Medellin Shopping Guide: Best Homemade Coffee

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Best Homemade Coffee

My first time visiting Colombia was last year during the pandemic. I remember feeling very unsure about what to expect. I felt sure that Colombia would not have the food to suit my vegan preferences. Or, my “high quality” taste for coffee. 

At the time I still worked for Starbucks and felt sure that I would not find the variety of coffee I preferred. I was accustomed to the slightly sweet, yet thick taste of the Starbucks blonde roast coffee and espresso. I’ve since moved beyond my taste for Starbucks, though. 

I was pleasantly surprised by what I found with the coffee scene in Colombia. And, this includes the store-bought varieties I could make at my apartment. Even though last year I was in Bogota rather than Medellin, I was pleased to find that Medellin had even more varieties to offer!

Making Homemade Coffee

When people think of South America they often envision plain black coffee that is stronger than what they’re used to. But, this is largely untrue of high-quality coffee. 

As we discussed in a previous article, most coffee sold to Americans is actually burnt (check out that article here if you’re interested in coffee quality tasting!). Americans are accustomed to an earthy, chocolate-like, and smokey flavored coffee. 

In reality, this is only one of many types of flavor profiles for coffee. And, the way you choose to make your coffee impacts this taste as well! My personal experience in Medellin and Bogota is that most people like French Press coffee in Colombia. 

French press coffee is similar to the traditional method of coffee production that Americans are accustomed to, which is drip. Drip coffee is your typical diner coffee made in a black and decker or some other relatively affordable coffee machine. The coffee grinds are ground semi-course and set in a filter and basket with hot water poured over it. 

The ratio of grinds to water is usually 2-3 tablespoons of grinds per cup of water. Thus, Americans tend to use almost a full cup of grinds every time we make coffee. 

In comparison, french press coffee is simply grinds added to a teapot-like container. But, there is a press at the top that you use to press down the grinds after the coffee has steeped for several minutes in boiling water. The ratio of grinds to water is about the same as for a drip coffee. 

So, if you’re staying in Medellin or Bogota you may find that French press coffee makers are everywhere. This is because these devices draw out the most flavor and caffeine. 

As for myself, I use an Italian-style stove top espresso percolator. I like this device because I’m only making coffee for myself and I only have a large french press so much of my coffee grinds would go to waste. Additionally, If you enjoy Italian-styled espresso, this machine is great.

 The awesome part of Colombia is you’re never far from a supermarket that will provide you with the gadget you need to make your coffee! But, if you’re feeling adventurous, you can try making the type of coffee traditionally made in Colombian kitchens in small “oletas”. 

We will go over this method in its own section though! 

Best Supermarkets in Medellin for Coffee? 

If you’re staying at Soul Lifestyle hotel, you are right next door to a local Carulla. These are the Colombian version of Wholefoods or Trader Joe’s. And, they have a whole slew of coffee varieties! 

If you are not familiar with the area and are just getting your bearings, Carulla is the place to go. But we will discuss some other potential shops you can visit as well. 

To begin, at Carulla you can get almost any type of coffee from very expensive to very cheap. If you’re accustomed to gas station coffee, then you won’t be disappointed. You can easily find a pound of this coffee for only $2-$3 US dollars. 

Or, if you like Starbucks or something better than Starbucks, you can find it here too! But, if you’re looking for local, homegrown, niche coffee, there are several shops you can get this from. 

But we will first go over the chain stores: 

  • Carulla: best over all variety of coffees and specialty coffees 
  • Olympica: Colombia’s version of a Wawa, with some varieties of coffee but not as extensive
  • Exito: a nice homeware and kitchen supplies store. They have some food and coffees at specific locations
  • Niche coffee shops: all over Medellin you will find niche coffee shops with artisan bagged take home coffee

Again, my personal recommendation is to go to Carulla. Especially if you are more accustomed to higher quality coffee. But, if you’re looking for something families and predictable, any of the major department stores will do!

Pasilla vs. Specialty Coffee

Best Homemade Coffee

To begin, what is pasilla (pronounced “pasiya”)? In Spanish, this term is used to refer to poor quality coffee. This is coffee that is too low quality to ship overseas. In many ways, you could say it is lower quality than your average gas station coffee, even though the taste isn’t overly distinctive.

Colombia traditionally sold almost all of its high-quality coffee overseas. In more recent years this has changed, but traditionally they kept only low-quality coffee for themselves. This coffee is usually grown under poor conditions, with little to no fertilizer, and is often infected or has an infestation. 

Although safe, these factors can impact the flavor and quality of your coffee. The best illustration of the quality is the rank it commonly receives on the global market. This rank is known as the “Cupping Score“. 

The price is determined by a series of tests performed on the coffee beans. These are literal taste tests that occur first at the farm and then at the trading center. After tasting and examining a batch of beans, the tasters give it a score between 1-100. 

Beans seldom get a ranking of 1, since this is such a low score no one would ever try to sell it. And, a score of 100 is not unheard of but extremely rare and expensive. 

To give you an idea of how the ranking works, here is a brief breakdown: 

  • Beans are ranked based on taste, scent, fragrance, acidity, and the body of the drink
  • After the quality of the bean is determined they are given a sale price
  • The sale price is reflected by the score between 1-100 given by the tasters 

Most coffee sold in America ranks between 50 and 90. But, pasilla is kept in the country. This coffee scores below 40. Typically, Colombians make this coffee with “aguapanella”, or sugar water and plenty of milk to cover the taste. 

Best Brands for Americans 

These are the top Colombian coffee brands as compared with common American brands. 

Colombian Brand American Brand 
OrigenStumpton, Kauai, Illy, and Small World (some are local east coast coffee)
Maitz Allegro, Wholefoods 365, Christopher’s Coffee, and Coffee Bean Direct 
Juan ValdezStarbucks, Dunkin, and Green Mountain
Oma Folgers, Maxwell House, and Wawa
Modelo Oro Generic, store-brand coffee (low quality)

This chart is based on the levels of quality. It is not based on the individual taste or flavor profiles exactly. For example, Origen coffee has a unique flavor profile and is available in light, medium, and dark roasts. When I compare this brand to Illy, I do not mean it has the intensity of the dark espresso roast if you were to get the light Origen blend. But, the quality of the beans themselves is comparable to Illy!

My Personal Favorites

Origen Coffee

Best Homemade Coffee

My absolute favorite brand to get for my stay in Medellin is Origen. In fact, the first time I tried this coffee was at the Soul Lifestyle hotel. As a welcoming gift, they left a small bag of this coffee as a sample.

The flavor is fresh and pleasant. Of course, there are light, medium, and dark roasts and each has a slightly different flavor profile. But, since the coffee is very fresh and is made of high-quality beans.

Just make sure you are careful what method you use to make this roast if you buy the pre-ground variety. My personal experience has been that this coffee is ground for french press machines, rather than the drip machine. If you use this coffee in a typical American machine, the grinds may not drain correctly as it brews and this can cause the machine to overflow.

So, if you use this in a drip machine, be careful how much you add. This can make your coffee a little weaker than you might be used to, so I’d recommend using a french press if they’re available to you!

Juan Valdez 

Best Homemade Coffee

Juan Valdez is the national chain coffee shop in Colombia. It is not an overstatement to say that this is Colombia’s Starbucks (even though they have Starbucks too).

I like Juan Valdez for the usual, familiar flavor it has. If you enjoy a coffee that has a mild undertone that does not overwhelm, this is the best option. When I compare it to Starbucks I am referring to this aspect of the blend.

Starbucks has its own unique flavor profiles. But, if you want a local chain Colombian brand with similar quality, Juan Valdez is worth trying.

Matiz

Matiz is a pleasant brand that is of slightly higher quality than Juan Valdez. It is perfect for making a traditional drip coffee, and is not stale or burn in flavor.

In my opinion, the dark roast is the closest I’ve had to the Illy espresso roast. So, it is my favorite when I use my Italian stovetop percolator. The light roast is very light and does not taste acidic at all. It makes the best cold brew!

Definitely give this brand a try if you are a fan of Italian-styled coffees!

Oma and Modelo Oro

Both of these brands are not among my top ten favorites. But, I feel they should be discussed here because they emulate a very familiar flavor to most Americans and Westerners.

If you go anywhere in the mid-west you are bound to find a gas station. In New Jersey, we have Wawa and 7-11 who must compete with a lot of local higher quality chain shops. But, this isn’t the case for most of America.

I am not a fan of the dark, ashen flavored coffee served at most diners and gas stations across the country. But, the truth is this is the flavor most people associate with coffee. It is comforting and familiar to them.

For those of you just looking for the simple, black hot liquid you get every morning, these brands are best!

Best Small Shops for Artisan Coffee

Of course, there are those of us who need that extra special cup of coffee once in a while. And, we like to try our hand at being a first-class barista in our own homes. For this, you should visit the small shops which dot the Medellin landscape!

Best Homemade Coffee

I will give you a thorough breakdown of each of these amazing cafes you should visit in an article of their own. But, for now, my top recommendations are Noir cafe and Pergamino Cafe. Each of these cafes offers coffee in-house or for you to take home.

For the darkest coffee, I recommend Noir Cafe. For the most balanced and American-friendly, I recommend Pergamino Cafe (they have bagged cold brew to take home!). The photo above is the bag of rare and delicious Geisha coffee I purchased at Pergamino.

If you plan to stay at Soul Lifestyle or the Marquee, you are never far from either of these shops. One of the closest Pergamino Cafes to the Marquee is located at: Cra. 37 #8A-37, Medellín, Antioquia, Colombia. And, Noir cafe can be found near the local bars and restaurants at: Cl. 8 #37a41, Medellín, Antioquia, Colombia.

How to Make it At Home

The two most popular methods for making coffee in Colombia are with a French press or with an espresso bar (for cafe con leche). But, there is a stovetop method that utilizes simple pots and some sugar that is a traditional favorite as well.

This method is sometimes called “panela” by westerners. But, this is actually the name of the type of sugar the people add as the water comes to a boil. The mixture is known simply as “agua panela”, which we’d translate to mean “sugar water”.

The cook then adds heaping spoonfuls of low-quality coffee (pasilla) to the boiling mixture. After it’s boiled a considerable amount of time the grinds are allowed to sink to the bottom and the coffee is served with non-dairy creamer. This is commonly known as Tinto, a simple black or sweetened coffee made from low-quality coffee beans.

In my mind this does not sound all that different from the regular gas station coffee you might get at 7-11. Albeit, the strength of the coffee may be more intense. But, it is an excellent way to try your hand at a traditional style of coffee in Colombia.

Taking Home Your Coffee

In summary, shopping for your coffee in Colombia is very much like shopping back home. The most important part is to find the grind that works the best for you! Although I gave my recommendations, I hope you won’t be afraid to try your hand at a few different varieties.

Also, make sure you try the different strengths as well! If one brand seems too light, double-check to make sure you didn’t purchase the “mild” or “balanced” blends. Otherwise, you should feel unafraid to explore!

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