The sweet aroma of coffee growing on the trees. The serenity of the coffee fields in the early morning. The experience of hearing a farmer explain how they produce coffee of the highest quality.
Coffee farm hotels have become increasingly popular in the last decade, especially in Latin America. Guests range from baristas and roasters eager to learn more about coffee to backpack-wearing, Rough-Guide-clutching travelers.
But can they benefit visitors and farmers alike? Are they suited to both coffee lovers and coffee professionals? And what’s the best way to visit them sustainably? I spoke to the team of La Palma y el Tucán, a Colombian farm and hotel in Zipacón, to learn more.
Spanish Version: Cafe Y Turismo: ¿Deberías Visitar una Finca-Hotel?
A quiet path through fragrant coffee trees. Credit: La Palma y el Tucán
The Growing Trend of Coffee Farm Tourism
There are many different kinds of coffee farm tourism. Some farms with good transport links offer tours, often in cooperation with nearby cafés. You’ll spend a couple of hours on the farm and learn some of the industry basics. You may even get to pick coffee cherries, depending on the time of year.
Some of these farms also have an on-site café, where you can buy souvenirs and drink their coffee after seeing how it was grown.
Then there are the farms with their own hotels. You stay for a much longer period of time and have the opportunity to get involved in every stage of coffee and processing. There may also be other activities, such as coffee brewing lessons, cooking lessons, and workshops on making traditional handicrafts.
There are also many reasons why a farm might offer tourism activities. For some, it is an additional source of income. For others, it is a way to shape their brand identity. And for others, it is because they believe it is the best way to improve the industry.
Elisa Madriñan, Co-Founder of La Palma y el Tucán farm and hotel, tells me, “We do it to be able to share our model with the final consumer and connect the whole chain, favoring our community and our industry. We want people to come and get acquainted with a different model of making coffee, to make a community, and to ask where they can get that coffee. We are connected through a network that we want to strengthen, with the support of our allies and customers, so we can make known what we do, because that is the main business: coffee.
“A few years ago, hardly anyone knew the area of CUNDINAMARCA in the specialty coffee industry, and we helped position it in the circle of roasters and coffee professionals. Now we want the final consumers to come, to know what we do and to stimulate the community around us. We want to strengthen the cycle.”
Coffee on the balcony at Cabin SL-28, La Palma y el Tucán. Credit: La Palma y el Tucán
How Economically Sustainable Is Coffee Farm Tourism?
For a coffee producer, tourism is an additional business opportunity – but with new opportunities also come new expenses.
A well-run farm hotel or tour system can be an additional form of income, yet not all producers are able to afford the required facilities and staff. In 2013, Joanne Steele, Owner and CEO of Rural Tourism Marketing Group, spoke about the difficulties that agritourism can create for small farmers: the need to find time to not just farm coffee but host guests, make their beds, cook them food, and more.
“Why should these family farmers have to become something else besides farmers – innkeepers, guide services, happy makers etc. – in order to be able to afford to grow the food we all need to survive!!!” she wrote.
Coffee professionals, don’t just message the coffee producers you buy from and invite yourself to visit their farm with a team of baristas. Of course, farm visits can be a great tool for suggesting quality improvements and strengthening relationships. However, if your aim is simply to learn more about coffee, don’t visit producers who can’t afford time away from their farm management.
Instead, visit a farm that welcomes coffee tourists and students – one where your visit benefits everyone. In turn, you’ll have a better experience because the staff will be able to focus on you.
Outdoor cocktail bar captured during golden sunset hour. Credit: La Palma y el Tucán
Jobs & Staff Development Opportunities
What’s more, sustainable agritourism can create jobs – and offer development opportunities for existing staff. Elisa tells me that every person working at their farm hotel, from the guides to the cooks, has multi-disciplinary knowledge. Those with an interest in developing new skills have been able to move from coffee harvesting to areas such as tourism, hospitality, and cooking.
It also allows members of staff to develop useful intercultural skills: Janneth, a kitchen assistant, tells me, “I enjoy meeting people from all over the world and getting to know different cultures.” (Translated from Spanish by the author.)
Cup, cup, cupping with James Niewinski Credit: La Palma y El Tucán
Rethinking Your Daily Coffee
Could coffee farm tourism improve sustainability in other ways? Many hope so. Carla Perez, Hostess and Tour Guide at La Palma y el Tucán, tells me that farm visits can help visitors not just learn more about coffee but also “become more sensitive to social issues.” (Translated from Spanish by the author)
Elisa agrees with her. “This kind of experience leads consumers to see greater value in the product. By understanding what’s behind their cup of coffee, they become aware of the entire process and are therefore more likely to pay a certain price for it.” (Translated from Spanish by the author.)
Coffee farming is infamously low-paid work, but consumers who have seen how much goes into producing a cup of good coffee may be more inclined to pay better prices: ones that can support fair wages, eco-friendly farm practices, and more.
“I learned that producing the beans for my morning cup of coffee takes a lot of hard work. I have improved the use of my senses and become more attentive to the way I brew my own coffee at home. And I consider that to be a privilege,” Céline Lerebourg, a guest at the hotel, tells me. (Translated from Spanish by the author.)
A guest cabin nestled into the coffee farm. Credit: La Palma y el Tucán
Knowledge Exchange Along The Supply Chain
The team at La Palma y el Tucán emphasizes that farm visits aren’t just valuable for coffee lovers: they are also a space for coffee professionals to learn more about coffee production and processing.
What’s more, roasters, baristas, and café owners can learn about how to present that coffee to consumers – an area in which coffee farms are excelling. Observant guests can pick up on elements of customer service and education.
La Palma y el Tucán tells me that, in addition to their hotel stay and tours, they offer a two-month barista residence program. Baristas who wish to widen their coffee knowledge by working at the farm can do so, in exchange for working at the brew and espresso bar and leading educational workshops for guests.
Dakota, who is from the US, has just finished his barista residence. He tells me, “I hold lessons on many different subjects, from coffee history to brew methods and cupping sessions. It is about transferring knowledge into a more tangible thing and taking education to another level.”
A barista teaches guests how to brew coffee at home. Credit: La Palma y el Tucán
More Tips for Sustainable Coffee Tourism
If you’re taking part in coffee farm tourism, you have the ability to benefit the entire region – not just the farm.
For a start, your visits will lead to increased work for the rest of the community, whether it’s food production or hotel construction. (For example, La Palma y el Tucán buys food from neighboring farms to offer guests local cuisine.) You can support this further by buying locally made souvenirs rather than ones from the airport.
When traveling, you can also learn more about the local biodiversity – and take care to not damage it. You could, if you wished, travel via bus instead of plane for short journeys.
An outdoor patio for guests to enjoy the view. Credit: La Palma y el Tucán
As we continue to shorten the distance between production and consumption, we open the door to a more economically, socially, and environmentally sustainable industry. What’s more, we make it easier for coffee professionals and aficionados alike to learn more about coffee quality.
And that’s what the specialty coffee industry is all about.
Written by Maria José Parra. Feature photo: Guest cabin with view over the coffee farm. Credit: La Palma y el Tucán
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