Author wearing red shirt under an umbrella at Tropicalia Coffee, pouring coffee from a glass server into a small glass cup

Starting to tackle the research

It’s now been about three weeks since I landed here in Bogotá and I feel much more comfortable here than I did those first culture shock-ing couple of days. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, though my Spanish still is less than good, I’ve gotten the sense of some of the expressions I’ve needed to know for daily living. For example, I already knew from Duolingo that “cash” = “efectivo” and “card” = “tarjeta.” I’ve now added in “corriente” = “checking” and “ahorros” = “savings.” When you’re going to a grocery store or restaurant and paying by tarjeta, the corriente/ahorros distinction is important to make. Speaking of grocery stores, I’ve become slightly more familiar with them, even though they still don’t have remotely the same selection I’m used to back home. For example, even though there are hamberguesas, I can’t find ground beef.

Second, I’ve been to northern parts of the city more often– to the point where I got a flat in the north and am planning to move out of Zona Centro by the end of this month (or at most, keep my current flat as a pied à terre for on campus days). A number of the coffee shops I’ve visited (Café Cultor, Azahar, Tropicalia, Libertario) have been in Chapinero.

I went even farther north to Usaquén, which has a Zona Centro feeling with a Chapinero poshness. On the weekends in Usaquén, there is a vast array of linked flea markets from about Cl 116 through 120 (though I would categorize them more like farmers/artisan markets and the items seem more interesting and better quality than what’s sold on Cr 7 everyday).

The northern part of the city is more Americanized in commerce, dining, culture, and safety, which gives me a level of comfort in walking around, especially after dark. In Las Nieves, I haven’t really walked around after dark and usually am back in my flat for the evening by about 6pm. And while I’ve debated if I’m “taking the easy way out” in moving, I do have more than 3 months left here; it would be far more comfortable and less stressful to be in an area that has a level of contextual familiarity. Furthermore, my family is visiting in about a month and it would be nicer to be able to bring them out for a decent dinner lasting after dark. For the amount of time I’ve spent taxiing up to northern neighborhoods, it seemed more efficient to move there and taxi (or bus) to campus on those days I’m on campus.

However, we did receive an Embassy briefing yesterday about forest fires up by Quebrada la Vieja. This evening, I was walking home a longer way around Cl 16 and could see the both the smoke coming out the hills and the glow of the fires themselves. This evening, I just read that the president is now nationalizing the response.

Third, I’ve gotten somewhat into a routine here on campus– particularly as pertains to the research I’m here for. Classes started this week for students and Andrés teaches Mon/Wed. Plus, I’ll get a chance to help some of the other marketing faculty out as well doing guest lectures here and there over the course of the semester. So it makes sense that I could be on campus during those days. That leaves me with the other days to be able to get other work done (for example, this past Monday, a different co-author and I had a revision due on a wholly different project and that took quite a bit of time to work on). I also put out an interview call on LinkedIn this week and got a number of replies that I need to sort out and possibly schedule.

And then there are site visits… I was hoping to get to one farm last week, if not this week, but the two-week lead time I’m required to give for travel authorizations (due to Fulbright/US Embassy security vetting) is a challenge. I’m sure it will go a bit more smoothly once the first one is authorized and I understand the process, having gone through it. But the authorization form is definitely rigorous and at times, it feels like a chicken/egg scenario in being able to fill out the form. Aside from this first farm, there is at least one farm I’m hoping to get to in Quindío with my family when they visit, and then there’s a week I’m hoping we’ll be in Huila doing work there. Aside from that, perhaps there will be another couple of trips around the country that I’ll need to schedule. I’ve also booked travel to Guatemala City for the 2024 Producer Roaster Forum, yet funny enough, because it’s not domestic travel, it does not need formal Fulbright vetting.

In the meantime, I have to thank Andrés for working some of his domestic connections and starting to schedule interviews so we could start collecting data. We’ve already interviewed four actors (totaling about six hours of interviews) from different parts of the country in different roles in the coffee value system. There is often broken English and I can pick out a couple of Spanish words here and there, so Andrés helps with interpretation, which is great because he also has expertise in qualitative methodology. So between my prior background with coffee, his understanding of the domestic context, and both of our transformative consumer research backgrounds, it is probably a highly effective collaboration.

In between some of the interviews, we’ve met up at coffee shops, which then allows us to further contextualize the interviews with each other. Already, there are absolutely things I have learned about the domestic state of both production and consumption that there’s no way I could have continued to learn by being in the US. I feel as though that may be reciprocated as well. For example, among some of the broad topics,1 we’ve been discussing the notion of Colombian farmers needing to learn to taste their coffee in order to understand its quality so that, in an actually existing neoliberal market, they can transition to becoming price makers instead of price takers. However, in Colombian retail markets, most coffee that is presented to consumers is domestically-produced.2 That makes it more difficult for farmers who are selling to NCDCs to understand the quality of their coffee to compare with a global marketplace of sellers (and buyers!) and therefore understand how their quality product could potentially command a better price to ask for. Even after three weeks, it is difficult for me to say that I could understand this dynamic if I was not here.

  1. Despite conveying some insights here on my site, I’m doing so on a low level because we haven’t collected enough data, the data aren’t analyzed, and eventually, higher level findings should be published in various outlets. ↩︎
  2. At this point, I would note that, according to the Observatory of Economic Complexity, in 2021, Colombia’s coffee exports were $3.22 billion, while its coffee imports were only $203 million. In other words, Colombia’s coffee exports are almost 16 times its imports. And yet, despite the Pasilla y Ripio law being modified to allow for increased quality in domestic production, most of the coffee consumed domestically is still domestically produced and of poorer quality. This is one reason I’m very hesitant to refer to countries in terms of export/import and instead, in terms of production/consumption. Colombians export a lot of coffee, but it is not that they don’t consume it. Rather, their consumption would be net negative compared with what they produce. ↩︎





Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *