Baby baristas: Could kids hold the key to Colombia’s coffee future?

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Nov. 18, 2018 / 2:50 PM GMT

By Andrew Wight

MARSELLA, Colombia — At a library in the heart of Colombia’s coffee country, Julián Murillo, 8, proudly narrates the process as he makes a meticulous Chemex-method brew. He places a filter-lined funnel atop a glass flask and carefully doles out the speciality coffee — produced and roasted locally — in the centre of the filter paper, before pouring the hot water over the top and watching the dark brown brew drip down.

For now, Julián is learning the skills just for fun, but there’s a larger goal in mind: Low coffee prices, climate change and a rapidly-aging coffee work force mean it’s more important than ever to get kids excited and invested in keeping the coffee industry here thriving.

If kids like Julián don’t stay on the land, Colombia’s smooth Arabica coffee, served by cafe chains around the globe, could disappear — but if programs like these succeed, the next generation could preserve Colombia’s centuries-old culture while providing better local jobs and better-tasting coffee for local consumers.

The library in this town about 130 miles south of Medellín is housed in the corner of a massive colonial building. One overcast October day, nearly a dozen kids between the ages of 6 and 12 filled the common area used by the Cafeteritos, which is Spanish for little coffee makers.

“I want to run my own coffee shop one day,” says Julián, as he makes the pour-over coffee. “And I want kids from all over the world to come and share this coffee with me.”

Towards the end of class, the kids and their instructor sample the final product — in comparison to the U.S., Colombia has a more relaxed attitude toward childhood caffeine consumption. Colombia is in the top 25 in the world for cola consumption and some doctors there say coffee for kids like Julián is permissible in moderation. As they arrive at the library, parents start to get involved, too — one parent describes picking more than 400 pounds of coffee berries daily during the harvest season. Later another parent, a farmer, spontaneously bursts into a traditional regional song.

“I’ve learned a lot about coffee from my boy,” said Arelis Murillo, Julián’s mother. “He also has a lot of confidence now.” She explains that she sent originally Julián to the program to keep him occupied while learning something new, after hearing about Cafeteritos from the organizers of a previous program involving girls’ soccer.

Cafeteritos grew from a 2016 pilot program started by philanthropist Javier Sánchez Embid from Guadalajara, Spain, local coffee grower José María González Salazar and local library head Adriana Grisales with the intent of providing an educational after-school program that would appeal to both boys and girls. Now, the kids compete in brewing competitions and go on field trips to processing centers and coffee farms.

“We’re bringing together not only the generations, but different parts of the production chain,” said Wilson Flórez Valencia, cultural center and library coordinator for Comfamilar Risaralda, a compensation fund that runs the library and 17 others across the Risaralda region.