When someone mentions South American coffee, what they usually mean is coffee from Columbia. Colombian coffee is widely regarded as some of the best coffee in the world and the nation produces the third most coffee in the world after Brazil and Vietnam. Like several of the coffee-producing countries on the continent, most of the growing regions in Columbia are in parts of the Andes mountain range, which provides the altitudes that are optimal for farming coffee.
Like most of South America, coffee was introduced to the Colombian biosphere by Spanish colonists in the 17th century. Stories of coffee’s origin suggest that it was Jesuit priests who brought coffee to Columbia originally, but there are no confirmed accounts of that. Although it was grown throughout the 18th century, it was not exported until 1835, when a shipment of 2500 pounds of coffee was shipped to the United States. Coffee quickly became Columbia’s biggest export crop and tariffs on exported coffee were a main source of income for the government. After Columbia gained its independence from Spain in 1819, most of the coffee were huge plantations owned by the social elite of the country. Land reform in the 1930s did a little to address the unequal distribution of land in the country, but by the 1980s, most of the arable land was owned by ranches once again. Fortunately, in the past thirty years, there has been great improvement in allowing smaller farmers to get a foot in the door, at least in the coffee industry.
About the flavor
Colombian coffee has perhaps the most well-documented flavor palate of any coffee region, which is mostly because of the extensive marketing done by Colombian coffee companies. Colombian coffee has a very heavy body, sort of the same consistency as cream or another thick liquid. It also has a high level of acidity. Despite this, its flavor is quite balanced, and the aroma of Colombian coffee is light and floral. Colombian coffee is often marketed as “100% Colombian,” meaning that it has not been blended with beans from another country. The popularity of purely Colombian coffee means that it is unlikely that Colombian beans will be in large commercial blends. Although Colombia has traditionally been out-produced by Brazil and, in recent years, by Vietnam, Colombian coffee is very well-known internationally for its rich flavor and savvy branding.
- The “Supremo” grade of Colombian coffee used to be a pretty stringent marker of quality, but these days, it doesn’t really mean anything, so if you see it for sale cheaply in a grocery store, it’s probably not actually a high grade of coffee.
- Juan Valdez was a fictional character created by the National Federation of Coffee Growers of Columbia in 1958. He has appeared in advertisements since then, and became a hugely recognizable figure in the 1980s when the image of him and his mule Conchita appeared in very popular commercials in North America. Because of the success of the advertising campaign, Juan’s image is often seen mimicked or parodied on TV. Because Juan and Valdez are both very common names in the Spanish-speaking world, there have been several lawsuits that resulted from other coffee companies trying to capitalize on the proliferation of Juan’s image.
- For a long time, Columbia was the second biggest producer of coffee in the world, after Brazil. Global climate change has actually made an impact in Columbia’s coffee production, perhaps contributing to Vietnam’s rise past Columbia’s levels of production in recent years.
- Although a global rise in the price of coffee has helped the Colombian market somewhat, the war on drugs in the region, mostly sponsored by the US and concerned with has also had a negative impact on its coffee production. Although Columbia has faced some tough times economically and politically, it remains one of the biggest markets for coffee in the entire world. It’s unlikely that there will be any change in that any time soon, and it’s fair to say that Columbia will remain in a prominent position in the coffee industry for the near future.