Coffee is everything. Especially for our effusive tour guide and friend, Jaime Gonzalez.
Emerging from his simple farmhouse in the verdant countryside, Jaime wastes no time in pouring hot water through a loaded coffee filter. As if his warm smile isn’t enough to make us feel welcome, he hands each of us a small cup of coffee and begins to happily answer our endless stream of questions, including “How many cups of coffee do you drink a day?”
“Yo bebo muchas. Siempre, siempre café. Como ustedes beben agua—es lo mismo,” Jaime explains proudly. (I drink a lot. Always, always coffee. Like how you all drink water—it’s the same.)
We all erupt in laughter. Several sips later and none of us can object to his intake—the coffee he produces is irrefutably delicious.
Now that we’re all properly caffeinated, Jaime leads us behind his house and begins a tour of his lush two-acre farm. He gracefully navigates the steep hillside through bushy coffee plants while we stumble and get snagged on the branches. It’s evident that as a fourth-generation coffee farmer, Jaime knows these fields intimately, just as his family members did before him. As a small farmer, Jamie navigates the tough ups-and-downs of the Colombian coffee industry.
In years past, Jaime—like other small scale farmers in the area—would harvest his coffee and sell it to a third party who would then distribute it internationally. This meant that his income hinged upon global market prices, often resulting in low pay and in some cases, massive debt for farmers who had to take out loans to continue their operations.
But as nearby Salento’s streets began to fill with tourists, Jaime saw an opportunity to change direction. In addition to growing and harvesting his coffee, Jaime now caters to curious tourists by offering tours of his farm and selling the beans directly to them. By skipping the middleman and subsequent fluctuating market prices, Jaime has increased the profitability of his farm and reinvested that capital into operations, including a small guesthouse that will allow visitors to stay the night on his farm and really experience Colombia’s tranquil coffee-growing region.
By the end of Jaime’s tour, we’ve seen his entire coffee-production process, from seed to ground bean. We’re tired, but Jaime is still excitedly talking a mile a minute about coffee. His passion for growing high-quality, organic beans is strong as ever.
Perhaps sensing our weariness, Jaime suggests we gather around for one last cup of coffee. And this time, the coffee is made from beans we roasted and ground ourselves. It doesn’t get any fresher than this.
We have one last question for our passionate tour guide: As coffee consumers and citizens of the United States, how do we purchase coffee that will support farmers like him?
Without hesitation, Jaime insists that buying single origin coffee with a Fair Trade label is the best option. It means higher quality coffee for the consumer and a higher standard of living for the farmer. Jaime can capitalize on Colombia’s tourism boom, but that’s not a possibility for most farmers. Fair Trade cooperatives ensure that a minimum market price is set, so that farmers have a dependable income.
Cups empty and the sun starting to set, we say our goodbyes and hop into the Willy that takes us back to town. We all agree that it felt like we made a new best friend, and wish there was more time to hang out. Lucky for us, we have several pounds of Jaime’s coffee that will remind us of his contagious laugh and enthusiastic spirit each time we make a brew at home.