Coca-Cola might be a target of the recently introduced sugar tax, but the syrupy coffee concoctions offered by Costa and company seem to be skimming under the radar for the moment. The Pumpkin Spice latte has long been an autumnal staple and as Christmas approaches more and more flavours disguise the bean’s famous bitter taste.
“A good coffee doesn’t need sugar or milk,” says John James with a hint of disdain in his voice as he listens to tales of gingernut syrup. “If you drink a cup like that, you cannot say you like coffee.”
John is a coffee farmer with the El Mirador Hotel just outside of Filandia. He wears the uniform: a wide-brimmed hat, white cotton trousers and shirt with a piece of cloth slung over his shoulder. He has been working as a coffee farmer for 28 years, starting as a four-year-old boy in his “father’s field”.
“My mother and father have always produced it. Not here in El Balsan but a couple of valleys across.” Filandia, where John works now, is Salento’s quieter sister. Both towns are deep in the Zona Cafetera, a region famous for its fertile hills. Most of the Colombian Blend you buy on the supermarket shelves comes from here.
Backpackers are telling people on the gringo trail to come here
Salento has long been the jewel in the crown, but, as local hostel owner Gregory Haynes* admits, the colourful Filandia is “catching up” with its more popular neighbour.
“Many backpackers are telling people on the gringo trail to come here instead of Salento because it is less touristy. This is good for business.
“But, the more people tell people to come because it is less touristy is only going to make it more touristy.”
For John, it doesn’t really change his day-to-day.
“I work on the hotel’s farm. I’ve always dealt with tourists, the only difference is people who aren’t guests can join [the tour]. I’ve had to become a showman as well as a farmer. I’ve got to entertain. I now have to care about Trip Advisor.”
I drink mucho coffee… coffee is my life
He keeps the tour at a clip pace, taking guests on production. He shows them the mountain of picked coffee, teaches them how to strip the flesh from the bean and even lets them pick them.
“I want the guests to have fun. Then I have fun,” John says. “But we don’t want the plants ruined, they don’t go on the actual farm.”
The guests are let loose in a small paddock of Coffea designed for this purpose. Those that come back with the biggest haul get a slap on the back and the opportunity to weigh themselves on the old-fashioned scales used to weigh the pickings.
“The group this morning were enthusiastic. Lots of questions,” John says. “Normally, they’re in English but this group spoke French and didn’t want to speak English. I don’t speak French. Luckily, one of the group spoke Spanish and translated.
“I didn’t learn English for fun.”
He finishes each tour by pouring samples of the coffee into a small plastic cups and sharing a toast with the group.
“I drink mucho coffee. I work with coffee. Coffee is my life.”