A bunch of folks standing around a small truck with a coffee machine in the back that serves tinto

Settling in to the Colombian coffee scene

I’m on day 9 of my time here in Colombia and things are overall settling in a bit more than those first few days. Spanish still presents me with challenges– especially at stores and restaurants, where I know a few words to say, but am caught on the backfoot once someone responds. It sort of reminds me of this, when living in Montréal when I would see American/Anglo-Canadian tourists at stores and restaurants:

As I start to settle in, familiarize myself with, and become a bit more comfortable with the city, I’m doing a little bit more work while exploring. On Monday, I walked down toward the Museo del Oro and decided to try one of Colombia’s most decorated coffee roasters: Amor Perfecto.

I did a little bit of reading while having a cappuccino and some almond/strawberry torte. And on my way back home, I walked through some of the holiday weekend bustle on Cr 7.

On Tuesday, I thought campus might be open, following the Epiphany holiday weekend. It was not, so I went to Colo Coffee, however they were not open past 4pm, so I then went home.

Wednesday was the first day I got to meet with Andrés. He told me to use the Cabify app (which is like Uber, but for taxis) and ride up to Cafe Cultor, another well-known local specialty coffee roaster, on Cl 70. We went around the block to this cool little local bookstore, where there was a cafe tucked in the back. This was where Cafe Cultor held coffee tastings. Andrés and I talked a little bit about my arrival and some of the work we would be collaborating on before he signaled for someone to help us with doing a tasting and getting to understand a barista experience in Bogotá.

We spent about 2 hours with the barista, learning about the coffees– where and how they’re grown, what it’s like being a barista in Bogotá (training and expectations), and how preparation changes flavors– before Andrés had to leave. I spent about another 3 hours with him speaking further about each of those topics, sharing some differences in the American cafe industry, and trying to draw some comparisons about how/why certain expectations differ.

For example, so far, it does not appear that any coffee is sold in Colombia other than Colombian coffee. However, in the US, consumers often have a variety of high-level origin options to choose from, from Kenya, to India, to Peru, to Colombia. This means that consumers in NCDCs have much more choice, which raises the competitive stakes for market access in NCDCs and probably suppresses prices, overall. Many producers here in Colombia are extremely reliant on La Federación Nacional (de Cafeteros de Colombia), the country’s most powerful market broker, to make markets. Obviously, this affects both producer reliance on the Federación’s information about consumer markets as well as the prices it can get for producers.

After a number of hours at Cafe Cultor, I walked a few blocks around the Chapinero neighborhood where it was located. This neighborhood had a much more “familiar” (and safer) city feel than the downtown where I’m staying. Around the block from Cafe Cultur was the headquarters of the Federación, and I’m hoping we might be able to speak with some of the people there as part of our data.

Thursday, the campus reopened to faculty and staff following the break, so I met with both Andrés and Jorge Rincon, a Colombian at Aarhus University in Denmark, who is finishing his PhD and will also be working at de los Andes this semester. We got to tour the business school building (it’s pretty large) and the campus (which was interesting, because there were a lot of turnstiles requiring a pass not only to get in, but also to get out as well. The areas around the universities are protected by private security and there are agreements with other, smaller universities in the immediate vicinity, to extend that protection to create safety corridors.

Jorge and I got to talk about over my first bowl of ajiaco1 about some of his research (which is more experimental work dealing with pro-environmental behavioral interventions), what the PhD was like at Aarhus, about coffee, and so on, before returning to Andrés’s office to further discuss our respective goals for our time here this semester.

As I see it (vis a vis Andrés), we will probably do a lot of work around Bogotá over the next couple of weeks as I continue to better acclimate to the country/city/language– looking at different types of coffee shops and meeting with different types of stakeholders from baristas, up to industry executives. From there, we will make some travel plans to start to get out around the country, as I’ve heard it is very different outside the capital city (because here in Colombia, everything is highly federalized). We may go on day (or two) trips out to Quindio, out to Huila, out to Tolima, and (safe) parts of Cauca and Valle del Cauca to speak with different members of the Federación, different producers, and different folks on the farm. We’re interested in talking with larger estates (that do coffee tourism) and smaller farms. We’re interested in talking with folks who are able to vertically integrate their value system all the way to end consumers in NPDCs and NCDCs, those who are selling to importer/exporters, those who are selling to the Federación, and those who are employing a variety of different strategic models.

Today, I met with Andrés at Azahar Coffee, another well known specialty coffee shop. We did a tasting flight and talked a little further about organizing and compiling background for the project. We also talked a bit more about how our respective histories will benefit the project. Andrés has done quite a bit with post-conflict entreneurship transitions and qualitative work, while I’ve done a bit with consumer sustainability and more experimental/survey work. As well, he knows the industry a bit better from this side of it, whereas I’ve obviously interfaced a lot with the US part of the industry. Between the both of us, we have an interestingly complementary set of backgrounds and expertises that will hopefully lead to some unique output(s).

Over the next couple of days, I have some work to do on some other manuscripts, but will hopefully get some time to organize a bit more on this project and explore some more places in the city before students start arriving for the semester on Monday…

  1. Ajiaco is a chicken and potato soup, served with chunks of chicken, four different types of Colombian potatoes, and a piece of corn in a thick bouillon-based broth. Usually it’s served with sour cream and capers, with rice and avocado on the side. The soup itself was really good, though the corn, as I’ve seen similarly in the grocery store, had bigger kernels, was far more starchy, and was less sweet than the corn we get in the U.S. ↩︎





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