From Colombia to Estonia – Coffee story by Paola

Estonia Coffee meets Paola Andrea Garcia Cadavid

Ah, Colombia. The third-largest coffee producer in the world. If you have some beans in your apartment right now, they are probably from Colombia or Brazil (or Vietnam). Yes, Colombia always had good beans and rich coffee culture. So imagine how happy I felt when I met a young lady from Colombia, named Paola. I wanted to know everything about growing coffee in Colombia, right here, right now. After the pale expression on Paola’s face, I quickly discovered that perhaps not all Colombians grow coffee and coca plant. Also, not all Brazilians dance and play football. 

Meet Paola Andrea Garcia Cadavid. Data engineer by profession, she moved to Estonia from Colombia in 2021. Paola has two cutest cats ever, one dog that doesn’t like me, and the patience to tell her coffee story to our team.

My coffee story – Paola

  • Hey, where are you from?
  • I’m from Colombia.
  • That’s amazing! What do you prefer, French press or espresso? Do you grind your own beans, or do you buy pre-ground? Do you…
  • Honestly, I don’t drink too much coffee. I only have instant decaf in my house.
  • (Awkward silence, the possible end of the conversation or huge change of topic, Pablo Escobar, or hopefully, hippos)

50% of the Colombian population started taking coffee at the age of 10.

Source: colombia.co

I was raised with coffee. I mean that literally – I was bottle-fed coffee with milk since I was 2 years old. Still not sure if that was a good idea. But hey, it was a part of growing up in Colombia.

People in Colombia have this image that our coffee is significant outside in the world, even if we’re not pretty sure why. For us, coffee is a product with catchy branding, something cute that you can put on posters and T-shirts. Something you can feel proud of when you see it in the movie. Also, you must have faith the spectators will know it’s coffee from Colombia and not Columbia (this is extremely frustrating).

Screenshot from the movie "Bruce Allmighty" showing standard stereotypes about Colombian coffee farmers.
Juan Valdez scene – Bruce almighty

Coffee consumption in Colombia

You can ask me why I am not sure about the Colombian coffee image in the world. You can also probably lecture me about the flavour, smell, and consistency (colour? not sure what coffee attributes I need to list here, tbh). Colombian coffee is famous all over the world, and the smiling guy with a moustache and hat is well known in every corner of the planet. But we don’t drink that coffee. Our coffee is usually leftover after the best beans are selected for exportation. You can’t enjoy it too much as you should. How most families in Colombia drink coffee: 

  • You burn it with boiling water
  • Add ridiculous amounts of sugar to try to avoid the bitterness
  • Live with gastritis, because you always thought it was part of the coffee experience
Juan Valdez - The face of Colombian coffee and the standard logo
Juan Valdez – The face of Colombian coffee

This trend of consuming low-quality coffee is slowly changing. Nowadays, there are quality coffees available in the Colombian market. However, many people still drink the usual bad coffee, more as a tradition than as a pleasure. There’s also an economic factor here – good beans are more expensive.  For many Colombian families, drinking high-quality coffee is not on the top of their priority list. Especially if the only way you know to prepare it is by using a colador.

Colador is a cloth filter in a circular wire base. You put the coffee grounds inside and pour them using boiling water. A cloth filter is usually made from cotton cloth, but sometimes people get creative. I won’t say some people use socks or T-shirts, but I won’t deny it, either.

Paola enjoying coffee and cake
Enjoying coffee and cake – Private gallery by Paola

After having my first job, I was able to get into one of these fancy specialized coffee stores, which gave me tons of possible options for coffee. After years of believing the only possibilities were with and without milk, this was more than a pleasant change. Nowadays when I travel abroad and see Colombian coffee advertised as a special product, I get so excited. This might mean that many Colombian families have a constant and decent income that allows them to improve their quality of life. Did you know that more than 500.000 Colombian families grow coffee, mostly on small farms?

Conclusion 

I still feel disappointed that Colombian coffee farmers get the smallest piece of that cake. They grow the coffee and provide a nice picture for the media. You know, that gorgeous picture with a mountain in the background, happy pickers and beautiful sun that goes in the packaging. However, most of the coffee profit goes to the import/export companies, roasters, and every other part of the food chain. The regular farmer growing the coffee beans can’t afford to drink his own coffee. He is still condemned to low quality, bitter coffee.

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