Coffee in Colombia: A Visit to Sierra Nevada De Santa Marta
By Sebastian Farias
Going back home to Colombia last year gave me the opportunity visit the Sierra Nevada region and connect the Colombian coffee we offer at Cottle Coffee with its origin in this magical land.
Unlike many other parts of Colombia where coffee cultivation started by the way of the Jesuit priests, the indigenous tribes of the Sierra Nevada never really embraced Catholicism. So coffee was introduced to Sierra Nevada by settlers from other states who were migrating and looking for better opportunities amongst this beautiful land.
The current varieties grown in this region are Typica, Caturra and Castillo (Colombia’s own varietal), all cultivated whilst preserving the unique ecosystem of the area by planting coffee trees under the shade of native species like walnuts, avocado, cocoa and even coca trees. Here, you won’t find large coffee estates; instead coffee is cultivated by family growers typically farming on three to four hectares of land.
The Sierra Nevada is truly unique. As opposed to most of Colombia’s ranges which are linked to the Andes, the Sierra Nevada is a mountain range of its own. With its two highest peaks – Cristobal Colon and Simon Bolivar – reaching up to 5,770m, it is the world’s tallest coastal mountain range.
The region covers an area of 3,830sq km through three states and its unique position means you can see snowy peaks from the beaches below. The range supplies fresh water to at least 35 rivers and has unique ecosystems with vast diversity due to its huge topographical formations towards the sea. The Sierra Nevada is home to over 600 different bird species (more than Canada and the US combined), 3,000 vascular plants and the powerful ancient Tayrona people.
The Tayronas were the indigenous group of this land. They had robust economic systems and were the second largest linguistic group. It is said that they laid stone roads everywhere they moved to, and you can still find these stone roads today. Some of these roads laid by the Tayronas could easily take you from the pristine beaches to the very top of the mountains. The Koguis, Wiwa, Arhuacos and Cancuamos are the modern descendants of the Tayrona. They still live in this sacred land, which they consider the center of the universe. They are guardians, healers, and the big brothers who patiently wait to teach the little ones based on their own experiences.
In the last part of our visit to Colombia, we embark on a journey to Teyuna or “The Lost City” and meet the Tayronas more closely.