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; americanairlines.co.uk) via Miami, Air France (0870 142 4343; airfrance.co.uk) via Paris or Iberia (0870 609 0500; iberia.com) via Madrid.

* The low-cost carrier Aires (www.aires.aero) 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; colombia.travel.

Suggested Topics
Voices
Homeless Veterans charity auction: Cook with Angela Hartnett and Neil Borthwick at Merchants Tavern
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Sport
Amir Khan is engaged in a broader battle than attempting to win a fight with Floyd Mayweather
boxing Exclusive: Amir Khan reveals plans to travel to Pakistan
News
Stacey Dooley was the only woman to be nominated in last month’s Grierson awards
mediaClare Balding and Davina McCall among those overlooked for Grierson awards
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Voices
Joseph Kynaston Reeves arguing with Russell Brand outside the RBS’s London offices on Friday
voicesDJ Taylor: The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a worker's rant to Russell Brand
News
Twitchers see things differently, depending on their gender
scienceNew study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
News
Xander van der Burgt, at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
scienceA Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
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
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Investigo: Finance Analyst

    £240 - £275 per day: Investigo: Support the global business through in-depth a...

    Ashdown Group: Data Manager - £Market Rate

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Data Manager - MySQL, Shell Scripts, Java, VB Scrip...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - Bedfordshire/Cambs border - £32k

    £27000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - near S...

    Recruitment Genius: Class 1 HGV Driver

    £23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This successful group of compan...

    Day In a Page

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
    Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

    Marian Keyes

    The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

    Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

    Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
    Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

    Rodgers fights for his reputation

    Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
    Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

    Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

    'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
    Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick