Traveling has a way of making the mundane memorable. The daily cup of coffee back home, merely a fragrant wake-up to launch the daily drill, becomes a tangible expression of the joy and romance of a place when in, say, Paris. As soon as that plane touches down at Charles de Gaulle, the mission for the first perfect cup of cafe cr?me begins; or in Rome, it’s the search for the first tiny and potent Illy espresso.
Coffee is rising on the long list of travelers’ priorities — beyond an exalted beverage, it's now joining its sexier siblings in the culinary world of wine and food as an entire subject of exploration. Visits to wineries, olive oil tastings, cooking classes — these are nothing new on most travelers' horizons. But an abundance of fascinating and equally sensorial coffee experiences await.
Discover the art of cupping (think winetasting meets coffee) where you examine the nuances of the drink. Watch a berry transform to a green coffee bean and into that fragrant, glossy mahogany-hued bean you think of as coffee. Even try the labor-intensive job of harvesting coffee. These are among the activities available to latte-loving globe-trotters who want to learn more about their favorite drink.
Coffee enthusiasts are finding a growing selection of tailored experiences in the United States and around the world that can build their understanding of and expertise in java. From plantation stays along the equator, where the world's coffee is raised, to brewing the perfect cup in the coffee meccas of Italy and Portland, Ore., and everything in between, the budding barista can get a hands-on education if they know the right places to look. We've scouted out a few of the best coffee experiences in the world that are worth building a trip around. Because just as wine lovers see wine as more than a vehicle for getting tipsy, true coffee connoisseurs love the nuances and complexities of coffee for more than its caffeine jolt.
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Finca Rosa Blanca, Costa Rica
During a stay at the eco-friendly coffee plantation Finca Rosa Blanca in Costa Rica, guests tour the coffee field to learn about the ecology and science behind the drink from super-knowledgeable guides. The two-hour tour ends with a visit to the roasting house and a catación (cupping session).
Photo Credit: Finca Rosa Blanca
Kau Coffee Mill, Pahala, Hawaii
If you really want to get close to the origins of your coffee, plan a visit to Ka'u Coffee Mill in Pahala, Hawaii, at harvest time and you might be able to volunteer as a coffee cherry picker for a few hours. You can also see how the freshly picked coffee is made into "green beans."
Photo Credit: Flickr/klausstake
Mountain Thunder Coffee Plantation, Kailua-Kona, Hawaii
At the largest organic coffee farm in Hawaii, Mountain Thunder Coffee Plantation in Kailua Kona, random visitors can enjoy a free mill and roastery tour, but die-hards will want the private "tree to cup" tour. Add on a Roast Master for a Day lesson to roast your own batch of Kona coffee.
Photo Credit: Flickr/junepapercups
The Espresso Adacemy, Florence, Italy
Only in Italy would a seven-hour, €120 Milk Art course make perfect sense. The Espresso Academy in Florence offers classes such as Discovery, which teaches visitors the secrets of a true cappuccino, Tasting (because, as they explain, "Coffee is a product as noble as wine"), and Coffee Cocktails.
Photo Credit: Flickr/amftkrm
Chicago may not be the first city to come to mind when you think coffee, but Intelligentsia is a revered coffee house with nationwide locations, and they want you to take coffee as seriously as they do. To that end they offer a structured training program at their Chicago roasting facilities. It actually sounds a little like barista boot camp.
Photo Credit: Flickr/Laughing Squid
Stumptown Roasters, Portland, Oregon
Stumptown Roasters, born in Portland, Ore., where they say they began a coffee revolution, has branched out, but travelers to the Northwest can visit their Portland or Seattle houses to see first-hand the art and craft of roasting in vintage, double-walled steel drum roasters. Learn whether their promise is true — that the coffee sings.
Photo Credit: Flickr/jcolman
Kona Coffee Cultural Festival
More than 40 events over 10 days celebrate coffee in the annual Kona Coffee Cultural Festival, this year Nov. 2 to 11 in Kailua-Kona. Tastings, a cupping competition, farm tours, and parades are among the festivities at this can't-miss event — seriously, it's paradise for coffee lovers.
Photo Credit: Flickr/ardie96750
Specialty Coffee Association of America Event
Go pro at the annual Specialty Coffee Association of America Event (April 19-22 this year in Portland, Ore.). Coffee enthusiasts of all backgrounds are welcome. Try the "From Seed to Roaster" Lecture, Intro to Cupping workshop, and check out the Barista Championship, Coffee of the Year Competition, and U.S. Cup Tasters Championship.
Photo Credit: The Specialty Coffee Association of America
Wedang Sari Plantation, Bali
The most expensive coffee — from one of the most bizarre process — in the world can be found at Wedang Sari Plantation in Bali, Indonesia. A discerning little creature called a Palm Civet eats only the best coffee berries and when they, umm, come out the other end, workers gather, clean, and process them into a several-hundred-dollar-a-pound coffee known as Kopi Luwak, or pea berry coffee. Let us know what you think if you try it! (For more information, email Wedang_sari@yahoo.com)
Photo Credit: Flickr/Kawa0310