What’s life like for Juan Valdez, Colombia's most famous coffee grower?
My life consists of travelling around the world with my mule Conchita representing the determination of Colombia's 500,000 coffee growers. I've become an ambassador for coffee and for Colombians. In each country I visit, I illustrate how the work of Colombian coffee growers leads to Colombia's signature drink.
What time does your day start?
It depends on the time of the year. If we are harvesting, it starts at 5:00 in the morning and finishes very late. If I’m representing Colombian coffee growers, whenever they need me!
What is the most memorable moment Juan Valdez has ever experienced?
I believe that every day I collect unforgettable moments and friends. Wherever I go to represent coffee growers, people show their affection. It’s pleasing to witness how much they love our coffee. All my trips are very emotional. My work fills me with happiness, pride and the desire to continue.
What did it mean for you to be in Advertising Week?
I was with various advertising agencies on Fifth Avenue in New York and it was very nice because I was representing the country and all of its coffee growers. Juan Valdez attracts a lot of attention because he is the only icon made of flesh and bone.
Which celebrities have you had coffee with?
There are so many! I’ve had the opportunity to serve coffee to Barack Obama, and while most people would think it is difficult to have coffee with such an important man, it was a very joyful experience. There are many others like Juan Carlos the King of Spain and Charles Prince of Wales. I have many memories. To mention one, I had a coffee with Carlos Vives, who has a very special energy.
Which celebrity would you like to have a cup of coffee with?
With any Colombian artist or athlete and with any person who, through his or her work, contributes to the country's development. Also, with Pope Francis. I was very eager to have a coffee with Roberto Vélez, the new CEO of the Colombian Coffee Growers Federation, – and I’ve already succeeded in doing so.
Tell us about your first event.
My first event took place in my village, Andes, after being selected as Juan Valdez. I couldn’t believe it. The moment I arrived to my town and saw that people couldn’t fit in the park I realized how great this was. That's when you react and ask yourself, “What happened here?” It was amazing to see that people were so happy, supporting me. It was a very special moment.
What do you remember about the moment you became Juan Valdez?
First, I thought about my parents and, of course, my wife and children because they were all preoccupied by what I was doing in Bogotá. The nicest moment came quickly when I sat down in the office of Gabriel Silva, the director at that time, and he said to me with a smile, “the Colombian Coffee Growers Federation has decided that you are to be the new Juan Valdez”; this was very moving.
If you could say something to someone dreaming of becoming Juan Valdez, what would you say?
First, you have to be authentic, be a coffee grower in soul and body, and have the availability to do things with great love. I know that working in the field is very hard because I do it, and for that very reason, you have to be committed to all the coffee growers. I wish the best to whoever represents Juan Valdez in the future; may you do it well because you are representing the country.
What have been your favorite places to visit?
All of the 25 countries I’ve visited have their own charm. Given the little time available, it is somewhat difficult to enjoy the marvels of each country. However, I always try to learn something. Japan really caught my attention. Despite being a small country with so many people, it is very organized. But it’s very hard to choose a favorite, because each country has its appeal.
Which coffee region is your favorite?
I like the coffee from Colombia. The good thing about our country and our coffee is that we possess different aromas and flavors, all of excellent quality. Thus, we have coffees for all tastes and occasions. So, for me, all Colombian coffees are my favorites.