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I don’t drink a cup of coffee every single morning. Unlike many, I do not rely on that first 8 (or more) ounces to get my day started. However, there are few smells, tastes and traditions I enjoy more than chatting over a good cup of coffee. In anticipation of my move to Colombia in the summer of 2009, I spent time daydreaming about being a café regular at some adorable place with amazing coffee. While some misconceptions about Colombia were easy to get over – like the idea that I would magically get better at salsa while living in the “city of salsa”, the difficulty in finding truly good coffee here in Colombia is something I still can’t get over.
Don’t get me wrong here – Colombian’s love their coffee just as much as I thought they would. They just don’t love the good stuff. See the word I forgot in my excited-to-hang-out-in-adorable-cafes-all-the-time brain was EXPORT. Colombia grows, dries, and roasts a lot of coffee, and then they export it elsewhere.
Since coffee does play such a large role in the Colombian economy, tours of coffee plantations around the country are quite common and easy to organize, so in an effort to answer the question, “Where is all the good coffee?” I have found myself wandering the rows of more than one finca in Colombia’s Eje Cafetero or Coffee Axel.
Geographically located inside the triangle formed by connecting the major cities of Bogota, Medellin and Cali, the Coffee Axel is full of gorgeous rolling hills and those rolling hills almost always contain coffee plants.
On one particular tour of a coffee plantation near Manizales, the tour guide had us sort through the coffee beans and make two piles – good, whole, ripe beans and shriveled, dead, sad looking beans. Once we all had our two piles in front of us he pointed to the good beans and said “That’s what Colombia exports.” Then the bad bean pile, to which he said, “And that’s what we keep here for us to drink.”
Don’t worry – it gets better. (For me it got immediately better when the guide made us each a cup of the good coffee on the spot…) One thing Colombians have mastered is the culture of coffee. They are the BEST at taking time to sit, relax, chat and watch the day go by while enjoying a nice tinto (black coffee) with a friend. Coffee is served anywhere and everywhere – from street corners to cafes to grocery stores. When you go to someone’s home they are always quick to offer you a cup of the latest brew.
And now (finally!) the culture of enjoying good coffee, different types of roasts and different types of coffee is beginning to filter its way into Colombia. The national chain, Juan Valdez, is the best bet for finding delicious, well prepared coffee that would probably have been exported if not for Juan and his trusty burro, always by his side in the company’s logo. Since arriving in Colombia three years ago, the Juan Valdez menu, as well as that of other similar stores, has expanded to include a variety of types of coffee and I couldn’t be happier about it.
So, while yes, coffee lovers may not be initially blown away when they are handed a plastic tiny cup of tinto made from the bad beans, there is good coffee to be found here in Colombia. Searching it out makes it that much more fun, and when you get there, take time to enjoy it awhile as you watch the world go by. No doubt there will be Colombians doing the exact same thing and maybe you will make a new friend.
After all, what’s a good cup of coffee without someone to chat with while you enjoy it?