What I don’t like about Colombia

What I don’t like about Colombia can be summed up in three words:

Not Enough Coffee

In a nutshell, traveling to Colombia means BYOB or Bring Your Own Brew. As far as I can tell, they’re rationing the stuff. They serve it in these tiny little cups (no lie). Here’s a photo comparison.

Next time I go, I’m going to demand a ration card as I process through Colombian immigration. Or, appeal to the president himself for unfettered wanton coffee largess. I wonder if the U.S. State Department could help process a caffeine asylum application?


This coffee shortage is of international import, requiring cogent careful analysis. Could it be a production problem? According to this chart, Colombia is the third largest coffee producer on the planet preceded only by Brasil and Vietnam. Of the total yield -usually expressed as the quantity of 60 kilo bags- Colombia produces 12,400,000 of which 11,108,119 are exported. This leaves only 1,291,881 bags retained for domestic consumption. Considering there are 44,379,598 people living in Colombia, that only leaves .029 bags per person or 3.49 pounds of coffee per person. That is not nearly enough. Now, in the U.S., average coffee consumption is 4.2 kilos or over 8 pounds of coffee per person which is really striking since only half of us drink the stuff. Do you see the problem? Ever competitive, the Brasilians are slamming the stuff down edging out U.S. residents by drinking 4.7 kg each. The Finns put everyone to shame with 11.4 kg per capita; at that rate, they must be pouring it into babies bottles. I think that’s a case of overcompensating for diminished daylight hours, nay? Here’s an illustration (courtesy)

As you can see, Colombia’s consumption -in spite of being the world’s third largest producer- doesn’t even merit a shade other than grey, on par with most of Africa and Asia.

Or maybe it’s a domestic supply problem? Say, infrastructure and consumption delivery processes? Maybe Colombia could take a lesson from this dispensing unit from my local Circle K. They don’t seem to have any difficulty finding the means to dish it out. Take a trough, any trough, you’ve got seven stalls to choose from, each with a back up waiting in reserve.

Or maybe it’s an issue of perceived demand? Yes, we, the coffee drinkers of the United States know there are some in our midst who think Java should constitute the equivalent of a brown crayon stirred in hot -if not tepid- water but we don’t let them leave the country. Nope we don’t. Heh.

Maybe they could launch a new coffee marketing program designed to encourage consumption. They already serve “American” breakfast, why not “American” coffee, specifically designed for the guzzler on the go?

Seriously, coffee is served “Cuban” style; they do serve up tiny cups of coffee with at most three ounces from the average street side vendor. Kiosks at the airport (and restaurants) are relatively generous and will give you a 6-8 oz cup. They will ask if you want milk. The correct response is no even if you take it that way. When they give you the cup (shy two ounces of Java), then ask them to top it off with a bit of milk (I’ve only seen 2%, no half and half). Sure they may be annoyed (doubtful, being so good-natured) but if you say yes to milk, they will fill the cup more than half way up with hot milk and then add a dollop of coffee. That said, it is very inexpensive. The cost of “large” coffee in Colombia is 1,000 pesos (75¢) and that’s at an expensive place like an airport kiosk. For purists, the coffee is not flavored and is fairly stout. If you like flavors or flavored creamers, those are unknown.

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9 comments

  1. Guess I’ll have to take my own half & half if I ever go. Wonder how long those little containers would last unrefrigerated? I take coffee with me everywhere so that I’m sure I get a big, strong cup.

    I understand how you suffered.

    Marguerite

  2. Nancy says:

    That is how they drink it in most South American countries….in Ecuador, it was more like coffeemilk as opposed to coffee….I wound up drinking it black there, but wasn’t I buzzed out of my mind (hence, whey they drink Aguardiente, to bring you down from the caffeine buzz I suppose).

    Glad you had an awesome time though….I think a lot of people have a skewed idea of what Colombia and South America as a whole, is like.

  3. Laritza says:

    Ah! but do we know how to make the stuff! If I make coffee for my husband and he drinks the same amount as he does here, he can not sleep for days. It is a caffeine proportion thing.

  4. Nina says:

    That’s how they drink coffee in most countries! Essentially it’s a latte or black coffee. Adding flavours and half and half to coffee is just a US trait that has spread internationally via Starbucks I’m afraid.

  5. Kathleen says:

    uhhh, yes, I know this is how they drink coffee in some countries. The entry is a joke. Isn’t that obvious?

    However, between countries I’ve visited or resided, I wouldn’t say that’s how they drink coffee in most countries. While I agree the flavorings thing is mostly (but not exclusively) a US thing, the size of portion serving also varies greatly.

  6. Eric H says:

    “Adding flavours and half and half to coffee is just a US trait that has spread internationally via Starbucks I’m afraid.”

    Hehe. I don’t think Starbucks is *that* powerful. Most of the flavored creamers here in the US are marketed by Nestle, a Swiss company. Germany, where the packaging says delightful things like, “Not less than 10% milk fat [cream]”, is covered in a fine patina of hazelnut (one reason why Kathleen will not let me bring Nutella into the house).

    What is “Irish Coffee” and why do they call it that? What is the origin of “Cappucino” or “Caffe corretto”?

    If Starbucks is indeed that powerful, let us all bow our heads in silent prayer that Starbucks — where I have not seen flavored creamers (my choices have been limited to skim, 2%, and half-n-half) — does not discover the Turkish/Greek practice of including river dredgings and/or cardamom and/or cloves with every cup.

    Incidentally, despite the ill-conceived claim that Seattle is the coffee capital of the world (really? How much do they grow there?), Albuquerque has more coffee shops per capita (according to the Specialty Coffee Association of America).

    By the way, you did all know that Kathleen grew up in Germany and has studied, traveled in, and worked in Latin America (Ecuador, Brasil, Mexico, et al)? And that her tongue was firmly planted in her cheek while writing this post?

  7. Nancy says:

    Kathleen,
    I remember the first time I went to Montreal and Quebec City and they brought this *bowl*. I was like “huh?”. Oh yeah, the quantity varies depending on where you are….

  8. me says:

    What really fascinates me at Starbucks (born and living in Europe) is that they start at tall. Huh ? Yes Starbucks, like holidays at home, just slightly strange, but very comfty living room atmosphere.

  9. Jordan says:

    Hello Kathleen! I came across this image while looking for a size comparison for Colombia with a US state and just started laughing. Last night, in 7-11 I filled my 12oz coffee cup only half way, much to my friends’ amusement. I told them, this is like an extra-large in Colombia! I don’t need that much coffee at 3 in the morning! Thanks for the post :) Mind if I use the image?

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