Origin and History of Colombian Coffee 

By Alexandra Heredia (

 beautiful destinations full of culture, the country of Colombia is globally renowned for its considerable biodiversity of fauna and flora.

Of the many varieties of plants that exist in Colombia, the coffee plant is undoubtedly the most important not only to the economy, but also to millions of coffee drinkers around the world.


According to its botanical description, coffee is a plant native to East Africa, precisely from the territory that today corresponds to Ethiopia. It has been cultivated here for dozens of centuries, and still grows wild.

Since the Ethiopian area is close to the Arabian Peninsula, during the Middle Ages coffee was cultivated in fertile areas of Arabia.

For that reason, today the most cultivated variety of coffee is known as Arabica. 

ABOVE (left to right): Coffee bean plants growing in Colombia. There are five main regions and 19 sub-regions of coffee-growing areas in the country. The flavor of coffee can vary widely due to different growing factors involving altitude, climate and soil, and how the beans are processed. Photos by Luis Eduardo Gonzalez Gomez.

origin of the coffee

To understand the importance of coffee to the Colombian people you should know the history of coffee, which is closely linked to the territorial and social history of the country.

The coffee plant came to this country (located in the northwestern part of South America) around 1790 thanks to a priest who belonged to the Jesuits, a Catholic religious order. By 1835, the first bags (produced in the eastern zone) were exported.

The arrival of coffee was very timely for the inhabitants of Colombia as it allowed them to diversify their sources of income in the long term.


At that time, the Colombian economy was going through the decline of gold mining, which had been the predominant economic activity in the country.


With the cultivation of coffee in the mid-nineteenth century, the Colonization of Antioquia took place, especially in the south of Antioquia.

Many humble families were looking for ways to access and earn a living through the land ~ and they found it via the cultivation of coffee.

Over the ensuing years, the Colombian economy benefitted from thousands of hectares of new cultivated land. (Note: One hectare contains about 2.47 acres.) It wasn't long until coffee became a solid export industry. 

Coffee offered a new possibility of capital formation, which later drifted into commerce and industry.

Thus, coffee production became the basis of the Colombian economy in the last decades of the 19th century.


In 1927, Colombian coffee growers came together to create an organization that would represent them nationally and internationally: the National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia (NFCGC). 

It was establshed to both ensure the well-being of the coffee farmers, and to improve their quality of life. Today, this non-profit federation is one of the largest rural organizations in the world.

NFCGC also is recognized in another field: marketing. In 1958 it commissioned the creation of a fictional character to differentiate 100 percent Colombian coffee from coffee that was blended with beans from other countries.

The project was completed by a New York advertising executive who developed the persona
"Juan Valdez," a humble country farmer who carried coffee on Conchita, his mule.

Valdez became an advertising icon recognized all over the world. Very few agricultural producers have promoted and developed brand names that have achieved similar levels of market penetration and recognition.

Moreover, according to a New York Times story, these Juan Valdez coffee ads "helped soften the image of Colombia — which dealt with a decades-long military insurgency and brutal drug cartels — to an American audience."


Juan Valdez has been portrayed by three actors: José Duval (1959 to 1969), Carlos Sánchez (1969 to 2006), and Carlos Castañeda Ceballos (2006 to present).

Sánchez (who passed away at age 83 in 2019) was the most well-known of the performers as he starred in ads spanning decades. More importantly, he is recognized in advertising circles as the guy who helped create "a $1.6 billion premium for coffee growers in the 1990s" (New York Times, January 2019).


Columbia is comprised of 32 regions known as "Departments." While coffee cultivation is carried out in almost all the naton's regions. it is especiallly important to the Departments of Quindío, Caldas and Risaralda. 

Climate and geography are vital factors to successful coffee growing. The coffee plant grows best in an environment where the temperature is between 64 and 73 degrees Fahrenheit, with the optimal range being about 67 to 70 degrees.

Additionally, an ample amount of sunlight (about five hours a day), a high elevation (3,000 to 6,000 feet above sea level), light winds and a good amount of regular rainfall are among the many unique environmental factors needed to be in place to produce a bountiful, flavorful coffee crop.


In 2011,  the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) declared Colombia's coffee growing area, known as The Coffee Triangle, to be an UNESCO World Heritage site.

The Coffee Triangle is comprised of 18 urban centers located between the basins of the La Vieja. Campoalegre and Otun rivers.

This UNESCO recognition commits people and governments not only in Columbia, but also those throughout the world, to protect the Coffee Triangle.

It also is an opportunity to encourage both the region's inhabitants and visitors to get to know the landscape better, and participate in its preservation.

This is one of the classic NFCGC coffee commercials, first aired in 1982, that advertised real 100% Colombian coffee with help from fictional farmer Juan Vakdez. 
Watch this other famous NFCGC commerical from 1986, also starring Juan Valdez. The character has been played by three different actors over the years.

ABOUT:  This is a slighty updated version of an article written by author Alexandra Heredia ( and published byVoyagers Voice digital travel magazine. Voyagers Voice seeks to inform travelers about the culture and art of a country. Its articles are written by people who live for many years in a particular locale and/or by natives of those places. The publication is a collaborative creative effort of Food and Travel, GD Travel, Italia Straniera and bontryp. (Free Tour Revolucion and Lho Discovery helped with the first issue.)

For more information about Voyagers Voice, visit and view panoramic image (below) about the publication's founders.