I have become something of a coffee obsessive over the years I have lived in Colombia. That’s partly down to the excellent new coffee shops that have been springing up all over my neighbourhood, partly because it’s hard not to get obsessive when you have done as many coffee tours as I have over the years, and mainly because I live in country with some of the best coffee in the world. Coffee and birds are my two favourite things, and Colombia does both of those with abundance. I’m not complaining!
Recently though I discovered my favourite café in Colombia – possibly in the world, therefore – and a place that I will go so far as to declare “the best café in Colombia.” That place is Café La Floresta in the small town of Pijao in Quindio, the heart of Colombia’s Coffee Cultural Landscape.
So why is La Floresta so special? It’s not the fanciest café, nor is it necessarily the coolest or most modern. It’s a small place just off the main square of Pijao which, to my mind, represents everything good about Colombia’s coffee culture. La Floresta is run by a coffee farmer, Carlos Arturo, and his wife Orfilia – that alone makes it an interesting place for coffee-lovers: it’s not that common to find a specialty coffee shop actually owned and operated by local farmers. This means that every single coffee you drink there comes from beans grown on a finca just a few kilometres from your cup – the farm can be seen above in the photo below.
The history of La Floresta is another reason that it is so special and appealing. Three years ago, Carlos Arturo was selling his bags of coffee on a table in the main square of Pijao. He knew he had a good product, but the means to sell it were lacking. On the square, he got chatting to Juan David Agudelo, a young guy trying to bring authentic tourism to Pijao, and show off the coffee culture of Colombia. Fast-forward three years, and Juan David runs the WakeCup Experience by Experiencia Cafetera – which I have called the best coffee tour in Colombia – and Carlos has opened La Floresta. Guests on the tour visit the café to enjoy samples of Carlos’ best products. A coffee farmer breaking the commercial supply chain to grow, brand, bag, and cup his own coffee is something special, and another huge selling point for La Floresta in my eyes.
And what of the coffee? Because that’s what really matters in a café, right?! I can’t tell you the number of elegantly decorated new Bogota cafés that simply don’t deliver when it comes to their raison d’être: a good cup of coffee. Happily, it’s the coffee that principally led me to make the grandiose statement of the title: it’s stunningly good. Carlos is an innovator and he has come up with the excellent concept of promoting three different styles of coffee, which have three utterly different flavours – the true innovation is that all three styles come from the same coffee beans, picked from the same trees. The difference? They are washed and dried in three different ways.
The options are ‘Natural,’ which is dried with the cherry still on the beans, giving it a hearty, fruity, and earthy flavour and aroma. The second is ‘Honey,’ where the pulp is left on the bean during the drying process, making for a much sweeter cup. And third up is ‘Lavado,’ a washed coffee, which has a much more ‘classic’ coffee flavour. All three styles can be prepared in a Chemex or a Dripper for between 4.000 – 8.000 COP, or Carlos Arturo can demonstrate and explain all three and prepare samples for 15.000 COP. The menu also features all the coffee classics, including a wonderful espresso for just 1.500 COP.
La Floresta’s innovation doesn’t stop there though. Carlos is a coffee farmer, but he’s a visionary one, and he has also started a range of teas made from different byproducts of the coffee production process. A sweet tea, with distinct red-fruit flavours, is made from the discarded fruits of the coffee beans, while a softer, more citrusy number, is made from the leftover husks of the beans. He is experimenting with a tea made from the coffee flower was well. These can be sold as cups in the café, or as tea-bags to take away. Bith teas are delicious, and a real surprise when you know what they are made of. And, needless to say, it’s all totally organic as well.
So why am I declaring La Floresta “the best café in Colombia?” I think I’ve just explained it, but I’ll sum up: a lovely little spot – I didn’t mention the view over the river and tree full of white egrets either – run by an actual coffee farmer who has become a wonderful and truly knowledgeable barista as well. Some of the most delicious coffee I have ever tasted, grown just a few kilometres away, and a friendly and welcoming atmosphere. So here’s my call to coffee-snobs around the world: come to Colombia, take a coffee tour in Pijao, and make sure to grab a cup or two at Café La Floresta to experience what a café should be like. And grab me a bag of the ‘Natural’ if you’re feeling charitable…