El Mejor Café Del Mundo (The Best Coffee in the World)

September 8, 2012

by Connie Nompelis

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Finca Don Eduardo, Coffee Farm, Salento, Colombia, South America
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I must admit, Juan Valdez is the first image that comes to mind when I think of Colombian coffee. I can’t help it – it’s a result of too much television during my tender youth. This is not to say that I was thinking of good old Juan, all decked out in his poncho and hat, bearing the sweet beans in his hand with a smile as I disembarked from the plane at Jose Maria Cordoba airport in Medellín, but let’s just say I had some vague notions about the quality and availability of coffee that I would encounter. Forgive me, I love coffee. I switched to decaf two years back, for no other reason than it seemed like a healthy thing to do, but nevertheless require at least three cups of the fake brew everyday before facing the world. I was prepared to ditch the decaf like a bad habit in the caffeinated paradise of Colombia.

Much to my chagrin, I quickly discovered that coffee is deemed a social – rather than necessary – ritual, at least among the Colombians with whom I interacted. That is to say, coffee when you wake up is unheard of, apparently. Imagine waiting until breakfast was well underway, and THEN getting a cup! Those coffee-deprived Colombian mornings I endured only as a result of having become a decaf drinker. The psychological need remained, however, and pushed me straight to the brink of disaster – purchasing a jar of Nescafe for emergency situations. Of course then I had to sneak past the cook to prepare it… and surreptitiously wash the cup while she was out laying laundry on the hibiscus shrubs. Thus my days in Colombia progressed, sneaking instant coffee in the morning and ordering the real stuff at every restaurant I went to – ignoring the stares of my guava-juice and Aguardiente swilling friends.

Until the day I found Juan Valdez. (Okay, that’s not really his name, but it could be.)

We were heading away from the airport, having just dropped a friend off for the one and only early-morning flight to Panama City. We had been up since 4:30am, without coffee, of course. Meandering down the misty mountain road, we kept our eyes peeled for an open spot for breakfast. Everything was closed. We continued for what seemed like ages, until a dusty white sign on the left caught my eye, causing me to shout. It read:

Desayunos desde las 6:00AM
(The Best Coffee in the World
Breakfast from 6AM)

We screeched into a muddy ditch on the side of the road and left the car as it was. A donkey eyed us sullenly from its pen two feet away. Triumphantly we trekked across the road and entered the deserted shop. A portly man, dressed in slacks and a neatly pressed shirt appeared immediately to seat us. His eyes twinkled behind thick glasses, obviously delighted at the prospect of customers, and clearly tourists at that. We settled in at a rough-hewn wooden table next to the fireplace and ordered Desayunos Paisas, the typical breakfast fare of the region, along with Café con Leche and hot chocolate. The man, Germán Lombada, turned out to be the proprietor of the shop. After placing our order, he stationed himself at our table and began to give us a detailed explanation of the building, which he himself designed, and the deeper meanings of its décor. All, interestingly, related to coffee. The red tiles on the floor symbolized the rich Colombian soil, he began: a soil so absorbent and fertile that a dead stick would surely sprout leaves if one merely jammed it into the earth. The cheery sun-faced tiles lining the fireplace were indicative of the brilliant sun and its life-giving warmth which nurtured the coffee plants and indeed all life in Colombia. The display on the wall behind us consisted of the traditional dress worn by campesinos who tended and harvested the coffee. (The Juan Valdez poncho, hat, and soft boots.) The rough-hewn wood that had been used to construct the building, Germán continued, replicated the style and technique utilized in the building of traditional Haciendas Cafeteras, or coffee plantations.

When our food arrived – steaming corn arepas with soft farm cheese, scrambled eggs and bread, Germán decided to give us a break, promising to renew the lecture and take us on a tour just as soon as we finished the meal. He personally went to fetch our Café con Leche, and lingered to observe the response. It was orgasmic all around. Smooth and strong and just a tiny bit sweet. Germán nodded proudly, winking at me, and told us that after the meal, he would introduce us to the healing powers of bathing in coffee…

I considered asking if he was married, or hiring for baristas at the very least.


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