Working on a coffee farm in Colombia – part 1

Brian has used Help Exchange before as a way to save a bit of money when traveling and to meet local people and try new things. You work part time at different places (ie. hostels, farms, etc.) in exchange for room and board. We’ve been talking about trying it for a week in Colombia if there’s a good place to do it. I’m interested in trying out HelpX.

After a bit of search, he finds a young couple from here who have started their own small coffee brand on her father’s farm and an additional farm her father purchased that is already planted with coffee plants so all they will need to do is harvest and process them. The young couple had a baby just shy of a year ago and are struggling with getting much done on the farm, so they have turned HelpX as their means of finding people to do the work for them in exchange for giving them a small room to sleep in and meals. The new mother of one is finding she cannot keep up with housework and chores so in addition to helping with 5-6 hours per day of farm work, they are asking helpers to work additional hours in the kitchen and caring for their son. Brian and I don’t get a clear understanding of that before we go, but we get up to speed pretty quickly when we arrive after having already promised to work a week.
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The Zona Cafetera in central Colombia is the heart of coffee-growing land in this part of the world, and it’s beautiful with it’s steep rolling hills covered in dark green coffee plants. The farm we will be working on is about 100 miles east and north of this zone near Honda. We arrive on a Friday evening and are welcomed with a fresh lemonade made from citrus grown on their property. Later we are treated to a homemade dinner using a few ingredients grown on the farm. In the morning and for the next 4 days we will work to pick ripe beans from coffee plants on the new farm this family is working on the other side of the valley. The coffee plants are all in various stages of production – some are flowering, some are covered in green berries, some are covered in red berries and are ready to harvest, and some are covered in dark brown and dried berries that are beyond saving and need to be shed manually. Most have only a few berries on them and some have all shades of berries.
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We are told on the first day to avoid the stinging caterpillars if we can. They live all over the bushes and if you brush against them you get a nasty sting that lasts several minutes. And the farmer, unfortunately, finds one the hard way and shows me what it looks like.
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The coffee berries are ready to pick if they are red, purple or yellow – so we harvest and clear each plant in the rows we work until the end of the day. We return to the farmhouse where the days crop is processed by being run through a hand-cranked mill to separate the pulp or heart of the berry which later evolves into the coffee bean that most of us know.
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Then the beans are washed and rinsed a few times to finish removing the skins.
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And then at last the beans are left to ferment overnight in the last round of water.
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After rinsing them and cleaning them the next day, the beans are laid out to dry in the sun until they get to 10% or less moisture content which takes about 7 days of sun.
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They are a pale beige color now and have another fine layer of skin (or two) to shed during the upcoming processes, but they are starting to look like anemic coffee beans.
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I can’t wait to see the process unfold.

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  1. Hi
    I just read your blog about your stay on the coffee farm in Manizales. My friend
    and I are intressted in doning a simlar stad. Can you recommend the family in Manizales? Do you may have an e-mail adress or a phone number?
    All the best

    • I’d love to but don’t have contact information for them anymore. We arranged it through a program called Help Exchange which you should be able to find online pretty easily, HelpX or something like that. You get housing and meals for working (hours and length of commitment vary by location so read carefully). Have fun!

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