Watch out, Juan Valdez: First Starbucks opens in Colombia
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Watch out, Juan Valdez: First Starbucks opens in Colombia

Juan Valdez and his burro aren’t alone anymore.

International coffee shop chain Starbucks opened its first franchise in Colombia on Wednesday. Though Starbucks has imported Colombian beans and sold Colombian coffee in its international shops for years, the Seattle-based company had never had a storefront presence in the country, despite opening more than 700 cafes in 12 other Latin American nations. That is set to change quickly, though, as Starbucks has rolled out a plan to open 50 shops in Colombia over the next five years.

The new store, located in an upscale neighborhood in the capital of Bogotá, will be the only Starbucks shop in the world to sell entirely locally-sourced coffee.

Many see Starbucks’ entrance as a direct challenge to local chain Juan Valdez, owned by the Colombian coffee growers’ federation. However, the federation has insisted that it sees the U.S. company as a like-minded business, rather than a direct challenger, helping drive the local movement toward a more sophisticated coffee culture.

Despite Colombia’s status as one of the world’s major coffee producers, the vast majority of high-quality beans are exported. Locals usually drink small cups of tinto, strong black coffee that often seems to be equal parts coffee and sugar.

The coffee growers’ federation has been attempting to change that in the 11 years since the first Juan Valdez opened, using the cafes to create a more refined coffee drinking experience and support social initiatives. The franchise designates some of its profits to a fund that goes to Colombia’s 560,000 coffee-growing families, many of whom have been hit hard by a global commodities market that has drastically reduced the profits farmers make from each kilo of beans sold, even as coffee shop culture has caused the price of a cappuccino to spike.

At the moment, the federation welcomes Starbucks’ arrival, in the hope that the high-end chain will support growers and encourage greater sales of quality beans within the country.

The cafe is guaranteed to be a hit among residents of northern Bogotá as well. In neighborhoods where the local pastime appears to be a fierce competition to see who can show off the most brand-name and luxury items, a Starbucks cup will fit right in.

Additional reporting from Associated Press

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