When people suffer, we want to help. Even a small act makes a difference to a person in need. Maybe the only thing we can give is a hug, a few words of encouragement, or perhaps a smile. Those tiny acts can seem like very little, but they can change a lonely child’s world, comfort an elderly person, or convince a single mother that she can make it through another tough day.
Two items in my kitchen cupboard are not essential but certainly seem to be: coffee and chocolate. Yes, I could live without them – though not too happily.
I’ve also noticed that combining them produces double the happiness. It’s something I did recently by teaming up with Suzie Hoban from the Colombian Chocolate Club for an interview with Richard McColl on Colombia Calling, the top English-language radio show in Colombia.
We did the chocolate-coffee themed podcast at the headquarters of the Colombian Chocolate Club. That’s where Suzie, a university lecturer on the subject of cacao, brings her chocolate knowledge to the public with tastings that feature 100% Colombian products.
So yes, the Coffee Lady got together with the Chocolate Lady to talk about two of our passions.
How far can one idea take you? Where will the casual comment of another person lead you?
I learned a lesson on the power of ideas about a year and a half ago. I was in Mexico City for the Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants awards. It’s the top food awards event for the region, when spectacular chefs gather together to celebrate their past achievements and their future goals. The whole week, not just the night of the awards, is a thrilling experience; as a food writer I get to attend numerous dinners and parties in glittering settings and try the best food in the city.
When you visit Bogota, at some point you may find yourself on a chilly street wondering where to warm up with a good coffee. Now, if what you mean by a good coffee is that you need to find a specialty coffee shop, you and I have something in common.
When I began writing travel articles for international publications, I always had to include coffee shops. After all, this is Colombia, the largest exporter of fine Arabica coffee in the world.
It was only after spending large amounts of time with enthusiastic coffee shop owners, talented and generous baristas, and many cups of coffee that I realized I’d found something amazing.
I grew up in a house with no coffee. There was no coffee pot on the stove, no coffee maker on the counter. There was no smell of coffee to wake us in the morning and no reason to sit around the kitchen table mid-afternoon. We ate our cookies with milk. And we considered ourselves normal.
If you love coffee and are in Bogota this weekend, don’t miss Carulla es cafe, a fair dedicated to Colombian coffee. The Carulla supermarket chain will host this event at the Unicentro Shopping Mall from August 19-21.
I met Karen Silva at a Juan Valdez coffee shop. She’s in her twenties. Serious. Shy. In a society that places quite a bit of emphasis on women’s physical appearance, there was no bling about her, no lipstick or flashy earrings. Her hair was caught back in a fine black net, a fashion that every other Juan Valdez employee was sporting. There wasn’t much about her that impressed me.
Until she made that coffee for us.
I can’t remember the last time I bought bread on a bus. I’m not talking about the vendors who offer food and candies on Bogota’s bus system. This is a different kind of bus. Yes, it’s fire engine red, just like the famous Transmilenio buses zipping through Bogota. But this one is double-decker, announces London stops, and has Lion King and Phantom of the Opera advertising on the back.
And it’s parked. Permanently. (Which is a good thing, since it probably has British plates).
100% Colombian coffee – that expression is known around the world. Coffee has been one of Colombia’s most steady exports for decades.
It is any different to taste a cup of coffee in Colombia?
Around the world, coffeehouses have been important meeting places for centuries, and Bogota is no exception. Walk around this South American city and you’ll find busy coffee shops and bakeries at any time of day; walk by a Juan Valdez coffeehouse in the morning and you’ll see people doing business over a hot cup of coffee, and in the afternoon you’ll notice whole families gathered at bakeries to leisurely enjoy coffee and snacks during what they call onces, the Colombian version of tea time.
Over the last few years a new wave of coffeehouses has flooded Bogota. In addition to the Juan Valdez stores on nearly every corner of the city, more and more independent coffee shops are opening up, each one offering an in-depth look into coffee farms and farmers as well as the regions where coffee is grown. All of this adds up to tasting experiences you won’t get anywhere else.
Why is Colombian coffee in such demand?
Coffee is grown in Colombia on hundreds of thousands of small family owned farms. Unlike Robusta beans, Arabica beans (the only ones found in Colombia) are grown at high altitudes. Mountainous terrain means that beans are picked in a very labor intensive way (by hand, since machines are useless on those hills) and are often transported off the farm by mule or jeep. This hand picking means just the ripest, deep red cherries – not the green ones, not the slightly pink ones – are chosen. The beans are then sent off to get processed and roasted; freshly roasted coffee should be consumed as quickly as possible to preserve the characteristics of the bean. Of course, all of these factors increase the cost – but they also increase the quality.