

    £25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A fantastic opportunity h...

    Day In a Page

    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

    'You need me, I don’t need you'

    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
    How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

    How to Get Away with Murder

    Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
    A cup of tea is every worker's right

    Hard to swallow

    Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
    12 best children's shoes

    Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

    Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
    Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

    Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

    Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
    Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

    Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

    Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

    Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

    UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London