What Is the Colombian Cafetero?

The third leading producer of coffee in the world is Colombia. It is the biggest producer and exporter of the highest quality Arabica coffee. The historical, geographic, and cultural center of Colombian coffee growing is in three districts or departments in the western part of Colombia. These are Risaralda, Caldas, and Quindío and are also called the coffee triangle or (coffee growing axis. In Spanish these are triangulo de café and eje Cafetero). Although these three departments lie at the heart of the Colombian coffee culture and cafetero, nearby departments such as Nariño, Tolima, Valle de Cauca, Huila, Norte de Santander, Antioquia and Cauca are also big producers of Arabica coffee. All of this is located in the Andes Mountain range in the west of Colombia in a coffee culture that is two hundred years old and rich volcanic soil.

Coffee in Colombia

Coffee came to the New World and Colombia with European settlers. A Jesuit priest, José Gumilla, wrote in 1730 about coffee growing in the east of Colombia. Commercial production is first recorded from the early 19th century when coffee was first exported from the port of Cucuta. Today’s main coffee growing region of Colombia was colonized in the middle of the 19th century with founding of the city of Manizales, Caldas.

Volcanic Soil and Colombian Coffee

Volcanic soil provides the base for the best coffees in the world. This kind of soil comes from ancient lava flows and accumulated volcanic ash. It is rich in nutrients like potassium, phosphorus, zinc, iron, boron, calcium, sulfur, silicon, sodium, magnesium, and other trace elements. It belongs to a class or soils called andisols.  These soils have a high capacity to hold water and have a high content of volcanic glass and are able to fix phosphorus. It takes centuries for lava flows to weather and break down into soil. However, volcanic ash is available immediately as a soil nutrient. Nevado del Ruiz, in the Colombian cafetero is an the active volcano that produces a plume ash and fumes every day of every year.

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Nevado Ruiz Volcano

Promoting Colombian Coffee

There are a lot of great coffees in the world. What makes the Colombian coffee triangle unique is that it produces uniformly great coffee in much bigger quantities than any place else on earth. In order to make coffee production a profitable undertaking coffee growers in Colombia need to find ways to effectively market their coffee. This began in earnest at a marketing agency in New York City in 1959. The fictional character Juan Valdez was created. The goal was to identify Colombian coffee as a single origin product of exceptionally high quality.

The term eje Cafetero came years later and further identified the region at the core of Colombian coffee production. This region was originally part of the department of Caldas. At the start of the 19th century Caldas was divided up into the departments of Quindío, Risaralda, and Caldas. Thus old Caldas (Viejo Caldas) is the eje cafetero of Colombia or coffee triangle.

Coffee Grows Everywhere in the Colombian Cafetero

Coffee grows the best where it is cloudy and rains much of the time. It loves rich volcanic soil such as in the coffee triangle of the west of Colombia. Coffee does not do well standing in water. Thus it does well growing on slopes of which there are plenty in this part of Colombia. It is the primary cash crop for farmers in the mountainous region of western Colombia. Along the Carrera de Café or coffee highway from Manizales to Pereira coffee grows on pretty much every available slope. The families there go back as far as two centuries as coffee farmers.

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