Hacienda Venecia: Perhaps The Perfect Spot to Experience Colombia’s Coffee Region

The smell of good coffee…the taste of coffee…the feel of holding a warm cup in your hands first thing in the morning, you really can’t beat it.  But coffee like wines or cheeses comes in many different varieties, grades and from pretty much all over the world.  There is the dish water crap from your corner deli and then there is the good stuff.Colombia is the world’s #2 producer of coffee.  (You may remember a little marketing campaign with Juan Valdez and his mule, Conchita, which really put the spot light on the country.  And yes, I had to google the mule’s name)And when in the central Western part of Colombia, the thing to-do is visit the “cafetera zona” or Colombia’s coffee zone and see how some of the best coffee in the world is grown, picked and then shipped out of the country.  Yup, almost all of it is shipped abroad and the Colombians are left with the left-overs.  The B Grade stuff.

It was time for us to visit a coffee finca (farm) to taste the really good coffee.   And to enjoy the insanely perfect weather and scenery of this region.

We chose Hacienda Venecia just outside of Manizales for a few nights.  It was a 5.5 to 6 hour drive from Medellin on a mountain ridge with some seriously climbing and winding roads but the views are spectacular and the hacienda was well, well worth it.

The views from the car window.

We arrived in the afternoon and found the two options working coffee plantation.  You can stay at the simple hostel (though the word hostel does not do this place justice at all.)  It is a spacious hacienda with very clean, comfortable rooms with shared bathrooms.

A wrap around porch with lots of hammocks overlooking a small portion of the coffee fields…

a small pool and breakfast included with your room.

For your own room (like the one above) and breakfast, it is $30,000COP per night/per person (about $17USD) or if you have camping equipment, you can head outdoors for half that price.

We settled in, grabbed a Poker beer from the kitchen ($2500 COP each or $1.40USD) and hit the hammocks.  (In stores, the beers go for $1,300 COP.  And despite the goofy name, this beer is pretty good).

Each morning, the finca does a coffee tour for visitors at the hostel and those staying in town.   About 12 of us from all over  (Belize, France, South Africa, England and Korea) gathered to learn about the coffee making process and why Colombia produces some of the best coffee in the world.

Here’s some stuff I learned:  Coffee originated in Ethiopia and is now grown all over the world.  The lesser quality coffee, robusta, can be grown as low as sea level but the highly valued arabica needs to be grown at higher altitudes.  In the zona cafetera of Colombia (at only 5 degrees latitude), the ideal altitude is 3600 to about 6000 feet.

With a Starbucks on every corner, it might seem as though Americans drinks lots of coffee.  But at about 4kg per person, we aren’t even close to the biggest consumers.  Scandinavians drink up to three times that much…I’m guessing due to the endless dark and freezing cold winter.

The best and most expensive coffee in the world is from Indonesia called Luwak.  The coffee berries are eaten and excreted by a cat (looks like a weasel to me).  Something magical goes on in its stomach and intestines that makes this coffee smooth and mellow.  A cup alone can cost $30-50USD.  The poor Juan Valdez of Bali must have a much more unpleasant harvesting job.

For the first hour of the tour, we drank strong espresso, learning about where it is grown, who drinks it and how you distinguish the different types.   I also learned that I would be horrible as a “coffee nose”.  We were asked to smell some of the scents (the box of oils is below)…ranging from potato to walnut to caramel.  I couldn’t even get close.  In fact, I couldn’t even identify the one labelled:  coffee scent.  Cross it off the career list.

We next headed out to the coffee fields…the hacienda covers about 429 acres in all.

Here’s a picture of a coffee bush…only the red ones are ready for picking.

It’s all done by hand and the main vehicles used on the farm are these cool World War Two American Army jeeps (rather than the classic burros I was looking around for).

We went to see the where the fruit is removed, the beans are dried and then packaged for shipment all over the world.

Danni and Cesar posed on top of the finished product. (Unlike me, they love to pose.)

The property also contains a small boutique hotel…

with gorgeous grounds and gardens…

But our spot, with its free flowing cappuccinos, incredibly friendly staff and comfy hammocks, was treating me just fine.  We headed back for a typical lunch ($10,000COP) that was delicious after a long morning of working in the fields.

A thick potato chicken soup with a bit of crema, an arepa, corn and avocado.

We only stayed two nights and we practically had to pry Cesar off the property.  He drove off with images of himself as a wealthy finca owner dancing in his head.

It makes perfect sense that UNESCO named the Zona Cafetera a World Heritage Site in 2011.

Our next stop was Salento, a town fairly close to Armenia.  But we are off again today (continuing south towards my final destination, Cali)…and as usual, I will report back.

And if it is not at all clear, I am totally in love with Colombia.  So many totally different landscapes…so little time.

And Hacienda Venecia?  Please take good care of my two kittens that are living behind the garage.  What cuties.

PS.  Buy some coffee at the Hacienda, it is fantastic.  500G costs $20,000 COP (about $12USD)…more than the tour!

Or if you like the bags above, the raw coffee bag costs $10,000COP and is very cute for framing…

Or the finished tote bag is $25,000 COP.