Colombians consume less than half as much coffee as Americans. The country’s coffee federation and local entrepreneurs are trying to change this and encourage Colombians to consume more of their iconic export product.
Colombia is internationally renown as a high quality coffee producer. The common Colombian coffee profile is described as having a delicate flavor, mild acidity, flowery notes and chocolate aftertaste. For those in the industry it’s no surprise that more and more coffee roasters and coffee shops in around the world pay extra to have Colombian microlots as one of the preferred origins in their stores and in their house blends.
However, back in Colombia the locals don’t seem too keen about the ubiquitous drink: While the top consumers in the world (Finland and Norway) guzzle down around 24 pounds of coffee per person per year, Colombian barely make it to the 4lbs mark.
The average in continental Europe is around 10lbs per person per year and in the US something around 9lbs. Brazil, a close neighbor in the south, is the world’s largest producer and the consumption of its inhabitants is around the 14lbs of coffee per year.
One of the reasons for lack of interest is because most of the high quality Colombian produce (11.5 million bags of 275 lbs each per year) is destined for export, leaving mostly the defective and rotten beans in the country for Colombians to drink. Or so it is believed.
For the last 10 years, organizations such as the National Coffee Federation and its coffee chain, Juan Valdez, have made determined efforts to help improve the local consumption of the coffee produced in the country. Having a “tinto” is no longer a custom reserved for the home, instead Colombians now enjoy a cup of the delicious brew in the middle of the day, thanks to the effort of such protagonists.
But it is in the last three years where a more noticeable change has occurred in the country. Specialized coffee shops are opening up in the major cities, where different origins and preparation styles are being offered to Colombian consumers thirsty for change. Colombians are finally starting to appreciate the product that they are world renowned for and coffee culture is slowly becoming a part of their daily routine.
A prime example can be seen in Medellin, Colombia’s second largest city, nearly 12 coffee shops have opened in the last 3 years.
The kings of the coffee shops Pergamino and Cafe Velvet dominate the coffee scene catering to as many as 50 customers during busy periods. Where tinto used to be the staple offering, specialty cafes like these are offering a wealth of different coffee brewing techniques to thirsty consumers. Techniques with equally technical sounding names such as the Chemex, V60, Aeropress and the Siphon among others, are becoming popular alternatives to preparations using the more traditional Italian espresso machine.
At the same time tourists to Colombia are no longer left with the disappointing impression that Colombian coffee isn’t as good as what they are used to back home. This is evident in the number of tourists that can been seen frequenting the specialty coffee shops along Medellin’s trendy Provenza neighborhood where many are working online in this age of mobile employment.
One coffee shop specifically setting its sights on improving the image of Colombian coffee is the Toucan Café. Juan Cano, Toucan’s resident coffee expert explains “as a coffee expert it’s a little embarrassing that both locals & tourists to Colombia don’t get to experience the best Colombian coffee that we have to offer. For this reason we created the “Toucan Coffee Tasting Experience” where participants are walked through the process of coffee production, from the moment the seed is planted until the enjoyment that comes with a cup of the magic bean. In the 2 hour workshop we sample 4 or 5 high quality locally produced coffees.”
Part of this coffee “experience” includes a sensory training session, basically smelling all kinds of fruits and products like panela, sugar, honey, vanilla, lemon and a whole array of things, which are the base scents that may be found in different coffees. But the fun part comes with the actual coffee tasting. Similar to wine tasting, the coffee tasting (or cupping as the experts like to call it) is the process of tasting, or more accurately slurping, different coffees in close proximity, which allows for differences to really come out. In the words of Mike, a German backpacker, “I had no idea of all the complex processes that had to happen so I could enjoy a simple cup of coffee. I mean, it takes 40 of those little coffee beans to make an espresso, man that’s crazy!”
While the Colombian coffee industry and local coffee shops have taken the first steps to improve the image of coffee locally there is still along way to go before Colombia retains a larger proportion of premium beans for it’s own use. However for now the future for the rapidly developing coffee drinking culture looks bright, with a hint of caramel, chocolate and an overtone of red berries.
Pergamino Cafe & Cafe Velvet are located on Via Primavera (Carrera 37) in Medellin.
Toucan Café is located at Carrera 41A # 10 -28, two blocks south of Parque Lleras. The Coffee tasting Experience is held daily from Monday to Friday at 4pm (or as advertised on their website).