Big Dreams Brewing: Inspiring Coffee Farmers in Colombia


There are some inspirational stories behind every Colombian coffee bean (Photo: Thinkstock)

This morning you probably drank a cup of coffee, right? Maybe at home or a takeaway on the run? From the moment you took your first sip until the cup was empty, you likely didn’t think twice about the chubby roasted beans that give you your morning power.

Have you ever wondered about the people who planted the coffee-plant seeds, cultivated and cared for them, and then picked the berries when they were ripe? A coffee bean is nothing fancy, really, until you know the story behind it — for each cup of Colombian coffee, there is the wonderful and inspiring story of every single bean.

The story of the beans that went into the coffee I’m drinking begins in the rolling green hills of the zona cafetera (coffee region) in Antioquia, Colombia, an area notorious for its drugs, civil wars, and corruption. It is here that Antioquia’s governor, ex-math professor Sergio Fajardo, discovered an inspiring way to use his nation’s best-known export as a tool to transform lives and transcend his region’s negative reputation.


Colombia’s Coffee Zone (Photo: Jacqui de Klerk)

“For specialty coffees, specialty coffee farmers are needed,” Fajardo tells me. That philosophy led him to develop Origen de Cafés Especiales — an effort to motivate Antioquia farmers to increase their production of specialty coffee so that the rest of the world can recognize the region, as well as its coffee-growing families and their traditions.

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That effort starts with providing training to young coffee workers, farmers, and professionals. Says Fajardo, “We will work with them [on] production practices that are friendly to the environment and improve the quality of their product.”


Antioquia’s governor and coffee crusader Sergio Fajardo (Sergio Fajardo Valderrama/Flickr)

Fajardo’s work has already transformed the local industry and the lives of the people who work within it. A few months ago, Origen de Cafés Especiales participant Carmen Cecilia Montoya Patiño was just another ordinary coffee farmer. But her work with the program helped her win the Alliance for Coffee Excellence’s 2014 Cup of Excellence award. Now, her specialty coffee (which ACE judges cited for its honey and caramel aroma, and floral and fruity fragrance) is sought after by roasters all over the world.


Carmen Cecilia Montoya Patiño and family (Photo: counterculturecoffee/Flickr)

Another project, the New Generation of Coffee Growers, focuses on future coffee growers. Alejandro Zapata Granados,15, is a shy boy with dreams of being “a great roaster.”


One day you’ll be drinking this kid’s coffee. Alejandro Zapata Granados has big dreams brewing. (Photo: Jacqui de Klerk)

Thanks to the government project, Alejandro’s dream can become a reality. The four-day, all-expenses-paid program offers 1,000 young people between 15 and 25 the chance to participate in different courses to learn the skills needed to become a 21st-century specialty coffee farmer. Class subjects range from planting and soil types to roasting, the art of being a barista, and current technology. This event happens twice a year and is already stimulating a feeling that “coffee is cool.”

Alejandro hopes to take what he learns from the program to improve the roaster on his father’s farm. After that, his plans get more ambitious: He tells me that he “dreams of exporting the best coffee from Colombia.”


Growers feel that coffee is crucial to Colombia’s sense of national pride. (Photo: Jacqui de Klerk)

The Colombian coffee bean is not just any bean. It represents hope and a positive future for the youth; and, most important, it is transforming lives. But they need you, the coffee lover and the coffee snob, to help them achieve it because with each sip you take, you are genuinely supporting and improving the lives of many Colombians. So go on, keep drinking that smooth coffee, and know that you are drinking the national pride of Colombia. She thanks you for it!

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