Last weekend was ExpoEspeciales, the specialty coffee fair in Bogotá, Colombia. Everybody in every step of the supply chain—coffee growers, cuppers, exporters, importers, baristas—embraced each other, embraced their insignia, for a group photo with Juan Valdez.
When he’s in character, he’s Juan Valdez. But even after taking off the poncho, sombrero, carriel, or mulero (the moustache stays on), he’s still a coffee grower through and through.
Carlos Castañeda Ceballos grew up on a coffee farm in Andes, the coffee capital of the southwest region of Antioquia, Colombia. Along with his ten brothers, he’s a third-generation coffee grower.
We got an extra squeeze and squinty-eyed smile when my husband said “Hey, Carlos, we used to live in Jardín, right next to Andes”.
The winding road from Andes to Jardín seemed to get prettier as we climbed in elevation, circled past the rushing mountain streams, over stone bridges, flanked by cheerfully painted colonial farmhouses set against the verdant backdrop of fields of coffee.
From sun up to sun down, Monday through Saturday, a farmer works the farm. Sunday is market day, a commercial frenzy of unloading bursting sacks of coffee then hoisting back up bulging sacks of groceries on the roofs of Willys, the sturdy jeeps that service even the most remote rural areas. It’s a chance to sit back and sip a beer in the plaza, join in the fun of town life for a few brief hours.
That’s exactly what Carlos Castañeda was doing when he was discovered. To be a believable Juan Valdez he didn’t have to act any differently than a normal coffee farmer. I like that the Federación Nacional de Cafeteros sent out scouts to the villages, rather than have casting calls in major cities.
In the city of Medellín, our current home and last year’s venue for ExpoEspeciales, Daniel met Juan Valdez for the first time.
Carlos Sánchez was the first face for the brand Juan Valdez. From 1983 to 2006, he worked the image at an international level until his presence symbolized the coffee industry, and even Colombia itself. He interpreted the character well because he was an actor by profession. It seemed unthinkable that he could be replaced.
In representation of small-scale coffee farmers, it’s appropriate that an actual coffee grower represents Juan Valdez. Your coffee doesn’t come from behind a camera, bright lights, and a film crew.
Colombian coffee is picked by hand, and it’s an honor to shake the hand of an authentic coffee picker: Carlos Castañeda, the real deal Juan Valdez.
We’ve been known to cuddle up next to Conchita too.