As with so much in life, the truth is hard to find. While the mystery of coffee’s origin might not have the mass-appeal of the Bermuda Triangle or Bigfoot, it’s spawned nearly as many theories. The consensus is that coffee was first discovered around 800 A.D., in Ethiopia. Goat herders noticed their goats became energized after eating the coffee berries. Putting two and two together, they sampled the beans for themselves. The rest is history.
In the early days, perhaps in honor of the pioneering goats, coffee was chewed rather than drunk. Legend has it that it was a monk who first came up with the idea of turning the beans into something drinkable.
The monk was onto something. Coffee is now the second most traded commodity in the world after oil.
Coffee has another interesting claim to fame… It was the first product to be freeze dried, which allowed allied soldiers in World War II to enjoy a steaming brew on the frontline.
Now, over 2.25 billion cups of coffee are drunk each day and coffee is a mainstay for people across the world. It’s fair to say that a large percentage of the population is unable to do without their morning brew. The stimulating qualities help us feel awake and alert. Scientists have proven that coffee even makes us more relaxed.
The Boquete region of Panama is famous for growing some of the world’s best and most expensive coffee. Boquete lies in the far west of Panama, close to Volcán Barú, a Volcano which is also Panama’s tallest point.
Most of Panama’s coffee is grown in Boquete, including the famous Geisha coffee. It’s gained fame in recent years as the world’s most expensive coffee. Costing US$10 per cup in Panama, prices are at least double that in other parts of the world. In Dubai, it will set you back close to US$70 for a cup. It’s sold at more than US$600 per pound across the world and over the last couple of years has won many awards.
The Geisha bean originates in Ethiopia. Over the years, coffee growers scattered plantations around Central America without much fanfare. This would change in the early 2000s. A coffee disease known as “leaf rust” hit Panama, and devastated most of the crop. The Geisha proved to be immune to this disease. Finding themselves with only the Geisha, coffee owners took great care harvesting. The owners soon realized they were onto something big.
Geisha coffee has a unique flavor, delicate and floral. Unlike other coffees, it’s neither bitter nor sour. Over the last few years, Geisha has become a genuine world-wide sensation. Other countries have experimented with planting Geisha but without the same success. It still grows best in the rich, volcanic soil of Panama’s Boquete region.
There are lots of coffee tours you can take in Boquete. You’ll be able to wander around the coffee plantations and watch the farming and harvesting processes. An expert will talk you through every stage of the picking and processing. To top it off, the tours culminate in a tasting session overlooking the jungle terrain.
Colombia has an ideal climate for growing coffee. Volcanic soil, elevation, and a lack of frost are the key ingredients in producing good coffee. Fortunately, Colombia has all three. The sheer size of Colombia provides natural variation in the type of coffee you will get. Different regions produce their own unique blends based on the type of soil and beans used to grow the coffee.
Colombia has long been one of the top exporters of premium coffee, but only in the last few years have the best coffees become widely available throughout Colombia. Farmers have opened small boutique shops and cafés serving some of the best blends to the Colombian public. This profitable venture has had a notable benefit. It’s freed them from the drug trade. Before coffee, many farmers could only find a profit growing coca and poppy to sell to the drug cartels.
Bogotá is where many new coffee cafés are springing up, and it’s a good place to go for some coffee tours. Businesses have arrived guiding people around the different coffee stalls, where baristas explain how they serve the coffee. You will also receive tips on how to appreciate the flavor.
Colombia has its very own coffee theme park, Parque Nacional del Café. Free-thinking coffee plantation owners hit on a novel combination. The park consists of log flumes, roller coasters, and stalls that provide interesting coffee facts. When you find yourself fatigued by dry facts, hop on the rollercoaster to blow out the cobwebs. Once refreshed, you can return to learning about the history of coffee in Colombia.
The Colombian countryside is worth experiencing. You can tour hilltop coffee farms to get firsthand knowledge of the coffee growing process in Colombia, many of which also offer accommodation. The coffee tours make a great way to appreciate the landscape. The hilly locations always offer a long distance vantage point to take in the full panoramic view.
Costa Ricans have a special name for their coffee, the golden bean. As well as producing some of the finest coffee in the world, Costa Rica is also leading the way in other areas. Since 1989 it has been illegal to plant low-qualitybeans in Costa Rica. This means every coffee you buy from this country has a guarantee of quality. Costa Rica is a forward thinking and environmentally conscious country. All beans are handpicked and hand-produced. The techniques used do not harm or contaminate the environment. Costa Rica promotes organic coffee; Costa Rican coffee farms produce a huge amount of café orgánico each year.
Costa Rica exports much of its best for the world market, but enough of the good stuff remains in Costa Rica to make a coffee tour here worthwhile. There are a couple of excellent tours located close to San Jose.
One such tour is the Finca Rosa Blanca, a coffee plantation tour that’s becoming popular as a honeymoon destination. Set among the volcanoes, you get to experience the full process of growing organic coffee—starting with the seeds, all the way through to the drying and processing—while taking in the spectacular surroundings. You can also pick the coffee, taste the various gourmet blends, and even enjoy a spot of barista training.
Another option is the Doka Estate, a large family-owned plantation close to San Jose. The Doka Estate grows coffee and sugarcane and is something of a Costa Rican institution. It’s a long established business, and the wet mill is reported to be the oldest in the country. A tour of the Doka Estate gives an interesting look into the history of coffee production in Costa Rica.
The Dutch introduced coffee to Indonesia during the 17th century. The islands proved to be perfectly suited for growing coffee, and farming quickly became a major industry. Today, Indonesia produces coffee on a grand scale, delivering over 500,000 metric tons each year. The islands produce a range of different coffees with each island having its own characteristics according to microclimate, soil type, and coffee bean variety.
Indonesia is home to one of the world’s most expensive coffees, Luwak coffee. Although this coffee is considered to be one of the most delicious in the world, the way it’s made might not be to everybody’s taste.
The civet cat, an Indonesian member of the cat family, loves eating the coffee beans, but (luckily for coffee lovers) can only partially digest them. Beans that have passed though the civet’s digestive system are harvested and then used to create the Luwak coffee.
The region’s best coffee tours are in Bali and Java, the island which gives its name to the popular Java coffee. The Kampoeng Kopi Banaran Coffee plantation offers guided tours of the production line. You can watch the workers in action, demonstrating the traditional techniques they’ve used for centuries. There’s also the option to eat a delicious lunch before starting your tour.
Youngsters in Italy are devouring American culture. From clothing to food, many aspects of traditional Italian life are under threat from the younger generation. But one thing remains off limits: coffee. The Italians have long scorned American-style coffee houses, and the love of expresso has stood strong against the wave of Americanization.
Italy’s relationship with coffee dates back to the 1500s. However, it wasn’t until the 1880’s when the expresso, the national coffee, was developed. This quickly became a national staple and is considered by most in Italy as the only way to consume coffee. It remains at the heart of the various coffees the country has produced.
While there are no coffee plantations, Italy has an unrivaled skill in roasting and blending coffee. A trip to an Italian Coffee roastery is a must for coffee fanatics.
The Bravi Caffé, owned by the Ciravegna family, offers a day tour that takes you through the entire roasting and manufacturing process. Transport to and from the plant to your hotel in Rome is provided. Touring the plant, you witness the years of craft and experience that makes Italian coffee roasting so famous. Guests are then treated to a lengthy lunch with drinks, and of course, coffee. Later, a brief walk around the historic town of Sacrofano allows you to burn some of the afternoon’s many calories.
Ethiopia is the home of coffee, and of the original coffee plant, the Arabica. Fittingly, it is believed to be the home of the first coffee houses, called Kaveh Kanes. These served as the main meeting places in Ethiopian society. If you wanted to meet up with someone, or conduct some business, you would head to the Kaveh Kanes.
Coffee grows everywhere in Ethiopia. It remains at the heart of much of the country’s culture and tradition. Coffee makes up around 30% of Ethiopia’s exports.
Not so long ago, a coffee tour of Ethiopia would have seemed impossible. Today, traditional coffee shops can be found in every major town serving what the locals call, “green gold.”
Coffee tourism is on the way to being a major industry in Ethiopia. You’ll not only find coffee tours, but coffee treks. Companies offer six days of travel between the various coffee plantations and local towns. Departing from Addis Ababa, you are guided though the region by an English-speaking coffee expert. The trek includes tours and tastings at all the region’s biggest farms.
Coffee arrived in Nicaragua during the 1800s and immediately became a key part of the culture and economy. Most coffee has always been grown by micro farms. Therefore, the large-scale coffee production you see elsewhere does not exist in Nicaragua.
It is rare to see micro farms in Nicaragua that grow coffee exclusively. Most will also grow tropical fruits along with corn and beans. The aim is to grow their own food to eat and sell the coffee for cash.
The Matagalpa communities have the best coffee tours in Nicaragua. Set deep in the volcanic mountains, the tours offer an insight into the lives of the people who farm the coffee. You can choose a two-day tour where you get to stay with a local family, sleep in their home, and eat meals with them.
Nicaragua is benefiting hugely from fair trade initiatives. Most of the tours take the time to educate visitors on these values. You will learn how the fair-trade business model is benefiting local communities. The tours explain how traditional techniques have been preserved. This is what gives Nicaraguan coffee its distinctive flavor.
El Salvador is a tiny nation producing a range of coffee that belies its size. Coffee only came to Ecuador in the 1920s, but it fast became the country’s biggest export. For a long time, coffee plantations were owned by a very small wealthy elite. Their coffee wealth allowed them to gain political power. This, in turn, let them hold back democracy and kept locals separated from the coffee wealth.
This oppressive regime lasted for more than 50 years, but things eventually reached a breaking point. Civil wars tore through El Salvador between 1979 and 1992, and when the fighting was over, land was divided up in a much fairer way. Today in El Salvador, no single person can own more than 245 hectares. The vast majority of coffee comes from micro farms.
Coffee tours in El Salvador are affordable, usually no more than US$30, and the profits go to the farm workers. Wages remain low for coffee pickers so coffee tours have become an important part of the farm’s revenue model.
Some tours, like the Juayúa tour, will let you make your own coffee. They grant you full responsibility for every step of the process. It’s a long and painstaking day, but that only increases the satisfaction when you finally get to try your coffee. Other tours are more traditional, providing lunch and pastries in a relaxed setting. If you are pressed for time, you can do a walk-through tour for under US$10 that lasts two hours.