Whew! We`re back. Last week, my trusty assistant and boss, Azzam, and I were travelling around Antioquia, and we’ve experienced so many stories whilst doing so that we thought it best to devote an entire week to the pleasures available around Medellìn, which was already one of our favourite cities in Colombia (even if we do choose to live here in the big, bad Bog). So, over this week, we`ll bring our impressions of this beautiful, varied, and proud department. We hope you enjoy it nearly as much as we did.
Our first post here has a fairly bizarre title. Colombian coffee is world-famous, so you might think that you could dip your cup into a Colombian river and come out with the best coffee you`ve ever tasted. You might think that, if you have a ridiculously over-worked and unrealistic imaginition like mine, but, if you did, you`d be wrong. Terrifyingly, horrifyingly wrong. I don`t even know why you thought that, to be brutally honest. Since I`ve been living in Colombia, many a Colombian has asked if I`d tasted Colombian coffee yet. And, to continue with my novel theme of brutal honesty, I`ve had to reply that I have indeed tasted amazing coffee from Colombia, but in my native Australia, and generally not here in Colombia.
If I had to make a crude, broad, sweeping generalistion, I`d have to say that, on a whole, I`ve been slightly disappointed with the quality of coffee readily available here. Don`t get me wrong: I love a good tinto as much as the next person, but it doesn`t really match an expertly toasted shot of espresso delivered by a barista that really knows what they`re doing. Although there are a few exceptions, the cafè culture here in Colombia is not as firmly established as it is in Italy, or, indeed – and this may come as a surprise – back in Australia. It`s difficult to get a really good coffee in the country generally recognised to produce the best beans in the world. That`s pretty weird, isn`t it?
Well, not really, if you think about it. This sort of thing happens a lot. For example, I used to live near a city called Orange. Due to Aussie logic, this city was a centre for the growing of apples. It`s nigh on impossible to get a good apple in the shops of Orange – the best produce, of course, gets exported. A little sadly, this is the case here in Colombia as well. Most of the premium coffee gets exported to western countries. David Molina, of The Coffee Laboratory in Medellìn, told us a story that highlighted this plight. He visited a little coffee farm that produces some of the best coffee you`re ever likely to get your tastebuds around. Just outside this farmhouse`s kitchen window grew beans that would send the greatest coffee snob into uncontrollable raptures. The farmer himself preferred Nescafè. Sadly, this is a similar story amongst many Colombian coffee growers, many of whom have never even tasted their own produce.
Further evidence of the strangely indifferent attitude of Colombians towards their own coffee is that Colombians consume an average of 2kg/year. This may sound like a lot, but compare that to FInland, where the coffee-mad folk guzzle down a startling 16kg/year and you can see the problem.
This situation set David off on something of a coffee crusade. Determined to heighten this country’s appreciation of its world-famous product, he set about constructing a laboratory devoted to the study and production of the world’s best coffee. Funnily enough, the raw product was right under his nose, but a tour of his lab demonstrates that a lot more goes into making the perfect cup than you might think.
One thing I love is people geeking out over something. David has assembled a small army of coffee geeks who love nothing more than discussing optimal toasting temperatures and the differences between cold filtration as opposed to steam extraction. Together, this group of coffee experts is creating coffee of amazing quality – robust, complex, sweet, with amazing notes of citrus and caramel – right here in Colombia. I’d be happy to say that the espresso I experienced was probably the best cup of coffee I’ve had in my caffeine-addled life.
They’re achieving this by rigorously examining each and every stage of the process, from establishing close relationships with small coffee farmers (I mean their farms are small, rather than the farmers themselves) and grading the beans to carefully controlling each minute of the toasting procedure and completing a stringently involved taste of each batch. Everything is weighed, timed and tasted in a perfect fusion of science and art. Many parallels to the production of fine wine can be drawn and David convinced us that this is the kind of level coffee should aspire to.
And the name itself couldn’t be more fitting. Much more than a simple factory, this is a laboratory, a place where science and taste fuse together to produce stunningly delicious results. Beakers, test tubes and other scientific apparatus are dotted around the place and David proceeded to use many of these to demonstrate cold brewing, slow brewing and soft brewing, all different techniques which they use to bring out specific aspects of each bean’s flavour.
Watching the excitable, lab-coated team in action is watchingcoffee geeker of the highest order, and it`s a dazzling experience – especially if matched with one of the ridiculously good cakes produced by Mikaela, David`s mum, in the cafè out the front. This cafè is another Medellin story in itself, as the blondies she baked for her kids really began this whole coffee adventure. These are truly some of the most delicious cakes you will ever try.
And it’s a coffee adventure you should take. For too long, the best Colombian coffee has been ending up in cups outside this country, but the Coffee Laboratory is just one enterprise that is helping change this. It’s located in Medellin’s industrial zone, so if you happen to be in the City of Eternal Spring, head down there to pay them a visit. If not, orders for delivery are happily taken. There really is no better way to get your coffee geek on.
Paul G and Azzam
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