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Coffee has been king in Colombia more than a century. Colombia is the world’s largest producer of “mild” arabica coffee, and, next to Brazil, the second largest producer of all coffee. In 1998 it made $565 million as America’s No. 1 supplier.

Call it codependency. The smiling trademarked face of the fictitious Juan Valdez is an icon of Western culture, better known than the logos for CBS and AT&T. Since 1959 Juan has been sent to persuade us that Colombian is “the world’s richest coffee”.

columbiaThe ads have won Colombian growers much coveted distinction among coffee growing nations, and a premium price. But all is not rosy in Bogotá. Once called the “Athens of the Americas” for its cultural beauty and universities, Colombia is deviled by a 35-year guerrilla civil war, paramilitary death squads, and the corrupting duality of America’s drug/no-drug dollars.

You’re only as good as your last cup. On top of that the reputation of Colombian coffee has slipped. Approximately 70% of Colombia’s total coffee area is now planted with the high-yielding, rust-resistant Caturra and Colombia coffee varieties. These two varieties, which produce well without shade, account for more than 85 percent of total coffee production. Many coffee professionals believe that these gains in productivity come at the cost of a detectible flavor penalty. As a result, the longstanding qualitative advantages enjoyed by Colombian growers have started to ebb.

“In Colombia…everyone is a coffeeman until proven otherwise.” Andres Uribe Brown Gold (Random House)

Colombia remains a land of Eternal Spring, ideal for coffee growing thanks to fertile soil, mild tropical climate, dependable rainfall, and cool mountain altitudes. Luckily for coffee lovers, some of Colombia’s coffeelands are still planted to traditional coffee varieties and some growers still take the time to produce the old-style quality.

San Agustin is one such coffee. Produced in the south-central district of Huila, exclusively on arabica typica variety plantings, it is grown under shade at high altitude, picked by hand, and 100% sun dried. All of these factors help to promote the patient maturation of the coffee cherry and its seed, and build flavor character.

The reward is a perfect cup. I think you’ll agree the first sip of San Agustin reveals a startling intensity of flavor, richness conveyed in full body, rounded out with caramel sweetness. It is remarkable to find such primal flavors so swathed in balance, without a trace of bitterness.

San Agustin is a coffee for sunny mornings on the terrace, as we take time to contemplate the perfect beauty of a midsummer day.