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Colombian Coffee

coffee-in-colombia-1When it comes to agriculture in Colombia, coffee is king. Colombia is the world's third largest producer of coffee, behind Brazil and Vietnam. Indeed, over half a million families, constituting some 2.5 million people, or roughly 5% of the Colombian population, live off coffee production. But times have been tough for the "cafeteros", or those who cultivate coffee in Colombia. In 1985, for example, coffee accounted for half of Colombia's exports. Today, that figure is around 6%. Coffee production has exploded in Vietnam and into warmer climates in northern Brazil, leading to falling prices. Coffee growers and their families in the "Eje Cafetero" or Coffee Zone, have periodically staged strikes calling for additional help from the government.

Coffee was originally introduced into Colombia in the 18th century by travelers, via Guyana and Venezuela. The first written record of coffee cultivation in Colombia comes by way of Jesuit friar Jose Gumilla, who in 1730 documented the growth of the plant at the convergence of the Meta and Orinoco rivers, in southeastern Colombia. The coffee culture first took root in the northeastern departments of Santander and Norte de Santander, as well as Antioquia and Caldas. Today coffee cultivation thrives in the central-western region of Colombia known as the Eje Cafetero, Zona Cafetera, or Coffee Zone.

coffee-in-colombia-2Roughly the coffee zone stretches from the southern end of Antioquia, through the departments of Caldas, Risaralda, and Quindio, into the northern regions of Tolima. Without doubt, the city of greatest importance in the coffee business is Pereira, Colombia's tenth largest city, and the capital of Risaralda department.  Walk around downtown Pereira, and step into a cafe or billar, and you'll find cups of steaming hot coffee for a mere 600 or 800 pesos!

Of course, many associate Colombia with the world famous Juan Valdez advertising campaign, launched by the National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia in 1981. The tv spots feature "Juan Valdez" a fictitious coffee farm, and his trusty burro "Conchita" as they carry freshly harvested coffee beans through an idyllic Colombian coffee slope. Colombia, as the ad below notes, is in many ways a perfect climate for the coffee plant, which thrives in moderate climates, with the right mix of rain and sun, and typically at an altitude of between 1,000 and 2,000 meters above sea level.

Juan Valdez Youtube Ad

If you're going out for coffee in Colombia, one of the first things that you'll encounter is the term "tinto". Don't confuse this term with "vino tinto" which means red wine. Tinto in Colombia is simply a black coffee. "Perico" or "cafe con leche" is coffee and milk. Sugar will typically be included with whichever type of coffee you order.

The coffee culture is huge in Colombia: witness the widespread proliferation of Juan Valdez and Oma. Juan Valdez serve coffee, snacks, and deserts, while Oma serves up a wide variety of cold and hot coffee beverages, as well as a full food menu. On any afternoon, weekday or weekend, you're likely to see these establishments packed with people meeting up for business or social engagements.

coffee-in-colombia-3And of course, no visit to Colombian would be complete without a stop at the Parque Nacional del Cafe, or National Coffee Park, in the heart of the coffee zone in Quindio department. Just 11km west of Armenia, this park is accessible by cable car and offers guests rides, attractions, foodstalls, a roller coaster, art displays, and a global coffee garden. It's a worthy stop. So pack your bags, and head to Colombia to try the world's finest coffee!

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