History of Coffee in Colombia

Coffee first appeared in Colombia in the 1700’s, but it wasn’t until 1835 that the first commercial production was registered with a total export of 2,560 bags. Prior to this period, Colombian farmers were reluctant to plant coffee, fearful that the 5 years between initial planting and first viable harvest would be economically devastating. However, a priest named Francisco Romero, convinced that coffee was the future of Colombia, developed a novel idea. After hearing the confession of the parishioners of the town of Salazar de la Palmas, he required as penance the cultivation of coffee, which in turn quickly became established as one of Colombia’s primary export crops.

Throughout the second half of the 19th century, coffee slowly consolidated into large, corporate farms built to turn a quick profit. The fall of international prices at the turn of the 20th Century (America, Germany and France being Colombia’s primary coffee exports partners), alongside the Thousand Days War, destroyed Colombia’s large-scale coffee plantations.

Beginning in 1875 and accelerating dramatically between 1905 – 1935, the number of Colombia’s farmers and small producers grew exponentially, in part due to the establishment of the National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia in 1927. The Federation’s wealth of knowledge helped small farmers overcome traditional organizational and commercial difficulties, making them less likely to fail or fall victim to larger trends in Colombia’s or the world’s economy. In 1938, the Federation founded Cenicafe, developed to help Colombia’s farmers improve the quality of the coffee through improved farming systems, as well as a better understanding of the technical aspects of the coffee they were planting and growing.

In 1957 the American marketing firm, Doyle Dane Berbach, developed the iconic Juan Valdez, a fictional Colombian coffee farmer whose image became synonymous with the affable Colombian coffee industry.

Colombia is currently the world’s 3rd largest coffee producer (behind Brazil and Vietnam), with an annual coffee production of 11.6 million bags of beans. In 2007, the European Union granted Colombian Coffee a protected designation of Origin Status, and in 2011 UNESCO declared the “Coffee Cultural Landscape” of Colombia a World Heritage site.