It sits on a corner facing Parque de la 93 in Bogota, the large green letters announcing the presence of the American coffee chain: Starbucks. But this is the first time the mega-company has opened a store in Colombia, and I was curious to see what Colombians would think of its arrival.
So just a few days after it opened, on a sunny Saturday morning, I stood on the corner of the Parque de la 93 and got my first look at Starbucks in Colombia.
The outside sitting area is typical of restaurants and cafes in Bogota, with wood benches, tables, and sofas mingling with standing heaters and potted plants.
Inside, it’s the typical Starbucks scene. I first noticed the smell – yes, it smells like any other Starbucks.
Well, to be honest, the first thing I noticed was the long line. By the time I had arrived it was busier than a Monday morning in Manhattan, and the line was not only out the door but had reached the sidewalk.
A sign behind the counter welcomed me to Starbucks in Colombia. About 15 employees behind the coffee bar and cash registers were frantically trying to keep up with the demand of cappuccinos and caramel macchiatos, and five more were rushing around cleaning and working, basically, on crowd control.
The store was filled with Colombians, though a number of foreigners drifted in and out. I was surprised by the amount of Colombians stuffing themselves into the packed coffee house, since they are quite passionate about their Juan Valdez and Oma restaurants – some go as far as considering Starbucks to be a sort of treason against their Colombian identity.
As I squeezed into line I noticed a particular energy; the hum of dozens of people on a strong caffeine buzz, getting their first Starbucks in this land of coffee beans.
My big question when I heard Starbucks would be opening was: How much is a coffee going to cost? Well, the prices range from COP 5,500-7,900 for a variety of small coffees with milk. A tinto (black coffee) that’s a little taller than what you’ll get in Juan Valdez goes for COP 3,300, which is a bit pricier than Juan Valdez’s version. The cups are quite a bit smaller than in the States, but for those that need more coffee than is ever available at a coffee shop here in Bogota, this is the place to come to.
Starbucks has also opted to sell coffee preparation methods like Chemex and French press that are already popular around Bogota at places like E&D Cafe, Diletto and Juan Valdez Origenes.
In the effort to prove that they’re all about Colombian coffee, there’s an antique coffee mill under a staircase, surrounded by sacks of 100% Colombian beans.
Baskets filled with Nariño coffee take up the center of the store, and rows of Starbucks mugs display a graceful couple dancing cumbia, with a chiva truck lumbering about on the back. In one corner a column with Spanish text explains how special Starbucks coffee is, as if the crowds here need to be convinced.
I took a quick look at the food as I passed the sparkling new case; fat blueberry muffins with crumble topping, delicious panini sandwiches filled with spinach and imported cheese, and a dubious looking bagel are what got my attention.
Inside on the first floor, the only seating is a wood table with stools, and wasn’t as uncomfortable as I thought it would be. It also gave me a direct look into Parque de la 93 and a front row view of all the commotion inside the store.
The second floor is taken up by a long coffee cupping table. The third floor has a big picture window with a view of the leafy Parque de la 93. The sofas, armchairs, and vertical garden make it a place to hang out with friends, or perhaps attempt to do some work on a laptop.
A notable part of the decoration is the gigantic mermaid painting on the second floor and third floors. The brown tones come from coffee. Really – go on, get close and sniff it – it even smells like coffee. Luis Carlos Cifuentes used coffee to paint this beauty, and its somber colors go well with the industrial look of the ceiling rafters. The floors are laid with ceramic tiles that resemble those you’ll see in a farmhouse while on a trip to a coffee farm in the Colombian mountains.
Coffee cupping at Starbucks
I pulled up a stool at the coffee cupping table and got a course on how to prepare Nariño coffee in a Chemex.
Tati and Karen were the sweet girls who did the coffee cupping for me. Their enthusiasm soon had me sniffing deeply, slurping noisily and closing my eyes to fully get the tastes of the Colombian countryside.
Colombians are enjoying their moment of Starbucks, but I doubt they’ll trade in their beloved Juan Valdez or Oma for Starbucks; Oma has the food and ice cream, and Juan Valdez is just too cool (and is a cheaper deal than the imported American version).
Coffee to take home
So what coffees are available at Starbucks in Colombia?
Colombia: First coffee blend that Starbucks served in Seattle back in 1971, it’s 100% Colombian fine stuff and is only available here. COP 22,000 for 250 grams.
Nariño: Comes from plants that are grown among chocolate, orange and mandarin orange trees, which gives the coffee some interesting nuances. COP 16,000.
El Peñol: Limited edition from 160 plots of land in Guatpé, Antioquia, not far from the Piedra Peñol (if you look closely at the bag, you can see the rock incorporated into the artwork). It’s only available at Starbucks in Bogota for two months and costs COP$26,000. This one is roasted in Seattle.
Expresso Roast (I’ve bought it in the States under the name French Roast): Coffee from Nariño and Huila. COP 16,000.
Want to read more about the Starbucks opening in Colombia? Click through this link to see what the Associated Press has to say.
Have you been to this Starbucks? Tell me what you think about Starbucks opening up in the land of coffee production.