What is the Secret of Colombia’s Happiness?

“Why do you love coffee?”

I was in one of Bogota best specialty coffee shops, Amor Perfecto, with a tour group. Light came streaming in the café on that sunny Bogota morning, and the intoxicating smell of freshly ground coffee made us all a bit dizzy.

Over the sounds of coffee cups clinking against saucers and the typical chatter of a busy cafe, the tour guests crowded in to catch the barista’s answer to my question.  The barista thought for a few seconds before answering, and then…what an answer he gave!

Café es felicidad.” His face lit up with that simple phrase. Coffee is happiness. The guests on the tour nodded, looking at each other, smiling. Of course, coffee is happiness.

We could feel the happiness in the café. The smells that hit us as we entered the cafe. The cheery baristas. The relaxed atmosphere where people could leave the stress of the city at the door and sit with a book, chat with friends, or do a bit of business.

“Why do you say that coffee is happiness?” I prodded him.

His grin widened and he looked dreamy. “Because coffee brings people together. We meet for a coffee and we take time for each other. Families and friends share life over coffee.”

Barista at Amor Perfecto

He was pouring water in a rhythmic gesture over a V60 dripper, speaking as he paused between pours. “When we have a problem, what do we do? We make ourselves a cup of coffee and then sit down to solve our problems while we drink it.”

As I translate his words to the tour guests, they nodded and repeated his phrase: Coffee is happiness.

Why is coffee happiness?

We search for happiness everywhere. Could it be as simple as finding it in a little brown bean?

Well, no.

But that brown bean does bring us together. We get support. We find solutions. And when we look over the cup, we see caring eyes and an uplifting smile. That’s what brings happiness. It comes from those other people that gather around the table with us, warm coffee cup in hand.

The catalyst for that support is that little brown bean. It’s the reason we come together, it’s what helps us find common ground and a common time to share life. If you’re in Bogota, just walk past a Juan Valdez coffee shop at 3 pm. What will you see? Not an empty table. Bogota crowds into its favorite coffee shop, families meeting together to catch up, people earnestly conducting business meetings, friends listening to friends talk about their struggles and successes.

People are not alone. They are supported and supporting, sharing those little moments of the day that make life worth living. And they’re doing it over a cup of hot coffee.

The key to happiness?

Colombia is rated as one of the happiest countries in the world despite poverty, decades of civil war and high crime levels.

Is the secret to Colombia’s happiness coffee?

Or is it the strong social network that coffee creates?

Living in the city, I see the unity coffee creates in coffee shops. Similarly, in rural areas coffee brings people together. On the farms, people need other people to care for crops, harvest the coffee, and transport it to be processed or sold. Communities come together for coffee festivals and coffee competitions.

And coffee brings people together on a smaller, more intimate level. When I lived in a coffee growing region, afternoon coffee was a prized ritual. Friends and family would gather in those large rural kitchens and brew up some home-roasted coffee. It was a time to share the events of the day, divulge the latest gossip, to connect and laugh over the dark brew.

Drinking Colombian coffee on a coffee farm
Photo courtesy of Kaleb Dickhaut

Coffee happiness in Bogota

I’ve seen that happiness many times in Bogota’s coffee shops. In the case of specialty coffee, it’s not just being together that produces the happiness. It’s a combination of finding fabulous tastes in coffee and sharing those discoveries with others.

Some months ago, I took an older European couple to Libertario coffee shop, where I ordered a Geisha coffee for us. When they tasted this fragrant, floral coffee, they literally gasped in amazement. The husband turned to his wife in awe and they just gazed at each other, united in their appreciation of flavors they’d never before found in coffee.

Sometimes the happiness takes a more energetic form. When my tour guide Alejandra and I took a large group of people from Europe, Brazil, the U.S., and other countries to Azahar, we ordered their Finca Villa Roa coffee. The reaction was instantaneous. Not only did that group of young businessmen and women gush over the deep berry and chocolate notes of the coffee, they jumped up to buy it, rushing to the cash register with multiple bags.  We couldn’t have asked for a clearer indication of how much they appreciated the flavors.

And at times coffee brewing can seem like a spectator sport. When Steven Martinez makes coffee in a syphon at Cafe Cultor, we all are mesmerized by his precise movements and detailed explanations. No one takes their eyes off the water as it moves from the bottom chamber to the top one, and we nearly clap as he expertly brews coffee in what has to be one of the most difficult brewing methods to master.

Coffee is happiness in Bogota

Coffee is happiness

We feel those emotions because of the flavors we get in the cup that we eagerly hold in our hands. Those feelings are further magnified when we’re in the company of other people who understand our joy. Sharing the excitement of those new flavors and the wonder of discovery gives us a feeling of closeness to our loved ones – or even to total strangers. The flavors bring us together. The little brown bean has done its work again.

No doubt science and medicine will continue to debate whether coffee is truly good for our health. Studies come out saying it will add years to our lives, while our doctor may tell us we have to avoid it because of our nerves or our sensitive stomachs. However, there’s one thing you can know for sure. Regardless of conflicting reports about health benefits, coffee is good for our social health.

Yes, coffee is happiness.

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Come discover those memorable flavors of Colombian coffee – and that coffee happiness – with us on our Specialty Coffee Shop Tour. Just click here to find out more.

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