How Colombia Grew Into a Global Coffee Powerhouse

Learn the fascinating history of how coffee became a part of Colombia’s national identity.

Legend has it that coffee was first introduced to Colombia by Jesuit priests in the 16th century. As the story goes, a local priest named Francisco Romero came up with the idea of instructing parishioners to plant three or four coffee trees rather than performing their usual penance during confession.

The practice was adopted around the country in an effort to encourage coffee production, setting the stage for Colombia to become the global coffee powerhouse it is today. 

Colombia first began exporting coffee in 1835, when the country shipped 2,500 pounds of coffee to the U.S. Since then, Colombia has continued to export coffee internationally every year. Over the next few decades, coffee became the country’s primary export crop and driving force of the economy.

Today, Colombia is the world’s third-largest coffee exporter in the world, supplying 15 percent of the world’s coffee. Colombia is best known for its Arabica beans, which produce a subtle, sweet cup with complex aromas and a rich texture. 

What’s the secret to Colombia’s incredible coffee success?

There are a number of factors. You could cite the country’s proximity to the equator, which places the nation in a unique position to enjoy two harvest seasons per year—rather than the single season allowed to most coffee-growing regions around the globe.

You could point to Colombia’s mountainous terrain, temperate climate, nutrient-packed soil, and plentiful rainfall, all of which contribute to creating one of the world’s best coffee-growing environments. 

You could attribute the success of Colombian coffee to the way local farms harvest their beans. While other coffee-growing regions follow the “strip picking” method, which pulls the coffee off the branches at once, Colombian harvesters typically pick beans by hand.

Seasoned coffee-pickers sift through ripe, unripe, and overripe beans to ensure only the finest beans make their way into the final product. 

However, many would argue Colombian coffee’s popularity can be most heavily attributed to a fictional character named Juan Valdez. Depicted with a familiar sash, mochila, and trusty mule Conchita, Juan Valdez was the symbol of Colombian coffee and one of the most widely known spokesmen in the world. 

Juan Valdez was created in the ‘50s in an effort to make Colombian coffee recognizable around the world. The mustached character was dreamed up by the Colombian Coffee Growers Federation, or Federación Nacional de Cafeteros (FNC), a nonprofit organization and flagship of Colombian coffee production. 

The FNC: The Backbone of Colombian Coffee  

The FNC was founded in 1927 with the mission of representing Colombian coffee growers and protecting them from fluctuating trade prices in the world market, all while boosting the production and exportation of Colombian beans.

The democratically-run entity has a presence in every region where coffee is grown and represents more than 500,000 of the 600,000 small coffee farms in Colombia.

The FNC guarantees the purchase of green coffee from all Colombian coffee farms, extending the offer to both member- and non-member growers.

In 1938, the FNC built the Cenicafé—sometimes called the “NASA of Coffee”—to study production, harvesting, post-harvesting, coffee quality, management and use of by-products, and conservation of natural resources in Colombia’s coffee-growing regions.

The research center supports coffee farm communities through technological advances in coffee and cultivation programs for technical, social, economic, and environmental assistance. 

The FNC is also behind the powerful marketing campaign that boosted the recognition of Colombian coffee internationally.

Seeking to raise global awareness of Colombia as a coffee-growing nation, the organization devised an active campaign to differentiate and market Colombian coffee.

Since its inception, the FNC has launched many ad campaigns. The FNC’s familiar image of Juan Valdez is used to distinguish a product as 100 percent Colombian—as opposed to the multiple-origin beans used in other blends. 

During five decades of civil conflict, FNC agents often remained when other government agencies fled. For a half-century of turmoil, the coffee industry was a source of stability in many of the country’s rural, violence-ridden areas.

Looking Ahead: The Future of Colombian Coffee 

As the world’s coffee consumption continues to climb the coffee industry may face challenges with rising temperatures and unpredictable weather patterns which may threaten bean production.

Led by the innovative FNC and its resourceful Cenicafé scientists, Colombia is exploring new techniques to adapt to the country’s changing climate. 

As a key Colombian commodity, coffee has helped the nation become one of the most sustainably growing economies in Latin America. There is a rising demand for Colombian coffee in U.S. and European markets as the FNC promotes quality initiatives like the use of organic pesticides among local farmers.

In addition to boosting industry profit, the FNC continues to work towards making a positive social impact through research, training, environmental protection, and community development.

If you’re interested in investing in Colombia’s tenacious and thriving coffee industry, we encourage you to check out our Green Coffee Company project in Salgar, Antioquia. 

With over one million  trees, favorable currency conditions, an upgraded state-of-the-art eco-friendly wet processing plant, and significant operational advantages, the Green Coffee Company is expected to deliver exceptional returns. 

To learn more, get in touch with Lifeafar.

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