If I had to look back, I’d say that there is one clear point marking a “before and after” in my coffee journey.
You could call it a point of no return.
I have loved coffee for most of my adult life, but it wasn’t until I went to a coffee farm for the first time that I started to ‘respect’ the cherry.
When you’re a coffee drinker in a Western country, most likely you’ll only encounter coffee in a highly processed state. Many people never understand that coffee is a fruit.
When you get to the coffee plantation for the first time, this will become abundantly clear.
If you love nature and you consider yourself a real coffee snob, there’s no better way to spend a holiday than going to the origin.
Here are my best tips and tricks to plan your coffee origin trip.
Visit the bean belt
The biggest obstacle to visiting a coffee farm for most people is that they are located in faraway countries. So, the first step is to go and visit a country that you’re interested in that also produces coffee.
If you want inspiration, you can look at what’s called ‘The bean belt.’ This is (roughly speaking) an area marked by the Tropic of Capricorn in the South and the Tropic of Cancer in the north.
Arabica coffee needs certain environmental conditions to grow, so it mostly exists in mountain areas close to the Equator. The closer the coffee is to this line, the higher altitude it needs to thrive.
The main centers for coffee production are, of course:
- Central & South America
- The Carribbean
- East Africa
Since infrastructure is a lot more challenging in Africa, I’d suggest that you visit a coffee plantation in one of the other regions.
Luckily, there are many places in Asia and Latin America. Not only for coffee, but also for vacation in general.
For instance, you can go to Sumatra and see some stunning nature at Lake Toba, and visit a coffee farm at the same time. Sounds, epic right? It definitely is. I went there earlier in 2019, and it was one of my best origin trips ever.
Consider a coffee plantation tour
An excellent option for first-time visitors is to find a coffee farm tour. At the most famous coffee origins, there should be quite a few different operators to choose from.
Going with a guide is recommended due to both language and transportation issues.
Since coffee grows at high altitudes in areas with crude, often slippery, roads, it can be necessary to go with a four-wheel-drive the last stretch of the way.
A guide will also be able to explain all the intricacies of coffee production to you. You’ve probably never seen a fermentation tank, and have no clue what a depulper looks like. Coffee processing can be more complicated than you’d think.
A coffee guide can also introduce you to the farmer, who most likely won’t be able to speak English.
Visit a coffee farm by yourself
While a guide is recommended for first-timers, you can also go by yourself. This option is for the more adventurous people. However, I have to say that some of my most memorable coffee experiences have been to visit coffee fields by myself.
You see, many people have this idea that coffee grows in big plantations with neat rows of trees. While this is true in some modern coffee farms in Brazil and Kenya, many coffee farms are semi-wild and mix seamlessly with forest.
In origin countries, you can often drive up a mountain, and then you’ll get to small coffee villages, where everybody is growing coffee in their backyards and drying it at their porch.
Here, coffee is like pineapples or any other tropical fruit. It’s just something that grows everywhere.
In many countries, it’s surprisingly easy to visit a coffee farm this way. Just rent a car or a motorbike, and do a quick scan on Google maps beforehand to confirm that it’s indeed a coffee village.
I have found that these villagers tend to be amazingly friendly people, who have no problem with showing a curious foreigner around.
Remember the coffee fields
If you love nature, adventures, and coffee, there’s no better way to enjoy a holiday than going to a coffee region and seeing the natural habitat of this magnificent plant for the first time.
Most of all, what you realize by visiting a coffee farm, is how much work goes into every step of making a delicious product for the end consumer.
Before visiting the coffee mountain, I didn’t understand that every tiny bean has been picked by hand in a country far away.
To produce one pound of green coffee beans, you’ll have to pick around 7 pounds of cherries. These cherries have to be ripe, and often they are growing on hill slopes, surrounded by other bushes and trees. It’s a physically demanding job.
Sure, you can read about all this. But going there by yourself will alter your perspective.
Nowadays, I almost feel physical pain when I see people wasting just a few scoops of coffee.
And that’s almost the best thing about going on a coffee pilgramage; it teaches you gratitude for the coffee farmers who are doing all the hard work, and it shows you that coffee is a fruit rather than a standardized product.