In previous blogs we have already covered some of the reasons which contributed to the decline of production and exports of Bolivian coffee over the past ten years. The primary reasons mentioned were competition with coca production, disease such as the coffee rust, and inadequate management. The cumulative result is that coffee exports declined from a peak of 120,000 70kg bags per year more than ten years ago to under 30,000 bags last year.
Another factor which will put more pressure on exports, especially those of higher quality coffee is the current boom of local consumption. We are experiencing an unprecedented explosion of new coffee shops, some are very sophisticated, in all urban areas in the major cities of La Paz, Santa Cruz, and Cochabamba. In the past, coffee in coffee growing countries was usually of poor quality because the best coffee was saved as the cash crop for export, and many consumers in the local markets lacked the knowledge or income to afford high quality coffee. This has changed drastically in recent years in Bolivia.
I was able to count 13 coffee shops in a three block area in San Miguel, an upscale commercial area in La Paz. Only one - Juan Valdez, belongs to an international chain.
Some of these shops offer, in addition to espresso based drinks, coffees from the best farms in Bolivia, prepared in Chemex, aeropress, French press and other methods, as well as cold brews.
While this is in the upscale area of town, even the less wealthy shops and restaurants are upping the quality of their coffee products based on customer demand.
Scarce supply and increasing demand caused prices to shoot up in the domestic market independently of world prices. For the small producer it is now more convenient to sell in the local markets, avoiding the costs and hassles involved in exports.
So, international consumers, enjoy it while you can. Soon, buying direct from the farm like the Apasionado Coffee model might be the only way to compete with local coffee markets.
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