Coffee Origins: Venezuela

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Coffee Origins: Venezuela – In roughly 1730, a Jesuit priest called José Gumilla is credited with introducing coffee to Venezuela. Venezuela became recognized for its slave-run tobacco and cocoa plantations, and there is evidence of major coffee plantations dating back to around 1793.

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From around 1800, coffee took an increasingly important role in the economy. During the Venezuelan War of Independence, from 1811 to 1823, cacao production began to drop but coffee production surged. The first boom in the country’s coffee industry took place between 1830 and 1855 when Venezuela produced around one-third of the world’s coffee. Coffee continued to grow in production, peaking in 1919 with a total export of 1.37 million bags. Together, coffee and cacao accounted for 75 percent of the country’s entire export revenue. Most of the coffee went to the United States.

Venezuela’s economy became increasingly reliant on petroleum in the 1920s, despite the fact that coffee remained a lucrative source of cash. Until prices fell in the 1930s, much of the revenue was spent on national infrastructure, and the production and processing facilities suffered as a result. During this time, the coffee industry began to privatize, depriving peasants of most of their ability to grow their own coffee on public land.

Since this period, the nation has been fundamentally dependent on petroleum products and other mineral exports. Coffee production and exports had remained relatively high, with Venezuela nearly matching the production of Colombia, but that changed under the government of Hugo Chávez. In 2003, the government introduced strict regulations on coffee production, which meant the country increasingly had to rely on imports for domestic consumption, mostly from Nicaragua and Brazil. Venezuela exported 479,000 bags of coffee in 1992/1993 and this dropped again to 19,000 in 2009/2010. Government-fixed sales prices have been considerably below the cost of production, which has inevitably damaged the industry. Few can predict how the situation will change in the wake of Chávez’s death.

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Though Venezuelan coffee production was strong in the early 20th century, crops are increasingly rare and have suffered from political resistance and poor remuneration for farmers.

TRACEABILITY (rights)

Because the country exports so little coffee, finding high-quality Venezuelan coffee is uncommon. While some coffees should be able to be traced back to individual estates, it is more frequent to find coffees identified by their area designations. In general, due to the low altitude and lack of focus on cup quality, I would only advocate sampling Venezuelan coffees if they were provided by a roaster whose coffees you appreciate and trust.

TASTE PROFILE (us)

The better coffees from Venezuela are quite sweet, a little low in acidity, and relatively rich in terms of mouthfeel and texture.

GROWING REGIONS (refugees)

Population: 31,775,000

Number of 60kg (132lb) bags in 2016: 400,000

Coffees from Venezuela are currently quite rare. There are hopes that this may change in the future but it seems unlikely in the short term.

WESTERN REGION

This region produces a large percentage of the country’s coffee. It is easier to nd export grades marked with the name of the state in which they were produced, such as Táchira, Mérida, or Zulia, rather than the region. Some people make comparisons between coffees from this region and those from neighboring Colombia.

Altitude: 1,000–1,200m (3,300–3,900ft)

Harvest: September–March

Varieties: Typica, Bourbon, Mundo Novo, Caturra

WEST CENTRAL REGION

This region contains the states of Portuguesa and Lara, some of the primary coffee-producing regions in the country, as well as Falcón and Yaracuy. The best coffees are considered to come from this region, relatively close to the Colombian border. These coffees are commonly referred to as Maracaibos, named for the port from which they are exported.

Altitude: 1,000–1,200m (3,300–3,900ft)

Harvest: September–March

Varieties: Typica, Bourbon, Mundo Novo, Caturra

NORTH CENTRAL REGION

The states of Aragua, Carabobo, the Federal Dependencies, Miranda, Cojedes, and Guárico in this region produce a tiny portion of Venezuela’s output.

Altitude: 1,000–1,200m (3,300–3,900ft)

Harvest: September–March Varieties: Typica, Bourbon, Mundo Novo, Caturra

EASTERN REGION (Venezuela)

Sucre, Monagas, Anzoátegui, and Bolvar are the states that make up this region. This region produces a kind of coffee known as Caracas, which can be found on occasion.

Altitude: 1,000–1,200m (3,300–3,900ft)

Harvest: September–March

Varieties: Typica, Bourbon, Mundo Novo, Caturra

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