The Coffee Pilgrimage: How Travelling to Origin Changed My Life
Coffee has always been more than just a beverage to me; it’s a passion, a profession, and a daily ritual. As a coffee professional, I’ve devoted years to delving deep into this enthralling world, educating others about everything from the chemistry of brewing to the subtleties of coffee processing. Yet, it wasn’t until my inaugural journey to the heartlands of coffee production in Colombia and Brazil, alongside my colleague and friend Simon Gautherin at Zest Coffee, that my connection to coffee was profoundly transformed.
Understanding the labour and challenges involved in coffee production has always been part of my expertise, but experiencing these processes firsthand was a true revelation. Walking through the coffee plantations, touching the soil, and feeling the nurturing sun on these plants provided a unique perspective. Witnessing the meticulous care in harvesting and sorting, and the dedication to ensuring each bean meets the global standards of specialty coffee, added a new dimension to my understanding. Discussing coffee production in a classroom or seminar is one thing; experiencing it, with all the sensory richness of being at the origin, is something entirely different and irreplaceable.
Our journey started in Colombia’s rich green landscapes, winding through hills filled with some of the best coffee beans in the world. We then journeyed to Brazil, the powerhouse of the coffee industry, where the vast scale of coffee production is as awe-inspiring as the landscape itself. In each location, we met with coffee farmers and producers, the real heroes behind the beans. Their stories, filled with perseverance and dedication, were as diverse and interesting as the coffee they grow.
Finca El Paraiso
One particularly astounding farm was Finca El Paraiso in Colombia. Here, coffee cultivation goes beyond mere farming and artistry, evolving into a precise science. It was at this farm where I encountered the ground-breaking Zeo process. This new innovative technology enables coffee beans to be prepared for roasting within just 24 hours of picking, using a vacuum environment for rapid drying without heat. This method preserves the beans’ structure, colour, and natural flavour in a manner previously unimaginable to me, resulting in some of the most vibrant and juicy coffee I have ever tasted.
In stark contrast to the high-tech approach of Finca El Paraiso was our visit to Tio Conejo (Uncle Rabbit), a modest, family-run farm where coffee is processed naturally. The charm of Tio Conejo extends beyond its coffee to its rich storytelling. The family talks of ‘Tio Conejo’ – a mythical guardian of the farm – as though he were a tangible presence. Listening to their tales of Tio Conejo tending to their farm infused their coffee with a mystical quality, something that I’ll forever cherish.
Our journey then took us to Brazil’s Mina Mihara farm in the Alto Mogiana region, where we were welcomed with incredible warmth and introduced to an unusually lush Brazilian coffee landscape. Mina Mihara’s rich history and approach to coffee farming are incredibly unique. Ditching synthetic pesticides and herbicides in favour of natural fertilisers, they have fostered a flourishing ecosystem. The tall avocado trees providing shade to the coffee plants create a micro-climate that significantly enhances the quality of the coffee. This visit highlighted the critical role of environmental stewardship in coffee production.
Looking back on this trip, this journey did far more than expand my knowledge, it profoundly changed me. I returned with a deepened sense of responsibility towards the coffee community. The narratives of the farmers, the vistas of the plantations, and the essence of the coffee beans themselves have become an integral part of me, enriching my identity as a coffee person.
Building and maintaining these relationships is a value we hold in high regard at Zest Coffee. We’re not just buying beans; we’re supporting communities, preserving traditions, and participating in a global movement that is as rich and complex as the drink itself.
It’s peculiar, I’ve always understood and appreciated coffee but this trip has changed my life. I’ve entered a new, more profound phase in my coffee journey, delving into the heart of the global coffee narrative and redefining my mission in the world of coffee.
The Coffee Pilgrimage: a journey that reshaped my life is an odyssey I’m certain would be just as transformative for any coffee enthusiast. My sincere gratitude extends to my Zest Coffee team for facilitating this incredible experience, a testament to our dedication to enriching the industry for the entire Coffeekind.
Article by Julijan Markovic
Julijan is the Creative Director at Zest Coffee. He’s passionate about coffee, story-telling and information communication. You can catch him at our Richmond studio during the week, he always loves to chat!