Colombian Coffee Beans are grown at high altitudes and tended with painstaking care in the shade of banana and rubber trees. This coffee is among the best in the world, rich, full-bodied, and perfectly balanced. Coffea Arabica L., more commonly known as the Arabica bean, prefers higher altitudes and drier climates than its cousin, the lower quality Robusta bean (C. Robusta). Therefore, the arid mountains and the well-drained, rich volcanic soil of Colombia provide ideal conditions for growing high quality coffee.
Colombian Coffees are grown in two main regions, the central region around Medellin, Armenia and Manizales, known as MAM to aficionados, and the eastern, more mountainous region near Bogotá and Bucaramanga. MAM varieties are known for their heavy body, rich flavor and fine, balanced acidity while the mountain grown eastern beans produce an even richer, heavier, less acidic coffee. The finest coffee comes from this region.
It is not known for sure when coffee first reached Colombia. Many historians believe it to be around the same time Jesuit priests first began arriving from Europe in the mid 16th century. The first exports of coffee from Colombia began in 1835 when around 2500 bags were exported to the U.S.
By 1875 170,000 bags were leaving the country bound for the U.S. and Europe. The exports grew exponentially over the next hundred years or so and peaked in 1992 at around 17 million bags. Today, Colombian coffee exports are around 10 million bags per year.
For many decades Colombia was the world’s second leading producer of coffee behind Brazil. Recently, Vietnam surpassed Colombia in coffee exports to take the number two seat and move Colombia into a close third. However, the old adage of quality over quantity certainly applies here.
The Arabica bean does not grow well in Vietnam. Only the hearty, yet inferior, Robusta is suited for the low, wet climate of Vietnam. Colombian Coffees are far superior and is considered by many coffee experts to be the finest in the world.
Any discussion on Colombian Coffee would not be complete without mentioning the wildly successful marketing campaign created by the National Federation of Colombian Coffee Growers in 1959. They introduced the world to the friendly and affable Juan Valdez. Though a fictitious character, the poncho clad, sombrero wearing Juan Valdez gave a face to the humble coffee picker and created a mystique and aura of romance that still survives today.
A recent survey reported that 85% of Americans still associate the name Juan Valdez with Colombian Coffee. Quite an accomplishment, especially considering that only 75% acknowledged recognizing the name Dan Quayle.
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