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A Tale of Two [Coffee] Cultures

Colombian Coffee Beans, Belgian Coffee Culture, & The Journey of Velvet Coffee

Colombian coffee and Belgian coffee culture

As dawn breaks over the Colombian mountains, the afternoon sun is already bathing the streets of Brussels - people on terraces enjoying the warmth of a cup and the sun. Two cities, worlds apart, yet bound by a common thread: a shared love for coffee. This is the confluence where Velvet Coffee began, a rendezvous of traditions, a delicate waltz of Colombian fervor and Belgian elegance. This isn't just a brew; it's an experience that tells the tale of two distinct cultures converging in one cup. 

The journey from beans to roast to shop is as much about the bean's origin as it is about the hands that craft it. At Velvet Coffee, every cup is a story, a tale of unity, diversity, and the sublime harmony that emerges when worlds collide.

Colombia: The Heartbeat Coffee Region

Nestled amidst the majestic Andes, the Colombian Coffee Region pulses with life, legacy, and aromas that dance through the crisp mountain air. This verdant expanse is not just geographically significant; it's the cradle of some of the world's most sought-after coffee beans.

Renowned worldwide for its high quality and distinctly flavoured beans, Colombia is one of the world's largest coffee producers and is known for producing some of the finest Arabica coffee beans. 

Nature's Bounty: The region, also known as the Coffee Triangle, comprises the states of Caldas, Quindío, and Risaralda. With its unique trifecta of altitude, temperature, and rainfall, the land yields beans bathed in optimal growth conditions. Volcanic soils further enrich these beans, imparting a deep, mineral-rich flavor profile. However, while this region is known the world over, not many know that there plenty of provinces all over Colombia grow their own diverse and unique coffee. At Velvet Coffee, the beans come not only from the Coffee Triangle but also from little known areas, such as Choco (the coffee was featured in the Fuerza line) and Boyacá (which produces a pink bourbon variety that is featured in the El Dorado line).

Shade-Grown Excellence: Unlike some mass-produced beans that grow under direct sunlight, Colombian coffee cherries often flourish under the shade of banana and rubber trees. This method of cultivation not only ensures a slower maturation process, leading to richer flavors, but also promotes environmental sustainability.

Altitudinal Effects: The altitude at which coffee is grown significantly impacts its flavor. Colombian coffee is often grown at high altitudes, which contributes to its bright acidity and nuanced flavors. The combination of altitude and climate creates optimal conditions for slow bean development, resulting in enhanced taste.

Arabica's Reign: Colombia predominantly grows Arabica beans, which are celebrated for their smooth, aromatic profiles. While Robusta beans dominate in many regions globally due to their resilience and higher caffeine content, Colombia's unwavering commitment to Arabica ensures a premium cup every time.

Small Farms, Big Impact: Many coffee farms in Colombia are small holdings, passed down through generations. These families take immense pride in their craft. The beans are often handpicked, ensuring that only the ripest cherries make it to the processing units.

Fair Trade and Sustainability: Colombia has made efforts to promote fair trade practices and sustainable coffee production. Many coffee farmers in the country have adopted eco-friendly farming methods to protect both their crops and the environment.

Burst of Flavors: Colombian coffee beans are renowned for their balanced flavour profile. It typically offers a medium body, bright acidity, often characterized by nutty undertones, bright acidity, and hints of caramel or chocolate. This symphony of flavors is a testament to the meticulous care local farmers invest, right from planting to processing.

Cultural Significance: Coffee has played a significant role in Colombian culture and society. Coffee farms, known as "fincas," are important landmarks in rural areas, and coffee-related festivals and events are celebrated throughout the country.

Belgium & Coffee: A Coffee Culture of Shared Indulgence

Belgium, a nation synonymous with culinary opulence, has long been celebrated for its gourmet traditions. Winding through its cobbled streets, one cannot help but be ensnared by the intoxicating aromas of rich chocolates, wafting from boutique chocolateries, and the yeasty allure of freshly brewed beers from centuries-old breweries. 

Belgium’s love affair with coffee is lesser-known but equally profound. With its strong tradition of cafes where people gather to socialise, a cup of coffee symbolises shared moments and quiet indulgence, often paired with pastries or desserts. 

A Gourmet Legacy: Belgium's penchant for the finer things in life is not a new-found fancy. For centuries, this European jewel has prided itself on its dedication to quality, be it in its renowned chocolates, waffles, beers, or cheeses. This gourmet culture has seamlessly integrated itself into the way Belgians appreciate their coffee. They take their coffee breaks seriously. It's not merely about the caffeine break; it's a luxurious ritual meant for savouring a moment of relaxation. 

Belgian Brews: Belgian coffee, typically characterized by its smooth and mellow profile, often finds itself accompanied by a square of dark chocolate or perhaps a biscotti on the side. The coffee itself might be served with a dollop of whipped cream or a dash of flavored syrup, turning a simple cup into a lavish experience.

Contrasts and Complements: While Colombian coffee culture is deeply rooted in community and the everyday hustle and bustle of local life, Belgian coffee moments often lean towards indulgence and relaxation. It's not uncommon to find Belgians enjoying their mid-afternoon coffee in elegant cafes, surrounded by ornate decor, soft jazz tunes, and an ambiance that invites one to linger just a little longer.

Third Wave Coffee Culture: While these quintessentially Belgian coffee shop traditions persist, the new generation are embracing the third wave coffee culture with open arms. Particularly in the big cities like Brussels, the third wave independent coffee scene is booming, with new independent coffee shops popping everywhere. Events such as the Brussels Coffee Week was met with resounding success. Moreover, initiatives to organise cuppings and competitions are gaining traction. The coffee culture in Belgium is becoming more and more alive, matching the fervour that the country has for all things culinary. 

Belgium's approach to coffee is a testament to its broader appreciation of the culinary arts. Every brew is not just a beverage; it's an experience, a journey through layers of flavor, tradition, and a deep-rooted love for gourmet indulgence. In juxtaposition with Colombia's vibrant coffee essence, Belgium offers a mellower, richer counterpoint, creating a harmonious blend of two worlds when they come together in a cup of Velvet Coffee.

From Medellin to Brussels: The Journey of Velvet Coffee

Much like any epic saga, the story of Velvet Coffe isn’t constrained to its place of origin; it’s been defined by its journey. 

In bustling Medellin, tucked in the chic enclave of the trendy district of El Poblado via Primavera, Cafe Velvet stands out. The tantalizing aroma of freshly brewed Colombian coffee, a hint of nutty undertones, and then – an unexpected delight: Belgian waffles. This cafe, and everything that came after, was the brainchild of Ilse Geyskens.

The coffee life came to her rather by accident but her journey draws a parallel to the beans she roasts. Prior to her foray into the world of coffee, she charted a successful career in corporate law and private equity. A move to the US changed her trajectory. Looking for a challenge that ignited her passion, Ilse found herself enticed not in Miami, but in Medellin.

Her arrival in Medellin in 2012 revealed a city that belied its past, resonating with a growing middle class, an infectious “can-do” spirit, and, perhaps most pivotal of all, a burgeoning coffee professionalism. For her, it was akin to the Belgians’ love and keenness for beer. Colombia knows its specialty coffee from commodity coffee the way Belgium knows an artisanal craft beer from a regular pint. 

Thus Cafe Velvet came about, born just at the cusp of the specialty coffee boom in the city and soon, it saw itself as one of the iconic coffee brands of Medellin. 

From this success came the bud of Velvet Coffee. Offering direct trade coffee that has been specially selected from Colombia coffee farms, Velvet coffee brings the confluence of two worlds in a cup. From the farms in Colombia, these beans are processed meticulously in the roasteries in Itagüí or Brussels and thereafter fill the carefully selected bags that represent the values Velvet Coffee stands for. 

The coffee’s journey captures the true essence of Velvet Coffee’s identity - a celebration of heritage, craftsmanship, and the timeless allure of coffee.

In a world where borders often divide, there's a certain poetic beauty in bringing together distinct cultures and flavors. Velvet Coffee is a testament to this intricate dance, merging the soul of Colombia with the artistry of Belgium. 

The tale of Velvet Coffee is not just one to be told, but one to be experienced. Each cup is a narrative, a journey through two continents, and an ode to the love and dedication poured into every bean. From the warm terrains of Colombia to the artisanal roastery in Belgium, it’s a story of passion, persistence, and a shared love for coffee.

Here at Velvet Coffee, coffee isn't just a drink; it's an experience, a celebration, and most importantly, a coming together of two beautiful worlds.

Looking Ahead: Bringing The Soul of Columbia In The Streets of Brussels

Eight years into this venture and Velvet Coffee’s journey has only just began. Having established itself in Medellin and quite in the spirit of its forebear, it has taken on another challenge. This time, closer to home. 

Velvet Coffee will soon grace the historic street of Rue Dansaert. Amidst the avant garde boutiques that serve as home to collections of internationally renowned designers such as Dries Van Noten and Martin Margiella, Velvet Coffee will unveil a new shop that will fit right in this beautiful street and will signify “home” more than anything else.

This new shop, which will launch in December 2023, will establish the collaboration between Velvet Coffee and the prestigious Belgian brand, Voort Studio. This partnership holds a special significance as the esteemed creator of Voort Studio is none other than Claire Vandervoort, Ilse’s daughter. This mother-daughter partnership will bring together the finest elements of coffee culture and sophisticated Belgian design, offering a unique experience for both coffee enthusiasts and admirers of refined aesthetics. This unique connection brings a personal touch to the collaboration, promising an exceptional experience for all patrons.

Join us in celebrating this harmonious blend of elegance and warmth, as we embark on a journey to redefine the art of coffee and design, built on familiar bonds.