“O coffee … thou bringest back those who wander from the paths of knowledge. Coffee is the beverage of the people of God, and the cordial servants who thirst for wisdom.” – Sheikh Abudul Kadir
While many regular coffee drinkers can likely relate to Sheikh Abudul Kadir’s words, above, few felt them as accurately as 18th-century Colombian penitants. Coffee was first introduced to Colombia by traveling Jesuit missionaries in the early 1700s. These missionaries, recognizing Colombia’s near perfect coffee growing conditions, were eager to get the seeds planted and in doing so, ingeniously embedded faith, penitence, and redemption into the heart of Colombia’s coffee culture. According to popular legend, a Jesuit priest named Francisco Romero considered coffee a viable crop for local farmers. Unfortunately, the farmers did not agree with Father Romero and refused to plant the coffee seeds, claiming there was little value in planting a seed that took five years to produce a harvestable crop. Faced with failure, Father Francisco Romero turned to his faith and ordered farmers to plant coffee seeds as penance after hearing their confession. This penitence to plants program was so successful, legend claims it was soon adopted by the Archbishop of Colombia. Within a few years, the seeds of Colombians’ sins were transformed into enviable cups of delicious coffee. By the early-mid 1800s, Colombia was growing enough coffee to begin exporting, with the first shipment hitting US shores in 1835.
Coffee exportations soon rose to be a popular, profitable Colombian export and led to the founding of the National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia (“The Federation”) in 1927. The Federation has and continues to do a great deal of work for Colombia’s farmers, providing support on everything from processing and transport to international marketing and institutional coffee research. Presently, The Federation represents roughly a half-million growers, many of whom are family and small farm growers. In addition to offering practical support to farmers, The Federation also works tirelessly to cultivate, promote, and protect the legacy of Colombian coffee. Two of The Federation’s most notable achievements are the creation of the fictitious international celebrity, Juan Valdez, and the securing of the Protection of Designated Origin status by the European Union in 2007.
Protected and beloved, Colombian coffee has long held a reputation for excellence, quality, and consistency. The country’s topography which is dominated by the soaring, expansive Andes Mountains (which span over 4,000 miles and have an average elevation of 13,000 feet above sea level), old growth mountain forests, ocean mists, stable climate, and nutrient-rich soil collectively create ideal coffee growing conditions. There are over 20 distinct coffee growing regions in Colombia and over 80% of the coffee is grown and processed on small farms. While each region’s coffee boasts unique characteristics, nearly all Colombian coffee has a rich mouthfeel, moderate acidity (also described as “clean” or “citrusy”), and mild notes of nut and milk chocolate.
If you haven’t tried Colombian coffee, we strongly encourage you to go out an get a cup! Colombian coffee is not only delicious, it is a benchmark of standard against which coffees are measured worldwide. Be it a Supremo, Excelso, or Buca, Colombian coffee is rich and refined without pretention. As for Juan Valdez, he is not one man, he is every coffee worker that toils, prays (sins), and finds his faith restored in the promise of a hard days work, patience, and devotion to excellence. For more information about Colombian coffee, visit our blogs, listed below.