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Tasting Magic in Colombia – the best coffee in the world

Coffee: It inspires passion, productivity, and addiction.

UPDATE: I was featured on the online front page of Semana, a Colombian national magazine! Here is the article.

Colombia, the world’s best-known producer of café – coffee  –  ranks 2nd worldwide in yearly production, for a good reason, since its products are delicious. Unfortunately, for many years, Colombia exported its best café and as  such, the deliciousness was hard to find in the country of origin. Recently, however, the trend is changing, as there is a growing interest in keeping some of the best for home. I am a tea lover, but here I’ve been drinking café every morning!

DSC_0163xLOVE. The full quote reads: “Del despertar de los sentidos al amor por el café”  – Jean Lenoir  (translation: The awakening of the senses to the love of coffee)

I was fortunate enough to be invited by Universidad Icesi (where I am currently teaching an entrepreneurship + mobile app development course in conjunction with my alma mater MIT) to visit Hacienda Combia in the Zona Cafetera, the coffee region. Hacienda is Spanish for an estate: in this case, a plantation that produces café. This particular hacienda is special because it is the birthplace of Combia Inspiración café.

The Icesi coordinator had shown us a vimeo video about Combia Inspiración (and here is the English version) earlier during the week and everything looked fantastic, but it didn’t prepare me for just how incredible the weekend was going to be.  After waking up at 4:30 on Saturday morning, and travelling through some beautiful landscapes of rolling hills, rivers fading into the distance, and waterfalls, we arrived at Combia.

A traditional hacienda with a beautiful + vibrant colour scheme:

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At check-in, we were greeted with tasty café:

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what I spotted while lounging about the welcome center. love for motocycles<3 

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..and I made a new friend – we had an interesting conversation:

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My room looked out onto a peaceful courtyard (with hammocks!!)

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with incredible views.. simply amazing:

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the pool + jacuzzi next to my room (perfect for relaxing later at night): 

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Shortly afterwards, we progressed to another part of the hacienda, to the ultra modern, eco-chic homebase for the tour of Combia Inspiración. The owner of Combia, designers from Gesta Diseño, and the Icesi StartUp Cafe founder, gave us, along with the representatives from Universidad Icesi and the journalists from El Pais, an introduction to the newly initiated project.

me, at the entrance to the home base of Combia Inspiración:

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Completely in love with the design of this place. The furniture is reminiscent of Scandinavian clean, elegant design, while the art brings to mind the French Impressionist painter Gauguin. A perfect balance between light+airy and solid+earthy, the ultra modern design embodies the elements of nature. In a word… perfection.

a mix of white, glass, steel, and natural elements:

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A local artist was hired to paint murals on some of the walls:

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love the vibrancy of his art:

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Incubated in the StartUp Cafe, Gesta Diseño worked in part on the design of  the experience. What is this experience?

“The magic of the traditions of the land of café, where your senses discover the spectacular landscape, the unforgettable smell of the land, the taste of the café, and the power of the elements of nature.” 

After the introductory presentation, we witnessed a demonstration of how to make the baskets – and learned how to do them ourselves too!

..what a powerful-looking knife:

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the weaving process reminds me of my friendship-bracelet making days!

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giving us personal help:)

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ta da daa! 
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To save time, since the progress was quite slow, we were given almost-finished baskets, and everyone completed the last steps to have a basket of their own! With everyone sporting their baskets and looking stylish, we moved on to the next area for a café-tasting exercise. I’ve gone to wine tastings before.. but coffee? Entirely new.

Manuel, the mastermind behind the whole project, explains the history behind the café and the current trends:

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We had to first smell, then taste to decide which out of the three cups, was the café de calle (coffee of the street), which the medium-grade, and which the Combia Excelsor (aka la crème de la crème). I was able to tell immediately (the cups weren’t in order, of course, so woohoo!) – the cup that smelled of chili peppers had a horrid taste, one was a “normal” expresso (read: bitter) and one was sweet and a delightful blend of flavours. Because most places that serve coffee aren’t that picky, a lot of milk (or in many people’s cases, a ton of sugar) is necessary to mask the bitterness. But..

…truly excellent coffee is naturally sweet and not bitter at all! 

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on my way to becoming a coffee aficionado:
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afterwards, we took a break to have lunch back at the hacienda. Part of the scrumptiousness:

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(I don’t have photos, but the immense variety of fruits – and fresh juice – are one of my favorite parts about Colombia)

Then, the tour of the fincas de café (coffee fields)! Incredibly relaxing to meander through nature (albeit it being cultivated). I did not expect the plants of café to be so colourful!

I learned that café turns bright red when it is ripe:

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and the ripening happens at different times:

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Usually I despise the act of photographing flowers.. but I couldn’t say no to these:

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We learned of the importance of the soil, water, plants+animals, and sun+shade on the quality of the coffee. Along the walk, there was a “secret”  hidden at the stations to represent each of these four elements. These formed the foundation pillars for the mugs, for which we also received a lesson on how to make, that represent the café.

my taza (inspiration based partly on Royal Copenhagen porcelain)

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compost formed by worms processing the shells of the coffee beans: (yes, the worms are alive and wriggling)

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in the left hand, amazing quality beans, in the right, the average used for most coffee sold (what a difference!):

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near the end, we came across a pomarosa tree with ripe (and delicious!) fruit. It is quite rare; one of the women said that she had not tasted it in twenty years. 

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peace.

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happy contented faces

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magical experience? yes. 

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If you get a chance to visit Colombia, please come visit Hacienda Combia! It is an incredible experience.

Lastly, muchisimas gracias to everyone that made this possible :)

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As an addendum to the update at the beginning of the post, here are photos of me being featured in Semana:

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3 comments on “Tasting Magic in Colombia – the best coffee in the world

  1. uncovercolombia
    June 26, 2013

    Great post and incredible photos. We do include Hacienda Combia in our tour of the coffee region (check our website for details). It is a great place to stay if you want to explore the key destination in this beautiful area of Colombia, Happy travels!

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This entry was posted on June 26, 2013 by in design, travel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

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