This post is part of my on-going partnership with Nespresso.
If you know me, you know how much I love coffee. Not just for the taste or for the caffeine but also because it is how my heartmate and I start every morning together. We sit in bed and watch the morning news shows while drinking our Nespresso coffee and talking about the day ahead. Regular readers will likely know that we have been drinking Nespresso for many years and you may even remember my posts about it – like this this series of posts which covered our beach house kitchen renovation, and why coffee was an important part of its design. Over the years, I have read snippets of information here and there regarding Nespresso’s efforts to incorporate sustainability into all areas of their business. However, and to be frank, I didn’t really understand much about it or where our morning coffee came from.As seasoned Nespresso drinkers, the brand kindly invited my heartmate and I to travel to Colombia to visit coffee farms that are part of the Nespresso AAA Sustainable Quality™ Program. The program was developed more than 15 years ago with the Rainforest Alliance, a nonprofit, to create a sustainable supply of the highest quality coffee, while improving the lives of coffee farmers and their communities. Of course, we jumped at the chance as we were keen to understand more about the providence of a product that’s such an integral part of our day-to-day lives. We started our trip by flying to Medellin in Colombia, and from there we travelled by helicopter (check out the highlight on my Instagram story to see the breathtaking views!) to the small town of Jardín. This region of Colombia is known for coffee farming – literally everywhere you look there are coffee farms on the mountain sides.Plus, the town of Jardín couldn’t have been more #MakeYouSmileStyle if it tried! It was so colorful! As you can see from the pictures above, Jardín was full of color and pattern inspiration. Not to mention the delicious coffee that was waiting to be enjoyed at charming little cafes, where everyone was so friendly and welcoming to us.There were many special moments during the five days we spent in beautiful Colombia. We spent the third day with one of Nespresso’s coffee farmers, Don Ruben, (above in the green stripy shirt) who kindly welcomed us all into his home & onto his coffee farm. He generously spent the day showing us how the farm worked and how coffee is made –from planting the coffee trees to how the beans are harvested, and then eventually sold to quality coffee companies like Nespresso. The passion and commitment he had for growing coffee on his farm was nothing short of inspiring. As I listened to Don Ruben speak, it struck both my heartmate and I how little we actually knew about coffee, which is crazy when it’s something we drink every day and choose to spend our money on. It was surreal experience to be standing there in front of one of the farmers who has been growing beans for the Nespresso coffee I’ve been drinking for years.
So inspiring, in fact, that I want to use this post to share five of the most interesting things I learned about coffee while in Colombia.1. Coffee farming is very hard work
Don Ruben’s farm, which was about a 30 minute drive outside Jardín on the side of the most beautiful mountain, was just behind his house and about two hectares in size. During our day on his farm we learned that Nespresso works with farmers around the world through the Nespresso AAA Sustainable Quality™ Program. Through the program, Nespresso and its partners provide support, training, financing and technical assistance to improve sustainability and productivity while maintaining the highest levels of quality.
Don Ruben started the day by brewing us some of the coffee grown on his farm, then we sat on his deck where he talked us through the “cherry to cup” process of growing coffee. He explained it much better than I ever could, but what stood out to me was that all the coffee cherries (the fruit the coffee bean is grown in) are hand-picked. This is to ensure they are taken from the coffee trees at the exact right time of ripeness; the cherry should be red without any green skin.
After learning about the life cycle of coffee I tried my hand at planting a three-month old coffee tree that Don Ruben had been nurturing to ensure it was healthy and ready to be planted on the farm. The first three months are crucial because he has to make sure that the coffee trees don’t get diseases and die while they are weak saplings.
After planting my coffee tree (success!), I spent the afternoon higher up the mountainside hunting for and then picking ripe cherries. I can’t tell you how hard it was! You are literally on a side of very, very steep mountain, surrounded by coffee plants that block your view and path, so you fall over all the time in the mud, not to mention the humidity which is insane! Major props to the farmers who are experts at harvesting the cherries– they put amateurs like me to shame! These two stages are just the first few steps in the long process to extract and dry the coffee beans so they are ready for the farmer to sell. Don Ruben told me how he liked the AAA Program not only for the training and investment but also because it provides the expertise of local agronomists, who can answer questions about a farm’s crop or soil.2. Poor quality coffee takes like poop – trust me, I tried it!
Before we visited some of Nespresso’s coffee farms, we attended a ‘cupping’ session where we learning about coffee and tasting coffee. It was there that I learned that poor quality coffee tastes bad, like, really, really bad – it smells and tastes like poop! I came away from the cupping session feeling quite proud because I was the winner in our group contest to see who could correctly identify the most number of coffee flavors. Yay!
The core of the Nespresso AAA Sustainable Quality™ Program is to make the highest quality coffee in a way that is sustainable to both the environment and the farmers. That way consumers can keep drinking high quality coffee for a long time, and farmers’ lives are impacted for the better. At Don Ruben’s farm, which is part of the AAA Program, had a clean and tidy coffee drying area (see image below), which is key in maintaining the quality and protecting the taste of his coffee. There are scheduled check-ins with each farmer as part of the AAA Program, to make sure they are keeping within the strict guidelines of the program, which is something farmers actively wish to be a part of. This is because being part of the AAA program is a win-win for both the farmer and the consumer: the farmer gets paid a premium for their coffee, and the consumer enjoys better tasting coffee.3. Coffee tasting is a real life job
We spent a lot of time in Colombia with an organization called FarmWays who helped organize all our trips out to the farms Nespresso buys from. They were amazing and knew everything about Colombian coffee. We got to spend time talking to coffee tasters who work in the Nespresso AAA Sustainable Quality™ Program to taste coffee. Often they are tasting 200-400 cups a day (!) to ensure the quality of the coffee is up to standard. I was inspired to learn that if a farmer had a quality problem, rather than just turn the farmer away, Nespresso and its nonprofit partners work with the farmer to find a solution. They physically go out to the farmer on their farm and will talk to them about the changes that are needed, as well as help them to ensure they continue on a path to making quality coffee. Both my heartmate and I were moved and impressed by Nespresso’s commitment to supporting farmers and their communities for years to come.4. Our coffee choices make a difference far beyond the cup
To be honest, in my ignorance I had never really thought much about the coffee I was drinking beyond whether I enjoyed the taste of it. However, after coming back from our trip to Colombia I really appreciate how choosing sustainably-sourced coffee makes a real difference. The Nespresso AAA Sustainable Quality Program isn’t just about ensuring great tasting coffee by helping farmers to improve their farming practices, it also works with nonprofit partners to improve the welfare of farmers and their communities. It does this in a number of ways: providing free assistance from local agronomists, implementing pension plans for farmers in the program, investing in local infrastructure and communities, paying premium prices to farmers who produce high quality coffee and much more. Literally, by choosing a Nespresso coffee, you not only know that it will taste great but also that you are supporting local farmers’ lives and the communities they live in.5. Farmers are at the heart of Nespresso coffee
What has stuck with both of us since coming back from Colombia is the absolute passion and commitment the coffee farmers have for their work. They truly take pride in what they do. I feel so grateful to have had the experience to meet a handful of these inspiring farmers, and to have visited the very farms where some of the coffee my heartmate and I drink comes from. One of our favorite Nespresso coffees is Rosabaya, from the brand’s Pure Origin line. I now know that Rosabaya is sourced entirely from small Colombian coffee farms, all of which are in the Nespresso AAA Sustainable Quality™ Program. Now, every morning when we enjoy our coffee together, my heartmate and I love know not only that we are drinking a very high quality coffee (Nespresso knows and visits every farmer they source from) but also that the farmers are getting paid a premium price for the coffee. I actually saw the board at the local co-op that showed the premium price the farmer gets paid for selling to Nespresso vs. other brands. Beyond this though, I know that thanks to the Nespresso AAA Sustainable Quality Program, the farmers and their communities get much wider support so that they continue to grow amazing coffee for generations to come. And in our hearts and minds, that’s worth drinking a cup to.// Photography by Will Taylor & Antonio DeLucci