|A sack of Colombian arabica coffee. Why not robusta, as well?|
This paradoxical situation has been the source of much angst and even protests by Colombians, who feel it's wrong for the country to send its best arabica beans to rich countries, and keep only the defective beans and cheaper imports for Colombians to drink.
|Freshly roasted Colombian |
Some other coffee producing nations, particularly Brazil, grow both the arabica and robusta varieties.
|Regions of Colombia where arabica |
coffee is cultivated.
(Image: Cafe de Colombia)
"We're against robusta," Marcelo Salazar, a coffee planters' representative from Caldas Department, told Reuters. "It doesn't require much labor, it's much cheaper in the international market...and doesn't reflect the quality of Colombian coffee."
It's true that Colombia, the world's fourth-largest coffee producer, has built its reputation for good coffee by planting expensive, high-quality beans. And that solid reputation deserves to be protected.
|Samples of 'green' and roasted Colombian arabica beans. |
The piles on the left are cheap beans for the domestic
market; on the right are export quality beans.
Chains like Starbucks, which plans to open cafes in Colombia next year, mix arabica beans for their taste and quality with robusta beans for their higher caffeine content. When Starbucks lands in Colombia, it will be importing robusta.
|Arabica and robusta coffee beans.|
(Photo: Whole Latte Love)
Robusta could be planted on Colombia's Llanos Orientales - the low elevation Eastern Plains region - far from the mountains where arabica grows. To protect Colombian coffee's international image, the robusta could be packaged differently, clearly marked 'robusta' and without the title 'Cafe de Colombia' label. And, the robusta wouldn't even have to be exported. They could plant only enough to replace what's now imported, providing more jobs and income at home.
But this is a great example of vested interests at work. At the recent meeting arabica coffee farmers were eager to denounce the supposed threat of that evil robusta bean. No robusta coffee farmers were there to sing their bean's praises simply because they don't exist in Colombia. And, the way things are going, they probably never will.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours