South America Coffee Tour
Colombia is very proud of their coffee. Many of us in the US may fondly remember Colombian coffee due to an advertising mascot of sorts. Since 1958, the National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia has employed Juan Valdez as spokesperson for coffees made with 100% Colombian grown coffee. The character, who is not a real person, was not originally used to advertise a singular coffee brand but as a support to coffee brands who use 100% Colombian coffee. Having said that, there are both Juan Valdez branded coffee shops and a packaged coffee brand that are now available worldwide. In addition to this recognizable celebrity, Colombia has a theme park dedicated to coffee. A museum dedicated to the history of coffee and an ecological walk to see living coffee plants are accompanied by shows, horse rides, and mechanical amusement type rides including a roller coaster relocated from an amusement park in Kansas City, MO.
Colombia, officially known as the Republic of Colombia, is found in the northwest of South America. It shares a border with Panama, Ecuador, Peru, Brazil, and Venezuela. The Pacific Ocean batters the western coast while the Caribbean Sea caresses the eastern coast. The Spanish first set foot and colonized Colombia in 1499 and it remained under Spanish rule until the 19th century. Colombia is considered to be one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world. Its cultural heritage spans Native American, Spanish, European, African, American, Caribbean, Middle Eastern, and other Latin American influences. These influences can be found in the music, the food, and even in the architecture.
The diversity continues in the people of Colombia. Spanish is the official language of the country, however, there are a whopping 101 languages listed in their database, 71 of them spoken on a regular basis. Most of the people live in big cities like Bogota or Cali or in the highly urbanized areas in the highlands of the Andes.
Colombia can be divided into four main regions – the Andean highlands with their valleys, the Caribbean lowlands coastal region, the Pacific lowlands coastal region, and the eastern Colombia plain which lies east of the Andes Mountains. The mountains reach heights of more than 18,000 feet. The mountains are split into roughly three sections. They run parallel to each other and are called cordilleras. They reach almost to the Caribbean Sea and some of the mountain peaks are permanently snow-covered. Amongst these peaks are valleys, basins, and plateaus providing moderate climates and ideal living conditions. The coast along the Caribbean side is beautiful and unspoiled, providing a lovely beach experience with the Amazon rainforest as a destination for the more adventurous.
The climate in Colombia is as diverse as the people and the land. Temperatures are affected by the differences in elevation with higher temperatures at sea level and cooler temperatures in the mountains. The Colombians tend to describe the areas by their climatic zones: tierra caliente, or the hot zone, is 2,900 feet and below and sees temperatures above 75F; tierra templada, or the temperate zone, is from 2,900 feet to 6,500 feet with temperatures ranging from 63F to 75F; tierra fria, the cold zone, is 6,500 feet to 11,500 feet where the temperatures vary between 54F and 63F. Anything above 11,500 feet is considered uninhabitable.
Colombian coffees tend to be medium-bodied with citrus-like acidity and a rich taste. You will find aromatic notes of sweet caramel and cocoa followed by flavors of sweet fruit with a slightly nutty finish. Coffee in Colombia is grown in what is known as the “Coffee Growing Axis,” a small triangular area of Colombia towards the mid-west. This “axis” encompasses Risaralda, Caldas, Quindio, and parts of Tolima and Valle Del Cauca. It is in the Andean Rainforest and is primarily farmed by hand. Near here is where our single-origin Colombia Supremo “La Valle Verde” is grown. Like the typical coffee grown in Colombia, ours is smooth and balanced with bright acidity and a clean, sweet finish.
Next up is Peru, “Land of the Incas.” Peru is on the western coast of South America and is bordered by Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, and the Pacific Ocean. Like the rest of the Central and South American countries we have visited, Peru was conquered and ruled by the Spanish empire. In the 19th century, they won their independence and have remained independent since.
The people of Peru are multi-ethnic with Amerindians, Europeans, Africans, and Asians making up the main mix. Spanish is the official language although many people speak other native languages. The wide diversity can be seen not just in the people, but also in the culture. With roots in Amerindian and Spanish traditions, art and architecture also take on influences of various Asian, African, and other European groups. Peruvian has roots based in Andean traditional music with Spanish and African expressions intertwined. The cuisine is a blend of Amerindian and Spanish with flavors of Chinese, African, Arab, Italian, and Japanese added in.
There are three distinct and diverse geographical areas of Peru: the arid Pacific coastal region to the west; the Andes mountains stretching from the north to the southeast; and the tropical Amazon Basin rainforest to the east. These distinct zones create attractions that appeal to everyone. Whether you prefer to surf or chill at the beach, hike in the Andes, or birdwatch in the Amazon, there is plenty to choose from. For a unique adventure, visit the floating reed islands of Lake Titicaca. The weather in Peru is diverse, much like that of Colombia.
The vast diversity of the climate in Peru is due to a trifecta of conditions – the topography, the rainforest, and the dual current coast. First, in the Andean Mountain Range, the topography spans from 112 feet below sea level to 22,205 feet above. The eastern slopes see more precipitation while the western slopes tend to be more arid. Rainfall amounts range from 8” to 60” annually. In the lower altitudes, below 8,200 feet, you will find temperatures from 41F to 59F in the evening to 65F to 77F in the daytime. In the mid-region, 8,200 feet to 11,483 feet, nights range from 32F to 54F and days range from 59F to 77F. The higher elevations, 11,483 feet to 14,764 feet, nights see lows from 14F to 46F and days see highs up to 59F.
Second, the Amazon tropical rainforest is crossed with rivers and streams and has a heavy vegetative growth. It is hot and humid year-round. Temperatures range from 70F to 88F and rainfall averaging an amazing 112 inches annually. Finally, the coastal region, with dual currents in the Pacific, sees microclimates of subtropical desert to the south and tropical savanna to the north. The central and southern coast tends to be cooler with temperatures ranging from 66F to 70F at night to 66F to 70F during the days. There is some slight variance from summer to winter with a swing of about 12 degrees. It also tends to be foggy or hazy with extreme humidity during the winter. On the northern coast, it tends to be warmer and drier. During summer, December through March, temperatures tend to range from 77F at night to 94F during the day, with even higher temperatures, up to 104F, further north. These summer temperatures are also often accompanied by high humidity. In the winter, June through September, it tends to be cooler and less humid with temperatures ranging from 61F at night to 81F during the days.
In Peru, coffee is grown in three areas, all in the eastern Andes Mountains. It is planted in shaded areas at an elevation between 3,300 feet and 5,900 feet and is farmed by small farmers who hand harvest. Most Peruvian coffees are aromatic and flavorful. They have a mild acidity and a light body. CoffeeAM is proud to offer our Organic Peru “Andes Gold” coffee. It is grown on the edge of the Amazon in the Amazonas area of Junin. It brews a smooth, light, mildly acidic cup with a sweetly nutty taste.
On to Bolivia, a landlocked country with a varied terrain. Bordered by Peru, Chile, Argentina, Paraguay, and Brazil, Bolivia is the only country we have visited that does not have a coastline. The geography is no less diverse, however, as you will find the Andes Mountains, the Atacama Desert, and the Amazon Basin rainforest all within this country. Before Spanish occupation and colonization, Bolivia was a part of the Inca Empire which stretched along the western coast of South America. Bolivia is named for Simon Bolivar who began the campaign for the eventual South American independence from Spain.
Because of the differing topography, the climate in Bolivia is quite wide-ranging. The eastern portion of the country enjoys tropical conditions while the western portion endures a polar climate. High in the Andes, the mountains soar to a breathtaking 21,463 feet. Temperatures range from 59F to 68F during the day, dropping to a frigid 32F at night in the mountains and high plains. It is typically dry and very sunny with ground frost and frequent snow. Lower in the mountains you will see a more temperate climate with high humidity and rainfall. It tends to be cooler in the higher elevations with occasional snowfall. The Amazon Basin experiences a tropical climate with humid conditions and average temperatures of 86F with little rainfall due to the dry winds coming from the rainforest.
When visiting Bolivia, bring your sense of adventure. Trips to the Amazon can include animal watching or cave spelunking. While visiting La Paz, the governmental seat of Bolivia, take a tour of the Witches Market. In the mountains, you can’t miss Lake Titicaca and a boat ride from Copacabana out to the Isla del Sol with Incan ruins to explore. Maybe, while visiting one of the larger cities, you can take part in one of the many celebrations resulting in colorful parades. The multi-cultural makeup of the Bolivian people is never more evident than in the language. Most people speak Spanish, however, Bolivia recognizes 36 official languages, most being indigenous with a smattering of Portuguese spoken near Brazil.
Bolivian coffee has been compared to Colombian coffee. With a classical clean taste and bright acidity, coffee from Bolivia tends to have fruity notes and a sweet caramel or chocolate finish. All coffees in Bolivia are grown at high elevations with most being SHG or Strictly High Grown, meaning they are grown above 4,500 feet. At CoffeeAM we proudly offer Organic Bolivia “Colonial Caranavi” Fair-Trade Coffee. It has a clean and crisp flavor with notes of fruit, nuts, and chocolate. It is Fair-Trade certified meaning farmers and their community greatly benefit from your purchase.
Our final destination in South America is Brazil, the “Land of Palms.” This large country takes up the eastern portion of South America and is easily the largest country on the continent. Brazil is bordered by all the countries in South America except Ecuador and Chile and has a coastline spanning over 4,600 miles. Unlike the other countries on our tour of South America, Brazil was colonized by Portugal, not Spain. They won their independence in the middle of the 19th century.
The most popular tourist attractions in Brazil are the natural areas. The Amazon Rainforest, breathtaking waterfalls, rolling sand dunes, and the extensive beaches are just a few of the eco-tourism draws for visitors. In addition, the large cities of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro boast large numbers of tourists. The most famous festival, Carnival, attracts two million people per day for the four-day celebration of the beginning of Lent.
The geography of Brazil is vastly diverse. The equator and the Tropic of Capricorn both run through the country and it spans four time zones. In addition to the Amazon Basin, Brazil is home to multiple mountain ranges, among them the Mantiqueira, Espinhaco, and Serra do Mar. The highest point in Brazil is in the northern mountain range of the Guiana Highlands and reaches to over 9,800 feet. A large number of rivers crisscross the country including the Amazon and the Orinoco.
Because of the sheer size of Brazil as well as its varied geography, the climate encompasses a wide range of conditions. These include tropical, subtropical, highland tropical, temperate, equatorial, and semiarid along with microclimates across many regions. Northern Brazil is equatorial with no real dry season only variations in the amount of rain depending on the time of year. Temperatures average 77F with variances from day to night rather than season to season. Rainfall in central Brazil is seasonal due to the savanna-like climate and temperatures that range from 75F to 78 in the spring and summer with highs spiking to 97F in the hotter months. In the fall and winter temperatures are around 59F to 75F with lows down to 46F along with occasional dips to freezing. The southern region is affected by the topography and the Tropic of Capricorn. Temperatures in the summer average 86F to 90F in the valleys with lower temperatures in the mountains. In the winter, you will see temperatures averaging 43F to 68F with dips to 25F.
Brazil produces approximately one-third of all coffee worldwide. Most coffee plantations are found in the southeast and cover approximately 10,000 square miles. The flavor profile is nutty and sweet, often with notes of bittersweet chocolate. At CoffeeAM, we have three fantastic Brazilian coffees for you. Our Brazil Cerrado has a medium body and balanced flavor with hints of chocolate and a smooth finish. The Brazil “Moreninha Formosa” is light with low acidity and has hints of sweet cherry and citrus combined with dark chocolate. Our final coffee is the Brazil Santos with complex flavors of sweet fruit in a low acidic, light-bodied brew.