We learned quite a bit about coffee while in Salento. We had been relatively disappointed with the coffee scene in Colombia before coming here. Even though we managed to find some decent java prior, it always took a lot of effort and it was only at more upscale places that we were satisfied. One thing we learned was the difference between Arabica and Robusta coffee beans. Colombian and places like Salento in particular is the perfect place for growing Arabica varieties. These are the connoisseurs preferred beans and are considered the smoothest tasting. They are also more prone to disease and hence more expensive to grow. Robusta beans have a much higher concentration of caffeine and are thus more resistant to pests and disease. Of course, growers in Salento will tell you Arabica is the only bean worth brewing but I kind of missed the buzz of Robusta. I find myself drawn now to a mix of the two and many say it's the best of both worlds that makes for the best java. All I can say is, try a variety of coffees and pick the one you like best, and of course can afford!
There are around 3.000 species of palm trees, many of which are native to South America. Valle de Cocora is home of the palma de cera (wax palm) which became the national tree of Colombia. Most of the palms grow in the tropics, they like the hot climate. However, these trees grow best between 2.000m and 3.000m, where the climate is cool and humid, typical of cloud forest. Wax palm is the tallest palm in the world and can reach a height of 60-70 m. The diameter of the trunk is relatively small, 50-60 cm at its base, narrowing to about 10 cm at the top. It can live for up to 120 years. This tree prefers secluded areas, far from people and animals.
The palm is covered with a very thin coating of wax which protects it against many enemies, such as tropical birds and various mammals. However, the most dangerous enemy of the wax palm has been the human who cut the trees for many years. Since 1985 it is protected and the law does not allow cutting down of the wax palm.
The Valle de Cocora is known as the cradle of the wax palm. The site of so many trees in such a beautiful setting is really amazing!! It is not surprising that the area has become a great attraction for nature lovers and hikers.
There are three coffee-growing regions in La Zona Cafetera, Quindío, Caldas and Risaralda. This area is ideal for coffee cultivation as a result of a perfect climate, altitude and very rich volcanic soil. Coffee has been grown in the region for decades, and there are many coffee fincas (coffee farms), producing coffee for local consumption as well for export. From Salento you can visit one or other of the local farms where you see the process of coffee making from coffee beans to sampling the cup of home-grown coffee.
They can vary in size and the process of making coffee. I visited the small family run finca of Don Elias. He showed me his land and we went through the whole process. After this very interesting tour I wanted to return to Salento. Unfortunately, the hourly jeep has just left so I would have to wait almost an hour for the next one. I decided to stop some other jeep and only a five minutes later the owner of another local finca gave me a lift. It was on the way to Salento so he invited me to visit his finca. He introduced me to his family and offered coffee. Then his lovely daughter Erica (we met again on Feria de Cali) showed me the house and brought me around the farm. Well, I must say I was quite fascinated. This was the most stylish farm houses I ever visited. Really loved the old furniture and all those little details!
Arequipe (or dulce de leche in Spanish) is a popular Colombian dessert which is prepared by slowly heating sweetened milk to make a cream that is similar in taste to caramel. It is used to flavour candies, pastries or desserts, such as cakes, cookies or ice cream and flan. It is also a popular spread on toast and filling in oblea.
In Quindío you break this tradition with cafequipe, a unique combination of the softness of arequipe and the delicate flavour of 100% Colombian coffee. Cafequipe is available in plastic packagings of 500gr, 250gr and 125gr and a box of 6 pieces of 50g. There are several places along Calle Real where you can get this delicacy, in addition to various products made with it, such as arequipe moka (with the combination of Colombian chocolate), cuyabritos (delicious soft caramels) and turron.
The lovely local Martha was selling cafequipe products at the entrance of Restaurante Andrea and every day I had a small one as a desert after dinner. And of course, I also bought a big one to take with me.
Colombia is home of some of the world's finest coffee. Traditionally, coffee growers pick the beans by hand, individually from the plant, carrying them in the basket. Some beans are red when they are ripe, and some yellow. The beans are put through the machine that separates the beans from the skins. The pulp is used as compost, while the coffee beans are then dried under direct sunlight, and covered during the night and when raining. At this time the beans are white and still covered with a 'thin film'. When the beans are throughly dried, they roast them on the stove. This is when they turn black. When you are ready for a cup of coffee, you just grind the beans and make the delicious tinto (this is how Colombians call black coffee with sugar). Yummy!!!
Now back home, I can still enjoy my daily treat, a cup of organic coffee that I brought from Salento. Oh, I wish it would last forever :)
more pics in the travelogue
Along Calle Real there are a couple of Billiard halls and bars with Bar Quindío being the most popular among them. It has a couple of pool tables and lots of billiard tables. These places look like something out of a western movie, and they were often full of drunk Colombian cowboys. Most of the customers are men wearing ponchos, boots and cowboy hats. Some of the cowboys rode up to the large doors and have drinks taken out to them on their horses to save them dismounting.
I was frequently passing by and always stopped at the doors and curiously had a look inside though I was somehow too shy to enter the world that was seemingly reserved only for men ;)
Salento is famous for its pink trout, which is fished from some surrounding rivers. Every restaurant in town (except maybe the comida corriente places) will serve it up. It is well worth trying. It is usually served up with a giant chip (or crisp, if you speak that funny english :)