Wake up and smell the coffee in Colombia’s Zona Cafetera, whose landscapes are as rich and textured as the region’s most famous crop.
Rain begins to fall over the market town of Salento. It starts as a gentle drizzle, soon evolving into a fearsome downpour: giant droplets bouncing off the sidewalks and up pant legs, drumming on the corrugated-iron roofs and gurgling in the gutters. In the shelter of his café by the town square, coffee evangelist Jesús Bedoya sits by the window looking up at gray clouds, and then into the espresso on the table before him.
“A good cup of coffee is like a fine wine,” he says contemplatively. “You can taste the terra: the land where it is created. When I drink coffee I think about the family that grew it – the work, love and pain that has gone into each bean.”
Volcanic soil and high-altitude farmland make much of Colombia prime territory for the cultivation of arabica beans, but nowhere more so than the Zona Cafetera. Here, heavy year-round rainfall destroys umbrellas, turns roads into part-time waterfalls, and serves as the magic ingredient for the most flavorful cup of coffee in the Americas.
Since the 19th century, coffee has been the lifeblood of the Zona Cafetera: served with breakfast, lunch and dinner, and given to children from the age of 5 (though local parents disagree about whether this is a good idea).
The son of a coffee farmer, Bedoya left his job as a lawyer eight years ago to embark on a messianic mission: to open a café selling premium-grade, locally produced coffee in the coffee-farming town of Salento. It may sound like a redundant business model, but in Colombia almost all locally consumed coffee is low-
Hotel Salento Real in Salento has functional rooms clustered around an atrium. The hotel’s breakfast spread includes excellent empanadas (from $50; hotelsalentoreal.com).
Jesús Bedoya’s coffee shop is called Café Jesús Martín (coffee from $2; cafejesusmartin.com).
Finca el Ocaso offers tours of the plantation in Salento (from about $3.50; fincaelocasosalento.com). shapes the landscapes, too. Coffee plants cascade down the contours of the hillsides. Snug in the folds
measurement for sale).