Coffee grows in some of the warmest and most ecologically diverse areas of the world, and these plantation tours provide a mix of flavor, local culture, and natural beauty. And, of course, caffeination!
1. Ethiopia: The Birthplace Of Coffee
It's common folklore that the first to discover coffee were Ethiopian goat herders. These shepherds witnessed their goats acting unusually alert after chewing on the berries of the coffee bush. Ethiopians eventually followed the goats' lead, creating a beverage steeped from the roasted coffee beans. Now, centuries later, Ethiopia still boasts a strong tradition of coffee excellence. The country's coffee ceremony pays much respect to the drink and is part of the charm of visiting the country.
This landlocked and rugged nation may not be the first to come to mind as a vacation spot, but in 2015 Ethiopia was named the world's best tourist destination by the European Council on Tourism and Trade. The country has a rich history -- and not only in its cups of coffee. Several ancient churches and historic palaces and castles dot Ethiopia, which boasts nine UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Coffee tourism is growing as well, and with a wide-spread industry of up to five million farmers, there are plenty of choices to learn about coffee cultivation and preparation.
2. Colombia: Home Of Juan Valdez
A few decades ago, coffee choices were fairly limited. Consumers chose between major brands such as Folgers, Maxwell House, Eight O'Clock and Chock Full of Nuts. There weren't different roast types. But you often could look for Juan Valdez on the label -- the mascot of pure Columbian coffee quality. Today, Columbia is the third largest coffee grower in the world, and coffee tourism in the country is booming. In Colombia, you can have an immersive, full day coffee tour from growers such as WakeCup. Here, at a farm in Pijao, visitors get to see the entire coffee production lifecycle. The tour teaches the basics of coffee farming through connecting with the people behind the beans -- the planters, pickers, and roasters. Of course, there are many opportunities to sample the goods along the way.
3. Sumatra, Indonesia: Dung Money
If you've ever referred to your coffee as a cup of Java -- please return to the 1990s. But also know that the term comes from one of Indonesia's principal islands, right next door to Sumatra. Indonesian coffee is known for its rich, full flavor and mild acidity. Coffee actually isn't native to this area; Dutch colonists established the coffee plantations in the mid 18th century. Tours feature the jungle-based farms, where visitors can watch locals pick, sort, and dry coffee beans. In the center of the region, one of the strangest processing techniques is used for kopi luwak coffee. Here, coffee beans are harvested from droppings of the wild civet -- a raccoon-like animal that resides in the jungle. This may sound disgusting, but the prepared beans fetch up to $600 per pound!
4. Jamaica: One Of The Finest Coffees
Jamaican Blue Mountain is one of the most sought-after coffee varieties. It's also some of the priciest per pound (that doesn't come from animal waste). The reason for its exclusivity is the small production on the Caribbean island. Jamaica's total annual coffee production is about four million pounds a year. Compare that with nearby Dominican Republic's annual 118 million pound production, and then consider that not all of Jamaica's production is even from the Blue Mountain region. Jamaican Blue Mountain is grown at slightly higher and cooler elevations that most places in the coffee belt -- the band around the globe where coffee is produced. Because of the colder growing weather, this coffee takes longer to ripen fully. The extra time means more money spent caring and cultivating the product, but it also adds to the coffee's rich and delicious flavor. In Jamaica, coffee is a big deal. Shops everywhere sell its famed mountain blend, but eco-tourism aimed at witnessing the magical coffee process is also available.
5. California: A New And Untested Growing Region
Most of the United States is outside of the coffee belt, except for Hawaii. But recently, some industrious farmers wondered whether or not coffee could be successfully grown in the golden state. It is the breadbasket of the country, with a near-year-long agricultural cycle, so it would seem that the southern part of the state could grow almost anything. Since being introduced in 2001 on a full scale, California coffee production has finally reached full steam. Some have even predicted that coffee might be the state's second gold rush industry. Many of the farmers are focusing on organic farming methods, which is attracting visitors interested in eco-tourism. Some 30 farms currently operate, with another two dozen expected to start growing in 2018. Coffee farming takes a few years to develop, so many are expecting the next five years to see a massive move of domestic coffee into the marketplace. And for those looking to visit a coffee plantation, the vacation just became more doable.
Coffee is a beloved beverage throughout the world. When you plan your next vacation over a cup of coffee, consider incorporating learning more about the world's morning fuel into the trip itself!