My friend pulls the car to the side and parks in the driveway. It looks like we’re the only ones here: the air is trembling from the heat, you can smell dry bushes by the road, and the only sound are the crickets. We have just arrived to Finca Los Castaños on Gran Canaria. One of the very few coffee plantations in Europe. Well – at least geopolitically.
Just a few steps further the driveway, and we arrive to a beautiful house surrounded by greenery – including coffee plants. Antonio, the owner of the finca (as all the farms are called around here), is just finishing his presentation in Spanish by pouring coffee into his visitors’ cups. I already feel good in this place. And by my friends’ smiles I can tell that it’s showing on my face.
Then the presentation starts, and Antonio begins to talk about coffee. We’re standing in the middle of the plantation, with ripe coffee cherries on one of the plants. The others are already harvested, as one of the two harvest seasons here is in May and it’s already past that time. Watching Antonio talk, you can see how passionate he is about his family’s plantation.
A brief history of coffee cultivation on Canary Islands
The history of coffee cultivation in Gran Canaria doesn’t even start in Gran Canaria – it starts in Tenerife. That’s where in the 18th century Spanish colonisers brought many exotic plants and seeds from America and Asia. There, in today’s Puerto de la Cruz, they started an acclimation garden to see if the plants could get used to colder weather and then be transported further north. That obviously failed but enabled the inhabitants of the Canary Islands to start planting what the colonisers brought.
But it took some more time before coffee made it to Gran Canaria. Farmers started cultivating coffee plants only in the 19th century. But then, during the 30s of 20th century, water in Gran Canaria started to run short. People started to keep it private and then sell it to others, and already costly coffee cultivation got even more expensive. Just imagine: the coffee plant starts yielding after 3 years, and the first yields usually are nothing special. But you still must keep watering the plant for those years! And since the average annual rainfall in Gran Canaria is around 300 mm, and the coffee plant needs over a thousand millilitres, you can imagine the costs.
That’s why coffee plantations nearly disappeared from the island and were replaced with avocado and mango ones. The only place that kept the tradition was – and is to this day – the valley of Agaete. There, around 40 farmers preserve, water and care for their coffee fincas every day. And a few of those passionate farmers can be found in Finca los Castaños.
They started the business almost 20 years ago, when they brought plants of Arabica Typica from Ethiopia, more with the aim to keep the tradition than to make a business. Because – make no mistake – water is still expensive, and the plant still takes 3 years to start yielding. Then Cafeteros – as their brand is officially called – embarked on a journey towards their mission: to spread the specialty coffee culture around the Canary Islands.
What makes coffee from Finca Los Castaños so unique?
How do they do it? They grow coffee sustainably, process & roast it with care and make it as special as specialty can be. The varieties they cultivate are currently Typica and Geisha, while other varieties are being tested. Coffee by Cafeteros is processed naturally, with possible fermentation & oxidation options in the future, as these techniques are currently being developed in a laboratory. Cafeteros run the only coffee-farm school in Europe and their teachers are certified by the Specialty Coffee Association.
Sounds cool, right? But how does that look in practice? Antonio has been growing and personally roasting the coffee from his plantation of over 1000 coffee plants from the beginning. From the way he talks about it, I dare to say this plantation is his baby. He knows everything there is to know and passes his knowledge onto us, his visitors, as we find ourselves in the place of the previous group, by the table near finca, with a cup of coffee in our hands. I manage to forget half the things he says almost immediately (maybe because I’m too focused on the cup), but what sticks with me are two main points.
First, never microwave your coffee. Sounds disgusting at a first thought, doesn’t it? If it doesn’t, maybe it should: reheating causes a chemical reaction. That makes coffee so acid that it’s dangerous to your stomach. Hearing this, I’m glad I’ve never done this in my life. Second, and I feel like this is very important to mention: what you pay for in your cup of coffee, is mainly the labour behind it. With specialty coffee, hand-picked, dried, processed and roasted on a rather small scale. Plus with European living and working costs and wages, this coffee is very expensive. But as I’m sipping on a delicious cup in this beautiful place, it doesn’t feel like it at all.
If you're thinking about visiting Finca Los Castaños yourself, you can book your visit here.