During my travels to many countries over the last 12 years, I have taken a lot of day tours, either with a group or privately. I’ve seen a lot of amazing things, but I don’t often have what I would call an “authentic” experience. The WakeCup Coffee Tour is exactly that. Authentic. I got to meet not one, but two coffee farmers, and witness the entire process from bean to cup. This is what I think makes WakeCup the best coffee tour in Colombia. Not many people can say they got to meet the farmer who grew their coffee. Meeting these coffee farmers really made my trip to South America special.
I first read about the WakeCup Coffee Tour on seecolombia.travel/blog where you can read about this blogger’s experience with this same tour. You’ll see we had a similar experience and met the same farmers who make this tour so unique and special.
My day started with a bus ride from Pereira to Pijao at around 7:30AM, with a transfer in Armenia. The bus trip from Pereira is easy, but you’ll need to leave Pereira early in order to reach Pijao before 10:00AM.
The beautiful little town of Pijao houses the offices of Experiencia Cafetera, the tour company behind the WakeCup Coffee tour. Juan David Agudelo is the owner. He’s young and innovative, and just the type of entrepreneur that makes Colombia’s Zona Cafetera region a great place to visit. I joined a couple from Israel for this tour, and our guide was Hugo, who is also the accountant for Experiencia Cafetera. The other guide, for the first part of the tour at least, was Capitan. He was sent back home for being easily distracted.
One of the things I like most about the WakeCup Coffee Tour is that it promotes sustainable tourism and fair trade. It also helps local farmers benefit directly from the tourism industry rather than having to go through a third party or middle man. I bought a bag of gorgeous coffee from both of the farmers we met, and one of them has his own cafe in the town of Pijao, as you will read about later. Sustainable, eco-friendly tourism is something that Experiencia Cafetera believes in, and it is one of the reasons this company keeps the tours small and maintains the quality of their tours and accommodation.
Our tour started in Pijao, where Hugo gave us a brief tour of the town, explaining how it got its name and showing us the river that is so important for the processing of the coffee beans. We also stopped by the co-op where the coffee farmers sell their beans, and then the co-op sells them to big buyers, like Starbucks and McDonald’s. I found this aspect of the tour particularly interesting. How many times have you been to a co-op or warehouse where your coffee is stored before it is exported?
Pijao is a beautiful little town. All the action happens around the town square, and that’s where we headed to taste two different kinds of coffee. The first was “just coffee” and the second was specialty coffee brewed for us by the farmer who grew it. We had our first cuppa joe at the oldest cafe in Pijao, made with the oldest coffee machine in Pijao. It’s been at this same cafe for 80 years and was brought on horseback from Argentina.
I must admit, I thought the coffee was pretty good, but certainly not the best I’ve ever had. Hugo informed me that this was “just coffee” and that we would have the really good stuff in a few minutes. He was right. But I enjoyed the coffee from this ancient machine. It even has a milk frother.
Next we went to Cafe La Floresta and met Carlos Arturo, the owner of the cafe and a coffee farmer. A few years ago, Carlos was bankrupt and the government took his house away. That’s when he got into the coffee business. His coffee, La Floresta, proves he knows what he’s doing when it comes to growing, processing, and brewing coffee.
We sat down in the back of his cafe and watched him brew each of his three types of roasted coffee – washed, honey, and natural – using different methods. Each method of brewing is meant to compliment that particular type of roasted bean. Washed beans have the slimy, slightly sweet covering removed before they are dried, which takes six months. The “honey” bean is dried with the slimy covering on it for six months. The natural bean is dried not only with the slimy coating, but the husk still on it, and this process takes 18 months.
Slimy is the word Hugo used, but it’s actually more slippery. This coating between the bean and the husk makes a big difference in taste, depending on how it is processed. Carlos used a V60 brew technique, originating in Japan, for the washed bean. He used a German method, for the honey, and for the natural I admit, I cannot remember. They were all excellent, but the natural was my favorite. All of these coffees were from Carlos’ specialty coffee beans. Thanks to his expert knowledge, and a budding tourism industry, Carlos only grows specialty beans that he the roasts and sells in his cafe. He doesn’t have to buy beans from anyone else, or sell lower quality beans to the masses in order to make a profit.
After this tasting, Capitan was sent home and we were picked up in a Willy’s Jeep for the 30 minute ride to a coffee farm owned by Leon Campo Salazar. He and his wife live on the farm and we were treated to a delicious, traditional lunch made by Leon’s wife. After a bit of rest, because we were all full from lunch, we walked up the hill with Leo to see his coffee trees and learn about his specialty coffee. The specialty coffee requires more shade, so it is planted under large trees, and banana trees. He also sells the bananas! He explained that coffee, just like wine, takes on the flavors of the earth where it is planted.
Leo guided us through each step of the process, from planting the trees grown from the beans, to washing and drying them, roasting, and then finally, drinking the fruits of his labor. His specialty coffee goes through the same processes that Carlos’ does. We now had to pay for our lunch by picking through the beans to find any that were flawed and remove them, which is harder than it sounds. I think if I were auditioning for that job, Leo wouldn’t hire me! I was too slow! Next, Leo washed the beans, and any beans that floated were removed. Why, you ask? If they float, it means there’s no bean inside! Or only half of a bean. We were shown the rest of the process, including how the husk is removed by a machine.
We went up on the roof of one building where the beans were being dried. We observed three different stages of the drying process. One washed, one honey, and on another section of roof Leo was drying his beans that he sells to the co-op. We could see the difference in what the co-op would accept, and what Leo expected from his specialty beans. Hugo showed us what Leo has to do if it rains. The metal roof of the building just rolls right over the top of the beans so they don’t get wet. So clever!
Leo has only been growing coffee for six years. His knowledge of this plant, the beans, and the entire process is astounding given that he’s only been doing this a short time. The conflict that Colombia suffered through for years caused Leo to be displaced twice. When he came to Quindo six years ago, he began growing coffee to sell to the co-op, the local buyer, a middle-man, who sells the coffee beans to buyers in other countries. Big buyers. Not the small cafe owners.
In the last six years his knowledge and experience have led him to grow his own specialty coffee. He now processes, roasts, and sells it to the people on the WakeCup coffee tours. He’s also starting to sell his specialty coffees to people in other countries who have their own small businesses, enabling him to make a much higher profit margin than he does selling to the co-op.
This is why the relationship between Juan and Hugo at Experiencia Cafetera and the local coffee growers is so important. Most people who take a coffee tour don’t meet the person who grew what’s in their cup. That important personal element makes all the difference. When people are able to see the knowledge, experience, and labor that goes into getting a really good cup of coffee, it makes that coffee taste that much better.
Now for the moment you’ve all been waiting for. I know you want the contact information for Experiencia Cafetera so that you can book your own tour. I’ve included their information below as well as a link to their website in the article.
Juan David Agudelo – Tour Operator
+57 318 4932758
For a group of 6 or less, the price is $150.000 COP each, and for groups of 7 or more, $120.000 COP each. I joined another couple, so if you are just one or two people and want to keep costs down by joining another tour, this is possible, but tour sizes are limited. They keep the tours small to keep the quality of the tour high. The tour begins at 10:00am and lasts about 5 to 6 hours. Keep in mind this includes a traditional Colombian lunch at the farm and a lot of great coffee.
Juan also owns and runs Panorama Cafe Hostel in Buenavista, which is about 20 minutes from Pijao. This is a great place to stay to explore the area. A stay here includes all the great coffee you can drink!
I hope you enjoyed this “tour” of Pijao’s coffee region and meeting the farmers who grow your coffee. I hope it inspires you to take the best coffee tour in Colombia and learn more about the process. I would love to hear your thoughts on the tour below in the comments section. I’ll be sure to pass them along to Juan and Hugo. And Capitan, of course.