Having completed some work experience with advertising companies in London, not for the life of me did I expect that my next sabbatical experience would involve getting into the drugs trade.
As I descended into the heart of the Colombian plantation district in an army issue jeep, I wondered how many people had the opportunity to enter such a prized part of the world. We were the guests of Juan Pablo Echeverri, a 4th generation baron at his 100 year old Hacienda, Venecia.
Getting into this $80 billion a year industry was fraught with dangers so I had come to learn first hand how the real players grow, refine and sell their product.
The jeep stopped below an archway of hibiscus flowers swarmed by humming birds. The massive traditional Spanish villa stood atop a hill overlooking Juan’s highly coveted crop. As the engines cut off the sounds of the forest reached fever pitch reminding me that in spite of the tasteful grandeur of the Hacienda, we were very much in the heat of the Colombian Jungle. I felt like James Bond arriving at the Villain’s Lair as I stepped over giant peacocks and watched as rainbow iguanas hunted in the trees.
One of Juan’s assistants took us for a walk in the plantation and the factories. Unlike many growers who sold to dealers that catered to the general market, Juan had small list of clients all over the world that paid a high price for his pure product.
With the tour complete it was time to get down to business and sample the merchandise. For years I had endured absolute rubbish that had been cut and blended by countless middlemen until it arrived in Cape Town or London. Here I was at the source and about to try 100% Colombian pure. It came to me on a silver tray. I looked at it knowing that once you try product this good, you can never go back. I took a hit and sat back to let the wonder drug do its work. I felt the buzz come on hard and quick. I closed my eyes and embraced the flutter of satisfaction which immediately brought a smile to my face. I exhaled deeply and placed the coffee cup back on the table. I knew that I was hooked and that coffee was indeed my drug of choice.
Coffee is the second most traded product in the world after oil. Over a billion cups are drunk every year. The demand for the product is only going to increase as more emerging markets become sophisticated drinkers. Starbucks has just opened a branch in India. Since coming to South America I have made it my mission to sample as much coffee and chocolate as possible with an intention to potentially create a business out of the two. From the organic coffee of the Galapagos Islands that require no added nutrients thanks to the mineral rich volcano based soil to the cocoa growing regions in the forest valleys of Ecuador. I am very excited about heading to Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Guatamala to sample their home grown flavours as well. I have an idea brewing but you will just have to wait and see. Images