If you walk into any coffee shop in America, whether it’s Starbucks or your local independent shop, you’re probably going to find some beans sourced from Colombia. It’s the third highest coffee producing country in the world, after Brazil and Vietnam. Because of its elevation and distance from the equator, Medellin, Colombia—a popular city for expats and digital nomads—is the perfect place to grow coffee. Its year-round spring weather makes for perfect growing conditions, and it’s why the city is nicknamed “the land of eternal spring.”
The most common brand of coffee you’ll see is Juan Valdez, which is like the Starbucks of Colombia—it’s all over the place. Over the past couple of decades, however, there has been an increase in small, craft coffee producers (“third-wave coffee”) who are growing, roasting, and serving really fresh, high-quality coffee in an environmentally and economically sustainable way.
One thing I love about these small, local coffee companies is how many of them grow and source their coffee from land that used to be steeped in violence. From the 1960s through the early 1990s, Colombia (and Medellin specifically) was filled with kidnapping, brutal violence, and corruption, mostly fueled by the drug trade. Many of the violent guerrilla groups were stationed in the forests right outside the city, and there was a lot of bloodshed and injustice that took place on the beautiful hillsides of Medellin.
Now, as the country continues to heal, the local coffee growers and business owners see new opportunity in this land. Where it was once home to such violence, it’s now being used to bring new life in the form of sustainable coffee plantations, economic opportunity (sometimes for the same people who were victims of that violence), and great experiences for locals and tourists alike.
(PS. Here’s our guide on sustainable restaurants in Medellin as well!)
How to Do Colombian Coffee Like a Local
Since I knew that so much great coffee came from Colombia, I was really surprised when I got there by how many of the locals drink instant coffee! This is mostly because for so long, most of the higher quality coffee was exported. It was worth so much more to ship it to countries like the US than to keep and sell it within Colombia, so the locals got used to drinking the lower-quality stuff.
They also drink coffee all day long—morning, afternoon, and evening. Most of the time, they drink it in much smaller servings than we do, which are called tintos. A tinto is kind of like a café americano, but instead of an espresso shot with water, it’s just regular brewed coffee (or instant) in a small cup. I also never saw a Colombian drinking coffee on the go. Even if they were drinking it out of a disposable cup from a street vendor, they still took a few minutes to sit down at the café or on the sidewalk to enjoy it.
Where to Find the Best Coffee in Medellin
Poblado and Laureles are where you want to go to find the best coffee. These are also the most popular neighborhoods for tourists and expats, so if your Spanish isn’t great, the baristas there will most likely be able to help you out. Below are some of the best cafés to find locally-grown, sustainably-sourced coffee, along with colorful decor, friendly faces, and strong wi-fi.
Urbania is dedicated to expanding the coffee culture in Colombia in a way that benefits the communities of small coffee growers who are or have been in situations of vulnerability due to armed conflict, natural disasters or other social, economic or environmental circumstances.
They produce and sell two types of coffee: Their Café Calima coffee comes from an agroecological farm whose rich soils are derived from volcanic ash. It’s produced sustainably and with a holistic vision, avoiding monoculture and the use of agrochemicals. Their Café Paz is cultivated and processed by hand by families who were victims of the Colombian armed conflict, on the lands to which they have returned after being displaced.
Urbania also offers coffee education classes. You can learn how to be a barista, make latte art, craft the perfect manual brew, and even how to roast your own coffee.
Sitting in the heart of Poblado, Pergamino is a really cute, trendy neighborhood, and is a great place to sit and work, read, write, and people watch. It’s still completely owned by the same family that started it four decades ago. Over those 40 years, they have adjusted their business model a few times, and now focus on helping to build a prosperous rural middle class in the local, coffee-growing regions of Colombia. These are the same areas that, in the past, have been hit hard by violence that of takes advantage of rural poverty. By using coffee as an opportunity, Pergamino can help these areas heal from past violence and prevent them from falling vulnerable again.
If you’re not in Medellin or planning to visit soon, you can order some Pergamino coffee online. They ship it quickly and directly to your door to make sure it’s as fresh as possible.
Hija Mia is a cute little spot to stop for coffee where the employees are really sweet and will help you with your Spanish. The founders of Hija Mia are originally from Australia and New Zealand. They were inspired to pack up their espresso machine and leave everything to start a new coffee shop in the Manila neighborhood. They wanted to celebrate Colombian coffee and bring better flat whites to the area! They also offer barista workshops, so you can learn the basics, how to make latte art, and even learn the art of making multiple drinks at once.
Algarabia is a colorful café in the Laureles neighborhood. All of their craft coffee is sourced locally from the nearby Colombian mountains. Their cafe is really cute, with a garden patio with lots of greenery. I hear their pastries are really great too.
The coffee at Amati Café is cultivated in the mountains of Southwestern Antioquia, on the Cordillera de los Andes (Andes Mountains). This land is fertilized by the volcanic ash of the Nevado del Ruiz, a volcano that’s been active for about two million years. The team at Amati Café is passionate about serving 100% Colombian coffee, all of which has been scored by the SCAA (Specialty Coffee Association of America) as ‘specialty coffee’ for its high quality taste. The colorful handle you’ll find on the Amati coffee bag, which doubles as a bracelet when you’re finished with the bag, is an indigenous craft of the native Inga People. The design is meant to evoke the Sun and they are made by young mothers in the local Sibundoy Valley.
The coffee served at Rituales is as local as it gets—it’s right from Medellin on the hillsides of the La Sierra neighborhood. It’s super high quality and the staff is friendly and eager to serve and educate you. They’ve got great wi-fi too.