Colombia has always been one of the world’s top coffee producing regions, being number two to Brazil in terms of production. Most people think of the Pop Culture Icon Juan Valdez which if you ask anyone over the age of 40, is the entire history of coffee in Colombia.
The actual truth is that no one is sure when coffee production exactly began in Colombia, however it is traced back to Jesuit Priests arriving from Europe in the 16th century. The crop was said to be feared by farmers since the coffee trees take 3-5 years to mature, and what would they do in the meantime?” From coffeechemistry.com “A priest in a small village named Francisco Romero had an idea, instead of the usual penance at confession, he told them to plant 3 or 4 coffee trees. The Archbishop of Colombia ordered everyone to use this penance thinking it was an excellent idea and it became the general practice. This started Colombia as the worlds second largest coffee producing country built on the penance of its forefathers.”
In 1835 crops were planted on the eastern side of the country, and Colombia exported 2560 bags to the US, taking the history of coffee in Colombia and giving it a place on the map. Growth was slow, and only until the second half of the 19th Century did the US become the most important coffee consumer in the World, with Germany and France being the most important in Europe. In the early 19th Century, during the 1000 days war, Colombia’s land owners were having trouble maintaining crops and profitability plummeted. To combat this economical deficit, local coffee farmers began to redevelop ways to improve coffee production. Working with a new model supported by internal migration and the colonization of new territories in the center and western regions of the country, production began to pick up. The expansion of this new coffee model and the crisis that affected the large estates made room for the western regions of Colombia to take the lead in the development of the coffee industry in the country.
Coffee farms in Colombia are mostly now located along the north to south cordilleras (mountain ranges) of the Andes mountains, with most of the countries coffees coming from this area. The National Federation of Coffee growers, who are behind the fictional Juan Valdez and represents the nations coffee growers, guarantees to buy green coffee from Colombian farmers, but they however, have no obligation to sell to them. This was part of the initial plan set forth by the F.N.C. and the Colombian government back in the 1920’s to help strengthen the coffee industry. Now, in addition to the F.N.C., Colombia has 38 cooperatives with 19 of them being Fair Trade Certified. The coffee is grown in higher elevations mostly on family farms among the banana and plantain trees in the natural shade, hand picked and wet processed through one of the co-ops.
The history of coffee in Colombia is part myth, crisis, and success. Even with many countries falling back on agreements in the 1980’s, which forced farmers to sell at a much lower price, and now with Global climate changes and leaf rust disease, the history of coffee in Colombia is alive and well. Now running #3 in global production behind Brazil and Vietnam (due to their large Robusta out put), Colombia is producing some of the world’s finest and most popular coffee.