La Finca Castanos: a rare coffee plantation in Europe
Updated: Sep 9
With a coffee shop on almost every street corner of the world, coffee is the second most traded commodity on the planet. Only oil comes first.
When most of us think of coffee beans, we possibly consider the high-altitude areas of Mexico and Brazil. However, a tiny coffee plantation I visited recently, is located in the deep, lush San Pedro valley of Gran Canaria, in Spain's Canary Islands. I stayed in a hotel in Agaete and drove up into the valley for the tour.
“Coffee is a fruit”. Nathanial our guide, at La Finca Castanos explained. He picked a pink berry, the size of a rose hip, from the tree and asked me to taste. “It’s sweet”. I said, expecting something as bitter as brown ale.
La Finca Castanos, has been in Gran Canaria since 1778, he informed the small group. It is part of an ancient vineyard that still grows grapes. The coffee bushes are sensitive to sunlight Nathaniel pointed to a canopy of grape vines, roses, avocados, oranges, lemons, bananas, mangos, and manga plants, that protect them from the sun. We were introduced into the process of how it is grown, dried, and hulled and it's transformation into the so-called ‘black gold’ of the coffee world.
The plants are watered by a system beneath the soil and the various roots mingle and blend together in a symbiotic dance. One of the plantations best kept secrets is that the surrounding plants growing nearby send their sweet and sour flavours via the root system to the coffee plants.
The San Pedro valley in the north west of Gran Canaria, near the fishing village of Agaete, enjoys a perfect temperature for the beans; between 16 and 32 degrees. Nathaniel pointed to the high cliffs and frequent cloud cover in the valley, which have created this dream location to grow coffee beans. It felt a million miles away from the sun basking tourists of Maspalomas, just an hour’s drive away.
“The white and yellow flowers on the plants are mostly ‘arabica typica’ species from Ethiopia”. Nathaniel explained. “The beans are mixed with ‘Geisha’ another species from the same country”. Geisha are the choicest and most expensive coffee bean in the world. They have a low yield per plant, yet are high in flavour. When the flowers change to a fruit, the rose-hip coloured, red berries are ripe for harvesting.
There are over 2000 coffee plants in La Finca Castanos, and every stage of the process is processed by hand. For this reason, the plants are kept trimmed to a manageable human height. Drying the beans takes 20 to 30 days, depending on the weather. The sheltered, drying trays are laid out amongst the plantation, every tray labelled precisely.
The beans are only moved to the next stage when they reach a specific humidity.
The whole process is slow and carried out with great care. Of 5kg of beans, once they are peeled, dried and roasted, only 1.5kg of the coffee bean remains.
At our tasting, in the shade of a pergola in the Las Castanos plantation, the coffee is drunk unsweetened and black. The flavour is strong, potent and chocolatey. It would be an offence, in Las Castanos, punishable with being put on the naughty step, to even suggest that coffee should be mixed with milk and sugar!
The 90 minute tour costs €15. Start the tour at #Finca Los Castaños (Coffee Plantation Academy), Camino de Los Romeros, s/n, 35489 Agaete, Las Palmas, Spain. Some tour agents in Gran Canaria also offer the tour and it can be booked via Trip Adviser.
The coffee can be bought at the plantation and in speciality shops. It costs €12 for125g