For many, coffee is a way of life. Rather than searching your destination for a decent cup, why not choose your vacation based around the entire coffee drinking culture?
Kimberly Easson takes her coffee very seriously. In fact, she is currently en route to Rwanda with a group of coffee aficionados. Her company, JavaVentures (www.javaventures.com) takes industry experts and caffeine junkies on adventures in the world of coffee growing, harvesting, production, export and ultimately drinking. JavaVentures works closely with growers' associations in Costa Rica, Hawaii, Nicaragua, Brazil, and Panama and Kimberly's personal familiarity with the regions, the coffees, the producers and cultures of each of these countries brings unique insights to participants' experiences. Anyone who is passionate about their brew would love an experience this in-depth and educational. The next two trips on Java Venture's schedules are to Nicaragua in June 2008 and Peru in July 2008.
The seven-day "Nicaragua: Women in Coffee Encounter" will center around a visit to Jinotega, Nicaragua, home of the Soppexcca Cooperative, recognized for implementing innovative programs that have made an significant impact on gender equality, women's health and children's well-being. Over 30% of Soppexcca's members are women, and a number of women hold leadership roles in the cooperative. Tour highlights include meeting with women farmers to understand their challenges and successes with coffee production and in their communities; participating in the entire coffee process with the women farmers - from farm to cup; joining the women for their annual celebration of the harvest and visiting colonial Granada, on Lake Nicaragua to take in the sights and culture. This trip is priced at $995 per person.
Peru is one of the largest producers of coffee beans in Latin America and is a leader is organic coffee farming in smaller cooperative farms located throughout the country. The eight-day Peru trip (plus an arrival and departure day on either side) will be priced at approximately $1,795 per person. The trip will visit cooperative farms, giving participants a chance to look at the coffee production process and meet with local farmers, plus of course plenty of coffee tasting. All tours are escorted by a fully bi-lingual tour leader, as well as the most respected agricultural engineers and coffee experts and include hotel accommodations, land transportation and meals. Actual departure dates for these two tours to be confirmed and international airfares are additional.
If your search for the elusive perfect coffee blend takes you to Panama, then Coffee Adventures (tel. +507/720-3852; www.coffeeadventures.net) can arrange a day tour to quench your thirst. Café Kotowa is a boutique coffee farm founded nearly a century ago and still run by the same family. Kotowa, the indigenous word for "mountain," has earned a reputation for producing award-winning coffee beans and although it is a modern production facility, the farm's antique, water-powered mill still exists and is part of their fascinating tour. Visits to Kotowa include a walk through the coffee plantation behind the mill, a tour of the production and roasting facility and finally the tastings in the old mill. Tours are Monday to Saturday at 9am and cost $20 per person, which includes transportation from Boquete to the farm in Palo Alto. Private tours cost $30 per person but can be scheduled at any time, including Sundays.
Alternatively you can visit Café Ruiz (tel. +507/720-1000; www.caferuiz.com), one of the oldest and most respected coffee producers in the country on your own and take one of their three organized tours. The Art of Tasting Great Coffees tour features a formal presentation about taste buds and how to identify coffee's complexity and extensive tastings of different varieties. The management requests that participants be free of all odors -- no perfume, after-shave, strong deodorant, make-up, body lotion, sun-block, or mosquito repellent allowed. This 90-minute tour begins at 8am Monday to Friday and includes a coffee gift for $25 per person (for one to three people) or $20 per person (between three and seven people. Transportation and Boquete hotel pick-up service provided. The shorter 45-minute Coffee Roastery Tour provides a short presentation of the coffee industry in Boquete and a walk-through the plant, including roasting and packaging. This tour runs daily Monday to Friday at 8am and costs $7 per person including transportation
The Complete Coffee Tour lets you become acquainted with the whole coffee industry from growing to processing, roasting to packing, and trading of high-end quality coffee. This visit includes learning about roasting profiles, cup profiles and the ability to trace specialty coffees; tasting of an array of specialty coffees from the Boquete Valley as finished products; indulging in home-made pastries to accompany your coffee; plus a gift bag. The three hour tour runs twice daily Monday to Friday for $25 per person with pick-up service provided.
For those who may never have put two and two together to work out that the term "java," actually comes from the island in Indonesia where it was grown, Indonesia is actually the world's third largest producer of coffee. Early Dutch explorers brought Arabica trees to Java and for a time, the colony became the world's leading producer of coffee. Currently most of its coffee is cultivated on the islands of Sulawesi (Celebes Toraja) and Sumatra, home to two of the world's best and most famous coffees - Mandheling and Ankola, plus the tourist island of Bali is also home to several coffee plantations. Although individual plantation tours are not marketed, they are almost always included in multi-day tours of Java out of Yogyakarta.
On smaller, privately owned plantations, you will still get to see coffee trees being harvested by hand. If you really want to immerse yourself in plantation life and budget is not an issue, then you may wish to stay at the Losari Coffee Plantation Resort and Spa (www.slh.com/indonesia/central_java/hotel_maglos.html) in Central Java. This stunning boutique resort offers all the luxury and amenities of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World group of properties while staying in a former Dutch mansion or individual traditional plantation villas on a working coffee plantation. Room rates here start at approximately $300 per night and include a plantation tour. The Quindío region of Colombia -- the Zona Cafetera - is the heartland of the country's coffee growing industry. If you can speak some Spanish, try the Quindío Tourism Authority website (www.turismoquindio.com) which lists a number of fincas, traditional country houses/farms that are located on working coffee plantations. Some are quite basic, while others feature swimming pools and antique furniture. Prices are quite low, starting at less than $20 per person per night and will often include breakfast, unlimited fresh coffee and a tour of the coffee plantation. The region is also home to a coffee theme park - Parque Nacional del Café (www.parquenacionaldelcafe.com) which features a coffee process museum, coffee-based food stands and a plaza highlighting traditional Colombian architecture.
Café Britt (www.cafebritt.com), perhaps the best known of the Costa Rican coffee companies, runs tours at its Heredia, Costa Rica plantation and production facility, about 20 minutes outside San Jose. It is one of the country's most popular tourist attractions and the three-hour Coffee tour features a walk through their organic coffee plantation, a tour of the roastery, a multi-media presentation and coffee cupping demonstrations. Tours cost $20 for adults and $16 for children aged six to 11. It runs twice daily from December 16 to April 30 and at other times and dates for group reservations. With pick-up service transportation, the price for adults is $37 or $33 for kids (children five and under are free). For a more specialized visit, try their Coffee Lovers' Tour, said turns coffee enthusiasts into coffee experts.
Participants get to see how coffee cherries are washed, fermented, sun dried and peeled, then transferred to the plantation roastery where Café Britt turns the raw bean into a rich and aromatic brew. Try a number of satisfying and creative variations on old-time Costa Rican favorites while Café Britt's coffee "sommelier" guided you through an unforgettable tasting session featuring eight different coffees and a surprise coffee-macadamia drink. Lunch at the on site restaurant is included and this tour runs daily at 10.30am with our without transportation for $47 per adult ($58 with transportation) or $42 for children six to 11 ($52). There is also a Cappuccino tour that includes the basic tour plus Barista demonstrations priced at $35 for adults and $30 for children.
Although coffee growing is only a relatively recent phenomenon in Australia, Melbourne is considered one of the world's great coffee cities. Starbucks tried to make its mark here and was no match for the entrenched European-inspired café lifestyle, where going out for coffee in one of the city's thousands of established cafes is an institution. Maria Paoli, a trainer of Baristas, an accredited coffee judge and organizer of an annual National Barista competition in Australia, runs a company called Evolving Success (www.evolvingsuccess.com.au). Their sensory Espresso Experience through Melbourne's Central Business District commemorates the contributions of early immigrants in developing Melbourne's espresso industry and includes meeting the contributors to Melbourne's modern café culture. Visit historic cafes and roasting houses around the city, sampling blends and learning the art of a perfect extraction. These specialized coffee tours run alternative Saturdays at 10am for two-and-a-half hours. Alternative days and times can be accommodated with a minimum of six people. The cost is $37 including the walking tour, coffee and morning tea (but obviously there is no actual "tea" involved). For $46 per person, she will throw in a copy of Melbourne's Coffee Guide www.thecoffeeguide.com.au. Personal tours can be arranged for $139 for two hours.
Although there isn't one specific tour per se, it would be impossible not to mention the Italian city of Turin in a round-up of places where you can experience the best coffee. They don't grow it here, but they certainly perfect it. The region of Piemonte is without doubt the coffee capital of the universe (the fact that it is also a chocolate capital gives it added appeal). Some of the world's finest blends originate here and are exported to the world, including Illy, Lavazza, Caffè Mokabar, MoKafè, Torrefazione Ponchione, Caffé Vergnano and Caffè Deorsola. You don't need a tour guide in Torino, just a decent map and a love of coffee. Try Caffè Carpano at Via Nizza 224, San Tommaso 10 (the original home of Lavazza coffee), Caffè Torino at Piazza San Carlo 204 and Caffè Mulassano at Piazza Castello 15. Start your day with a cappuccino, move on to a macchiato and finish up with an espresso or two but don't forget to try the Torino specialty -- the sweet and frothy Bicerin at the 18th century landmark, Caffè Al Bicerin (www.bicerin.it/eng/index.html) located at Piazza della Consolata 5. Turismo Torino (www.turismotorino.org) offers seasonal tours of individual coffee manufacturers including one of Caffé Vergnano (Italy's sixth largest producer) on 16 May and June 20, 2008 at 9.30 am. The tour cost $15 per person. Tickets are available for purchase online.
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