Skip to main content


Coffee with the aroma of Venezuela
Tue, 04/05/2016 - 08:59

Karelys Abarca

Los controles de precios, miles de años de desatinos
Karelys Abarca

Karelys Abarca es Economista, egresada de la Universidad Central de Venezuela, y Profesora-Investigadora en la Facultad de Economía de esta casa de estudios. Ha sido dos veces Premio Nacional Alberto Adriani, galardón otorgado por el Banco Central de Venezuela y la Fundación Alberto Adriani. Twitter: @karelitabarca

Who doesn't enjoy an aromatic and delicious cup of coffee in the morning or after a great meal? Coffee is the energy drink par excellence. For many Venezuelans, coffee is a basic necessity, the main source of energy to face a dynamic day that begins very early. But the history of this wonderful grain until it reaches our cups is long, and it is a very interesting story, because it also serves to remind us of the dramatic history of the Venezuelan economy.

Coffee is native to Ethiopia. As the Venezuelan barista Pietro Carbone tells in his book "Passion for coffee with a Venezuelan aroma", there are several legends regarding the discovery of the coffee bean. One of them is especially fantastic: a shepherd took his goats to graze daily in various places. One day he realized that the goats began to go crazy, due to something they ate and it made them hyperactive. Later, when the effect wore off, the shepherd discovered that they had eaten a red grain plant, which he tried. Later, when they brought the plant to their culture, they discovered that a wonderful energy infusion could be prepared with it if the beans were roasted... It turns out that those beans were... coffee!

Coffee cultivation spread throughout the Arabian Peninsula, hence the origin of the name Arabica coffee. Its journey to Europe was with the help of Dutch sailors who cultivated it in their colonies in Java. He arrived in France through his connections with Türkiye. It then spread throughout Europe and from there to America. Holland and France brought coffee cultivation to America. For example, Lieutenant Gabriel Mathieu de Clieu transported the coffee plant from Nantes to the French possessions in the Antilles; and according to the descriptions in his diary, he took care of the plant like a baby, sharing even his meager ration of water with it, because he knew how important it would be for the future of France.

Coffee arrived in Venezuelan lands in 1730, in the 18th century. The Jesuits took him to the missions in Orinoco and Caroní. Its cultivation arrived in the Caracas valley in 1741, during the height of the cocoa boom as the only export item. The first important coffee plantation in Caracas was made in Chacao, on the "La Floresta" hacienda. Coffee replaced cocoa as an export item in the 19th century, after independence and the disappearance of the Guipozcoan House. Coffee became relevant as an export item in Venezuela when global coffee consumption increased, especially in the United States, in the mid-19th century.

Coffee is today the most consumed drink in the world. But its price, compared to the international price of cocoa, is relatively lower. We know that what makes a cup of coffee more expensive are the costs associated with the location of the coffee shop where you drink it and the costs related to the service they provide you. But coffee is always worth its price, because it is pleasure and liquid culture, which is why we continue to pay that price in any city, without many regrets. Coffee is a global passion, the ideal basis for conversation between people, to discuss various topics.

In Venezuela, coffee was traditionally exported in the 19th century and until the beginning of oil exploitation at the beginning of the 20th century, a coffee bean of extraordinary quality was exported, which was demanded by the economies with the greatest consumption in the world. But the truth is that the Venezuelan economy has always been an eminently mono-export economy. In the past it was cocoa and coffee; today it is oil. A little more than two centuries have passed since the independence of our country from Spanish rule and even in all that time the Venezuelan economy has not achieved diversification of the productive sectors, nor independence from imports.

However, today cocoa, coffee and oil are produced in Venezuela below their potential; Oil is barely enough for us to export and due to the behavior of its international price, it is barely profitable. On the other hand, both coffee and cocoa have experienced explosive demand in the world, while the Venezuelan economy has squandered the comparative advantages it has in the production of coffee and cocoa beans of extraordinary quality. Despite this, in Venezuela coffee has not ceased to be a primary necessity in our consumption habits, but its production, as well as that of many other agricultural products, has fallen significantly, generating an uncontrollable shortage.

I invite you not to miss a cup of coffee while you read this article and reflect on why the Venezuelan economy does not produce enough of what consumer demand demands; Why does it not export items such as coffee and cocoa in which it had comparative advantages, and why despite all the caffeine that we inhabitants have in our blood, we have fallen asleep in the development race, like the hare in the fable of La Fontaine. Why is it that a country that received very high incomes during the oil boom of recent years is today the poorest economy in the region; why it is undoubtedly an example of indiscriminate waste of resources with such a high opportunity cost, which translates into the drastic loss of well-being and material happiness of its people.