“Colombia” and “coffee” are two terms so closely related that many may think that Colombia is the origin of coffee. But the bush that produces coffee comes from Africa, and yes, the Colombian highlands produce some of the best coffee in the world.
If the origin is not responsible for this fame, we might think that the association our minds make with “Colombian Coffee” is because it is the world’s largest producer of coffee. But again, we are wrong; Brazil holds the title of largest producer. Vietnam ranks second in world coffee production, with 1,683 tonnes.
This leaves Colombia the third largest coffee producer in the world. So why is Colombia the world’s most famous coffee producer?
Colombia and its coffee
The history of coffee is shorter than you might think. While the Arabs consumed coffee as early as the 15th century, its arrival in Europe was delayed until the 17th century, and the product did not cross the Atlantic to America until 1689.
The introduction of the plant in Colombia was delayed until the end of the 18th century, so it was not a pioneering country in this respect either.
It took almost a century for the plant, already present on the continent, to be planted in Colombia. In Colombia, the first medium-scale plantations were recorded in 1808 in Cúcuta, Chinácota and Salazar de las Palmas, and in 1813 Ignacio Ordóñez de Lara was the first to have a crop of 7,000 coffee trees.
In the Cundinamarca region, Tyreel Moore 1867 established the first crops and Mariano Ospina Rodríguez in the Department of Antioquia.
In the Department of Caldas, in the so-called Colombian coffee-growing axis, the people responsible were Eduardo Walker in the jurisdiction of La Cabaña and Antonio Pinzón in El Águila, and by 1890 coffee was the basis of the regional economy.
In 1886, Simón López extended it to the city of Pereira, from where it expanded to areas of Quindío and Valle del Cauca. But in barely a century, at the end of the 19th century, it was the dominant crop in Colombia. Coffee adapted to Colombia and Colombia to coffee in a way that is worth noting.
Colombia became known as an exporting country in the second half of the 19th century, supported by the economic expansion of the industrial revolution and the increased demand for coffee from countries such as the United States.
In other words, it has been a major supplier of coffee from the beginning, from the moment coffee became popular as a beverage.
Today in Colombia, around 2.3 million hectares of land are planted with Arabica coffee. In 1960, it accounted for almost 90% of Colombia’s exports.
There are around 555,000 coffee farmers in Colombia; coffee farms are generally not owned by large corporations; they are often family-owned. And here is the key part of the quality of their coffee.
Quality is the key to the success of Colombian coffee
There are several reasons that make Colombian coffee great coffee; all of them have helped raise it to its current position.
Colombia’s altitude, latitude, hours of sunlight and tropical climate are ideal for growing coffee.
Did you know that the crops are grown in the mountains at altitudes of over 1,000 metres? They acquire the necessary nutrients in fertile lands to obtain the best possible beans.
100% Arabica coffee
The only variety grown is Arabica, the most appreciated worldwide due to its flavour and aroma.
Tradition and modernity
Unlike in other countries, in Colombia, everything is done traditionally.
The harvesting process is carried out manually, which, although more laborious, is also reflected in the final result of this product, as the coffee is only harvested from the coffee tree when it is at the right point of maturity, which is done manually in a selective manner.
Commitment to R&D
Doing things the old-fashioned way, as in the case of harvesting, does not go against the commitment to innovation.
The work of the Colombian National Federation of Coffee Growers has a lot to do with the prestige that coffee enjoys today. Its laboratories and scientists are responsible for exploiting coffee’s agronomic and biological aspects.
In this way, the Andean country has positioned itself as one of the pioneers in cultivation, sustainability and quality, among others.
Internationally recognised designation of origin
Several coffee-producing countries have decided to protect their reputation, maintain the quality of their product, position their brands and ensure some protection in international markets by obtaining a D.O. for their coffee.
The first of these was coffee from Colombia. More than ten years ago, they decided to push for the recognition of a special status for their coffee by obtaining the denomination of origin. At first, they gained recognition for the Colombian Coffee Designation of Origin in neighbouring countries such as Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador.
Later, the European Union, Canada and the United States joined in, and in 2013, Café de Colombia became the first foreign designation of origin to be accepted by Switzerland. An unprecedented success in a country home to numerous companies that use coffee in their products, such as Nestlé and Craft.
Getting a label with the designation of origin has not been easy. It is necessary to demonstrate the link between the quality and origin of the coffee and to document the control process to ensure quality throughout the production chain.
Then they had to pass the corresponding reviews by the authorities in each country to obtain the certification marks (in the United States and Canada), the denomination of origin (in Colombia and the rest of Latin America) or the Protected Geographical Indication granted by the European Union.
It is, therefore, not surprising that Colombia’s legal framework for coffee is very strict regarding control and protection (one of the highest in existence). This is also reflected in the quality of its coffee
The marketing of Colombian coffee
Finally, we cannot forget the advertising factor, which has contributed to raising Colombia’s profile as a great producer of quality coffees. If I say, Juan Valdez, almost everyone will know who I am referring to. And this is a success story for the Colombian coffee brand.
The National Federation of Coffee Growers, which we have already talked about, is an organisation that has been representing coffee producers nationally and internationally since 1927 and is largely responsible for the success of Colombian coffee worldwide.
“In 1959, they had the great idea of creating a character to represent the more than 500,000 Colombian coffee growers and to symbolise their tenacity and work philosophy: Juan Valdez.”
The advertising agency Doyle Dane Bernbach was in charge of designing this character and succeeded in making Valdez a symbol of Colombia for the rest of the world.
The Juan Valdez brand is a worldwide-recognised advertising landmark. The coffee farmer, accompanied by his mule Conchita is part of the logo that represents 100% Colombian coffee. And he is, in the minds of consumers worldwide, associated with quality coffee.
The character’s fame has led him to participate in multiple television programmes, films and series. So far, three different people have embodied the figure of the coffee producer.
Undoubtedly, if Colombian coffee were not of excellent quality, it would not have achieved the success and fame that characterise it.
However, marketing has undoubtedly helped position Colombia as a great producer of quality coffee worldwide. And we have to recognise that Juan Valdez is largely responsible for its worldwide recognition.