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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Java Enabled: Lo Mejor de Monserrate

Posted By on Wed, Oct 14, 2009 at 11:30 AM

Lo Mejor de Monserrate. It means, "the best of Monserrate." This perhaps presumptuous claim is the name of a tiny cooperative nestled high in the mountains of Colombia's Huila coffee region. Last month Tyler Zimmer and Mike Marquard of Kaldi's Coffee Roasting Company visited Monserrate. This was a rare opportunity for a U.S. roasting company to get the chance to visit one of the farms where its coffee originates, so I was curious to hear about the trip. After returning from my own visit to Latin America, I sat down with them last week to hear about their adventure.

click to enlarge The village of Monserrate and its co-op president, Don Gabriel - COURTESY MIKE MARQUARD
  • Courtesy Mike Marquard
  • The village of Monserrate and its co-op president, Don Gabriel
Recklessly perched at 1,800 meters above sea level, Monserrate sinuously winds along the ridge of a mountain. Coffee is the lifeblood of this remote village. Farmers dry their coffee on the streets in front of their houses; plots full of coffee trees crowd against the farmers' homes.

The Kaldi's duo was eager to see how the coffee was grown. "We hadn't gotten a chance to really walk the fields," Marquard said. "They asked us if we wanted to take the easy way or the hard way. We said the hard way. They walked us up, and the hill's angle had to be at 70 degrees. Even when we took the 'easy' way, it was still a really hard climb."

Though only a couple of hours by car from the capital, Bogotá, Monserrate is a world away from anything most Americans will ever see. There is only one rugged road to connect this tiny town to the outside world. When a flood last year wiped out this road at the peak of the harvest, farmers were forced to carry their coffee down the mountain on their backs.

Mountain passes aren't the only obstacles to reaching Monserrate. Only recently was this territory wrestled away from narco-trafficking FARC guerrillas. Zimmer and Marquard said some areas are still dangerous for tourist travel.

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