To go to Minca you can take a bus from the public market in Santa Marta or rent a 4×4 car. Once you arrive you can rent a motorbike or use the transportation service that has rates assigned to take you to the different sites, including Finca La Victoria, which was where we went. It is advisable to divide the cost of transportation with other travelers, if not it is expensive.
We went from a warm beach environment from our hotel in Santa Marta to a cool green place in less than an hour away. I felt that our time was too short to discover the Sierra Nevada. This mountain range is the highest in the world by the sea at 5,700 meters.
I would like to go back and stay in a hotel in Minca like Casa Elemento (famous for its hammocks) or Finca Carpe Diem. Some places that were recommended for us to visit were a Cacao farm or a walk to Los Pinos. Pozo Azul and the Marinka Waterfall are two places to bathe.
A historic farm
Finca La Victoria, originally The Victoria Coffee Company, was founded in 1892, 127 years ago. Its owners, Charles & Mrs. Alice Bowden were an English couple who christened the estate in honor of Queen Victoria. I met Claudia, the current owner who is German Colombian. When she saw my name, she greet me in German. The husband’s family bought the farm 64 years ago but still keeps it with the same charm of the old days.
These lands were formerly inhabited by the Tayrona indigenous people who are still in the Tayrona Park. Originally Finca La Victoria had 1223 hectares. Today, they have 130 hectares of coffee area: 10 at the entrance, 10 along the river and 110 on the mountain. The altitude ranges from 830 meters to 1680 meters. From 1400 on, the difference in climate is felt and it costs more to place species.
Casas Viejas is a hostel lodge within the estate with magnificent views of the mountains of the Sierra Nevada.
Finca La Victoria is one of the oldest in the area and benefited from British technology. Its prototype machinery was implemented by the British internationally.
It is a typical factory of the industrial revolution with a central axis to distribute the force and many connections by traction that give energy to the other machineries. They have 13 machineries including the two generators that depend on the power of the water wheel. In this way, they obtain their electricity from renewable sources. A forest reserve of 460 hectares owned by Finca La Victoria guarantees that they always have water.
They grow coffee that ripens yellow that according to our guide are “genetic mutations of the Arabica” including Zimbabwe, Catuai and Mundo Novo. Castillo is a hybrid designed in Colombia to encourage organic production. They even plant Maragogipe that has bigger red fruits than normal and Bourbon that is more purple.
They do not have the best soil in the area, so it’s up to them to put nutrients in the soil. The cherries and coffee husk go to a tank that is full of California red worms. They also put beer malt, wood sawdust and horse manure. This material is decomposed in 50 days and serves as fertilizer. As they are organic they can not apply synthetic fertilizers.
The coffee has a free purchase process with a limit of five tons per buyer. They do not have their own brand. Finca La Victoria coffee can only be purchased on site at a modest sum of $4. If they wanted to market the coffee, they would have to modernize the plant in order to comply with phytosanitary norms and would lose their charm.
Harvest at Finca La Victoria
Arabica is a quality aromatic coffee, but you have to pick it by hand. This variety has a geographical requirement, since it must be sown higher than 600 meters. Unlike Robusta, which can be sown in the lowlands. As the mountainous terrain is difficult you can not introduce coffee picking machines. Therefore, they have 30 workers collecting coffee.
In the Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta the harvest begins in the last days of October and lasts until December. In January the rasp is done, eliminating the green grains that remain in the plant, to leave the nodules free so that flowers grow when it rains. It is different than the other coffee zones of Colombia. For the season, people come from the Eje Cafetalero and Tolima who are like gypsies migrating all over the country depending on where they have harvests. Colombia has four coffee regions and each produces coffee at different times. The good picker gets between 200-250 kilos of coffee a day earning three times the salary of an average collector.
A system of 14 kilometers of pipe connects 23 points inside the plantation with roof and funnel. At the end of the day, workers move their coffee bags to the nearest point and the supervisor goes with the scale to weigh the coffee and unloads it to go down.
A mature kernel enters a cylinder with a copper cover to the machine. The rubbing friction removes the skin of the grain. The material is already classified and the quality product goes to the tank. The green grain falls into the filter. Poor quality coffee is sold as cheap coffee.
You have to wash the coffee within 36 hours of harvesting otherwise it gets an acidic and vinegary flavor. The guide says they have “stone age” technology because it is rustic but it works. Then they have three days to put it in the dryer otherwise fungus attacks it.
There is not enough sun at the time of harvest therefore it can not be dried in the sun, which takes 15 days to dry, going from 60% to 10% of water. Coffee farms in Boquete and Volcán in Panama do this process, you can visit:
Instead they use a turbine moved with a water wheel so that the air pressure dries the coffee, recycling resources. Before they used firewood as energy for drying but each harvest required between six to ten complete trees. Therefore, when they tried to be certified organic they were asked to be noble with the environment. They chose to use recycled oil (car or kitchen) that produces the same combustion effect as diesel. This creates a flame inside that heats a tube that crosses the air. It dries to a maximum 70 degrees for 40 hours. Colombia usually sells green coffee on dry, unroasted parchment. Finca La Victoria only toasts between eight and ten tons a year to sell on site.
Taking advantage of the quality of water that Finca La Victoria has, it makes sense that they set up a brewery on site. After tasting coffee we went to a small factory that used to be a chapel. We were attended by the master brewer, Jonathan Köhberger, a German who chose to migrate to better climates.
The project started in a house in Minca but as it grew in popularity they had the need to move it to a better location. The water is local but the malt barley is imported from Germany, apart from the yeast and flower of hops. Like coffee, no chemicals are used, carbonation is natural and beer is bottled when ready.
They have three types: Happy Tucan (red ale), Happy Jaguar (golden pils) and Happy Hummingbird (pale ale). It is definitely worth trying all the beers during your visit to Minca.