Young coffee grower José Alexander Salazar from Calarcá, Quindío, remarks, "Coffee becomes part of one's culture. It is what we have known growing up, and what we have lived with. It is what has fed us and dressed us. What I am, I owe partly to coffee—in particular, to my father, a coffee farmer: that is also part of me."
Coffee is an essential element of our Colombian culture, not just as a principal export crop, but also because its production process gave rise to a broad range of cultural practices and occupations in and around steep hillside plots where it was advantageous to build structures based on locally-available guadua; and where innovative forms of transport had to be developed to move the bean through the production process and ultimately to market. Taken as a whole, these customs and practices have created a strong sense of regional identity. However, many Colombians have only a passing notion of the process through which that single cup of black coffee—or tinto,as we call it—becomes our habitual companion during the day. We just enjoy it without giving a moment’s thought to what it took to produce coffee that is internationally recognized as “the best in the world”.
Coffee cultivation began in northeastern Colombia in the late 1700s when the first seeds were imported from Venezuela. Soon after commercial cultivation was established in 1835, coffee became an important export crop. By the end of the nineteenth century, 80 percent of Colombian coffee was being grown on large plantations.
In the 1850s, coffee cultivation expanded west and south, along the slopes of the central mountain range of the Andes to what today constitutes the Eje Cafetero, or Coffee Triangle . The fertile volcanic soils of the region yield abundant, high-quality beans that produce coffee known for its subtle taste and aroma.
The production process starts with sowing the seeds. Two months after the seeds are planted, a small shoot appears, the fósforo. As this grows, it forms two leaves in a configuration known as chapola. This small seedling is transferred to a plastic bag where it is watered and kept weed-free. This stage is called “colino de café.” At six months, the colino becomes a young cafeto that is ready to be transplanted in the ground. In two to four years, it develops into an adult plant and flowers. Eight months after the flower appears, the fruit is red, ripe, and ready to be harvested. Colombia exclusively produces Arabica coffee, which yields a smooth drink.