A couple of weeks ago we packed our bags and took the short flight from Bogota to Caracas, crossing the snowy peaks of the Andes to check out the coffee in our neighboring country.
Then we drove west, headed for Venezuela’s coffee zone. Navigating sign-less roads and dodging some of the most erratic driving on the planet, we eventually made it to Portuguesa state, the main coffee-producing region.
Venezuela used to produce lots of really good coffee, mainly Arabica varieties that flourished at the end of the world’s longest mountain range. But it seems economic policies over the past decade haven’t helped the country’s coffee industry, or so we were told.
Several coffee growers we met with complained about the difficulties in securing seeds, fertilizers and essential farming equipment, hampering production. In fact Venezuela’s coffee output has slumped over 70 percent since 1998, according to the National Federation of Venezuelan Coffee Producers, or Fedecave.
Another big problem are government rules that effectively force farmers to sell their coffee below the cost of production. This acts as a huge disincentive, with many switching to cattle or simply leaving farming altogether.
As we sat in the home of local producer Fermin, sipping his delicious coffee that will never make it to market, we wondered what the future is for Venezuela’s coffee growers.
We certainly hope they can get back on their feet again, and put Venezuelan Arabica back on the menu in cafés across the globe.
A bit like cheese and wine, chocolate and coffee go very well together. So, why not? While touring the area, we made a short deviation and stopped at a cocoa farm.
Venezuela’s cocoa varieties are known for their fine flavours and considered among the best in the world, superior to most of the cocoa that comes from the Ivory Coast, the top producer.
We visited the Hacienda San Cayetano in Carabobo state where Rodrigo Morales showed us around his plantation of orange and cocoa trees, including one over a hundred years old.
Rodrigo makes his own chocolate – named Valle Canoabo - among the most delicious we’ve ever tried! We stocked up with as many bars as we could buy and headed back to Bogota, happy to have seen how incredibly beautiful Venezuela is. Maybe one day it can also fulfill its huge potential to become a major producer of high-end coffee and cocoa.