The earliest sources of information about coffee in Colombia date back to 1723; the first plants were likely introduced by the Jesuits from Antilles via Venezuela. Cultivation began in 1732 in the northern region of Orinoco and subsequently in the southern regions starting at the Seminary of Popayan in Cauca. Commercial cultivation only took place towards the end of the 18th century in the departments of Santander and Boyaca and later in the hills near Medellin.
Coffee underwent a significant surge of growth in the country in the second half of the 1800s following independence from Spain and in light of favourable price conditions. Annual production is estimated to have gone from 1000 to 100,000 bags in the span of thirty years. Later, the modernization of the railway gave a further boost to production, particularly in the central departments of Caldas and Antioquia. In 1930, annual production exceeded 3 million bags – 10% of the world´s exports.
Such a sudden growth led farmers to organize themselves, leading to the creation of the National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia (Fedecafé), a body formally in the hands of producers but one which acts in effect as a government agency. Its main task is to export but its remit extends to market regulations, the creation of infrastructure, schools and the scientific sphere. Meanwhile the National Coffee Research Centre (CENICAFE), an organization which works alongside producers, resulting in the creation – in the 80s – of a Colombian variety particularly resistant to rust.
Colombia is nowadays the leading producer of washed Arabica and the third worldwide following Brazil and Vietnam.
JUAN VALDEZ LOGO
In the late 50s, Fedecafé decided to protect coffee of 100% Colombian origin, setting it apart from blended coffees with varying provenance. In 1959, the American agency Doyle Dane Bernbach created the Café de Colombia brand depicted by the Colombian farmer type and classic Hispanic name – Juan Valdez (akin to the Italian Mario Rossi or American John Smith). Valdez is accompanied by his trusted donkey Conchita, set against the backdrop of Colombia´s mountains. This symbol of Colombia has now become synonymous with coffee.
The Tayrona Indigenous Organization (CIT) is the legal representative of the Arhuaco community, an aboriginal population which has lived for centuries in the mountainous area of Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta on the southern Caribbean coast of Colombia. Their life philosophy is the total respect for the environment and Mother Nature – the cultivation of coffee in these areas has been in line with the same philosophy. In 2002, CIT created the brand TIWUN (meaning “origin” in the local language), an organic coffee certified by Skal-Control Union. The cultivation is entrusted to 345 Arahuache families, providing them with a livelihood and deterring the community from cultivating opium and coca.