Colombia’s new drinks passion

Colombian IngredientsCoffee and craft beer is making this nation buzz – and wine seems to be missing the boat
Colombia has changed a lot since I was last here 10 years ago. Terrorist threats have receded, the economy is buzzing, dazzling new buildings are rising into the Bogota skyline. In many ways it is a textbook case for the development of a wine market, especially since it is on the doorstep of – and shares a language with – Chile and Argentina, the twin powerhouses of South American wine production.
Wine sales are rising – but from a low base. The latest IWSR data indeed shows a growth in still light wine volumes of 5.8% between 2008 and 2012 and a 8.7% increase in the last year. Per capita consumption is on the rise, but at a very slow pace, and remains at just 0.5 l of still light wine per annum. So far at least, there seems little excitement in the wine category. The offer of wine by the glass, wine tastings, wine bars and wine clubs are rare, and consumers in restaurants are often confronted with prices that would look expensive in London or New York.
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Craft beer, on the other hand, is blossoming in Colombia and seemingly finding its place alongside mass produced Aguila and Club Colombia. Bogota Beer Company (Bogota) and Cordilleras (Medellin) have grown from small breweries to cities’ go-to beers.
Perhaps the most striking change is the new attitude to one of Colombia’s oldest and best known products: coffee. Historically, Colombia has exported 85% of its coffee, which was all of the highest quality, and the domestic market was left to drink a fairly tasteless “tinto” (brewed black coffee). But as Colombians living abroad – mainly in Europe and the US – are returning back home to grasp economic opportunities, they are also noting an opportunity to enrich the coffee culture.
3coffeecupsAn encounter at a proper coffee tasting provided some interesting insights. There are many notable similarities between coffee and wine. Relevant vocabulary focuses on regions of origin, climate, plant/fruit varietal, methods of bean harvesting (manual or automatic), bean selection, the production process, single-origin versus blends, judges and point scoring, and the debate over health benefits and detriments. With coffee, however, also roasting and the preparation method have a significant impact on the final taste. At the end of the day, nevertheless, both coffee and wine enhance meals and occasions, and we are fortunate enough to be able to enjoy a complex variety of palates and aromas.
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