Some TV commercials stick in my memory for decades. JUAN VALDEZ, remember him? He taught us about “the richest coffee beans in the world.” Sort of cartoony, he did his thing hand-picking coffee beans in the mountains of Columbia, always accompanied by his donkey.
So here I am in Bogota, and outside my hotel window, I see a very popular Juan Valdez café (Bogota only has one Starbucks, if you are wondering. They do sell Colombian coffee).
Then, exiting my hotel, across the street is a small sign with Juan’s picture and The National Federation of Coffee Growers of Columbia sign. The WHOLE BUILDING is a Juan-athon.
Juan Valdez is a brand, one of Colombia’s proudest. And today, he’s younger, hotter and kinda smoky. Suddenly, I started noticing Juan Valdez everywhere, including the coffee service in my hotel room.
In Colombia, the federation was created in 1958 to market Colombian coffee to the world. Today, more than 500,000 families grow coffee in Colombia.
The highly successful Juan Valdez branding concept was developed 30-plus years ago, in 1981 to distinguish 100% Colombian coffee from coffee blended with beans from other countries. The organization branded an image and product with the clever creation of the character Juan Valdez, by New York advertising agency DDB Worldwide. The first TV appearance was in 1983 and featured a country farmer (campesino) carrying coffee on his mule Conchita. Today, there is always a hired Juan Valdez to make special appearances. Some of the guys keep the job for decades, and right now, Juan has had the gig for about five years, I was told.
More than one person told me that the organization is now focusing on educating its countrymen on more precise methods of brewing specific coffees. In the U.S. some decades ago, we brewed coffee pretty much one way. Just perked it. Then, we picked up cooler varieties – espresso, cappuccino, you name it. Now, in Columbia, the same is taking place. Certain varieties of beans are grown just for specific brewing methods, and locals are gaining respect and desire for those special brews. Everyone here seems pretty excited about the insights – restaurants, bars, coffee shops, carts and in the home. They are also opening Juan Valdez coffee stores outside of Colombia, such as Miami.
Not all Columbian coffee is marketed under the Juan Valdez brand, however. I managed to squeeze two delicious pounds of Amor Perfecto coffee beans into my overstuffed carryon luggage for the trip home (here’s a nice blog writeup on the company and THEIR café). It’s indeed perfecto. I love coffee. I love Bogota.
Check out this souvenir shop in the impressive El Dorado International Airport. Nice stuff!