Bogota Café Scene Growing Fast

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I was in Colombia earlier this month working on a story for the April + May issue of Barista Magazine, and I had a few free hours in Bogota before my flight back to the States. Michael Losada of the Colombian National Federation of Coffee Growers (FNC)  offered to show me around the city. It was my first time in the city since it hosted the 2011 World Barista Championship, and it was interesting to see how much had changed.

Earlier in the trip, we had a couple of hours before my first interview at the FNC headquarters, so Michael had taken me to the brand new Juan Valdez Origin concept cafe, and I was very impressed with what I found. What I hadn’t realized at the time is that it was one of a handful of new, high-quality specialty coffee cafes which have opened recently in the city.

I had a chance to drop by three of the city’s new cafes, but really, the scene is growing quickly and I only sampled a small slice of it. We started off by stopping by Devotion which is a specialty roaster in the city who has a cafe located in the Bogota Hilton not too far from the FNC.  Boasting a detailed menu with vivid descriptions of the available coffees (complete with suggested brewing techniques), the dark wood bar had a very old-school Europeanfeel. And the coffees we tried certainly were above and beyond much of the coffee found not only in producing countries, but a  lot of cafes period.

Barista champion Nicholas Rico welcomes us to Amor Perfecto.

Barista champion Nicolas Rico welcomes us to Amor Perfecto.

Following that we walked a few blocks to Amor Perfecto. I had seen the space in 2011, but Luis Fernando Velez had just acquired it. Now open, the cafe has a roaster and a coffee lab which is open to the public. In the lab, interested people can learn all about coffee from brew methods to processing, roasting, cupping, and more. At the bar, customers can order a variety of coffees (all Colombian of course) in multiple brews, either as an AeroPress, espresso, pour over, French press.

The roaster at Amor Perfecto with Nicholas' plastic drying trays.

The roaster at Amor Perfecto with Nicolas’ plastic drying trays.

When we stopped in, Nicolas Rico, the current barista champion of Colombia (who will be competing in Rimini, at the WBC in June) was working in the lab, specifically, he was working on sourcing (and sorting, drying, and roasting) coffees for competition. He had picked the coffees himself and had the cherry in trays, stacked around the lab, drying them. He has a background in molecular biology and he has an air about him of a mad scientist. Certainly the lab looked like it belonged to one (who of course had a thing for coffee). We chatted about the cafe, his work, and his expectations for Rimini. I tried a couple of coffees and they were exquisite. I was really impressed with what I was tasting in Bogota, especially after a few days in rural Colombia where the typical coffee was no way near the levels I was enjoying in the capital city.

Azahar's cafe, built to look like a shipping container.

Azahar’s cafe, built to look like a shipping container.

There was another special thing about my visit to Bogota: it was car-free day. If you ever visit Bogota, try to make it happen on car-free day! All private vehicles are banned in the city of the day, and it changes the whole feel of the place. Instead of a loud, hectic traffic on every street most people travel by foot or bicycle on car-free day, and so did we. We walked across the city center from Amor Perfecto to Azahar Coffee Company.

Tyler Youngblood talks to us about the coffee scene in Bogota.

Tyler Youngblood talks to us about the coffee scene in Bogota.

We met one of the owners, Tyler Youngblood at the cafe, and he introduced us to his staff and showed off their new location while offering us some really amazing coffees. The cafe is really cool, with lots of outdoor seating with custom-made hardwood tables. But the thing I liked the best was the fact that the cafe is built to look like a shipping container. As Tyler explained it, Colombians are used to watching their best coffees leave the country in containers just like that, so at Azahar they wanted to have the container instead delivering those great coffees to their fellow Colombians.

The pour over bar at Azahar.

The pour over bar at Azahar.

Like I said, if you’re in Bogota, try to make it there on car-fee day, but no matter when you visit, definitely check out some of the new specialty coffee cafes, they’re doing amazing things!

About the Author

Ken

Kenneth R. Olson is co-founder and publisher of Barista Magazine the worldwide trade magazine for the professional coffee community. He has written extensively about specialty coffee, traveled near and far for stories, activities, and fun, and been invited to present on topics important to coffee culture. He is also an avid fan of the Portland Trail Blazers and the Washington Huskies. Go Blazers! Go Dawgs!