History of the Colombian Coffee Region

The Colombian Coffee Region has indigenous pre-Columbian beginnings, though its modern history doesn’t really take shape until a 19th century colonisation which saw the mountains of central Colombia being used for coffee production, resulting in the Colombian Coffee Region and Landscape that we know today.

Indigenous  Trails

The foothills and mountains of the western slope of the Central Cordillera was the home for the Quimbaya indians – an indigenous pre-Columbian tribe that dominated the departments that we now call Quindio, Risaralda and Caldas – in between the Western Cordillera (Choco) and the mountain passes heading east towards Bogotá.

It was here that these highly-skilled Quimbaya people worked with the gold that they found in the rivers, using techniques involving wax moulds that were extracted from the immense palms that dominate the Cocora Valley.

Spanish Thirst for gold

The Quimbaya’s reputation for using gold in everything that they did, including elaborate burials where live women were buried with important elders, sadly sealed their fate with the arrival of the Spanish.

The Quimbayans population was quickly decimated by disease and wars with other local tribes in the region. Any gold that was found by the Spanish left via the emblematic port of Cartagena de Indias.

Forgotten Lands

The Spanish colonists did not extensively populate the region, with Cartago Viejo being the only real city of note which acted as a hub of commerce directing and trading goods from the east (Bogotá), the north (Medellín) and the south (Cali).

One specific valley – the Valle de Cocora or Cocora valley – was left uninhabited for many years until a second colonization brought people from the north to populate it and the entire region. These people were from the department of Antioquia and it was this colonisation that led to the creation of the ‘Coffee Region’ landscape that we know today.

The Antioquian Colonisation

During the 19th century a small percentage Antioquians, mainly white Spanish Jesuit descendants, left the tough fruitless lands in their home department and went in search of success and riches. A mini gold-rush had also taken place there, resulting in a boom and crash of local economies, adding to their misery and serving as a catalyst for searches for a better life.

Founding Fathers

The Antioquians’ trail followed the well established muleteer (who were the real entrepreneurs of the time) routes . After leaving Antioquia through the town of Sonsón, they continued south, founding the towns of Salamina and Neira. Finally on the  29th of October 1849, the city of Manizales was born.

The city became the capital of a department known as Gran Caldas, which would later be separated into the three departments that we know today: Caldas, the capital of which remained as Manizales,  Risaralda whose capital is Pereira and Quindio whose capital is Armenia. All were founded within 40 years of each other and collectively form the famed ‘Coffee Triangle’.

Coffee Landscape

The Antioquians were gifted cultivators, using Jesuit tendencies of small plots of land for their families to sustain themselves as they did in Antioquia. They brought their experience of coffee cultivation with them and the Coffee Region was born. Since then the Coffee trade has stabilised the area, allowing for economic growth and the culmination of the Coffee Cultural Landscape.

For more details about the History of the Colombian Coffee Region over the past 150 years, we recommend reading Coffee in Colombia, 1850-1970 by Marco Palacios.

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