Every cup of coffee has a story at new Juan Valdez in downtown Miami

Franchise group opens first of 60 Juan Valdez coffeehouses in Florida

MIAMI - At a new Juan Valdez in downtown Miami, every cup of coffee has a story. One of their flavors comes from the ancient Tayrona culture, native to the northern tip of South America. Some sociologists believe the natives have a sacred spiritual connection with nature that is magical.

To survive the Spanish colonial system, the Tayronas found refuge in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta -- the world's highest coastal range. In an area near the Caribbean Sea, the Tayrona's Jewra community grows Arabica coffee plants.

The plants grow in rich volcanic soil. And their green beans go from the hands of the natives into sacks. Once they are toasted and packaged as Juan Valdez's 100 percent gourmet organic coffee, they are delivered to one of the 270 stores worldwide.

"I like this one a lot," Tony Guerra, of Citrus Miami, said during a coffee tasting Tuesday at Miami's first Juan Valdez coffee house. 

"I think it's because in Miami we like our coffee strong," Guerra said after taking another sip of the Sierra Nevada coffee, which has an intense, nutty flavor.

The vast selections of flavors available at Miami's first Juan Valdez, 101 NE 2nd Ave., come from beans grown in various regions of Colombia. The coffee beans also have one thing in common: They are all harvested by hand.

"It's the artisan way that has been passed down from generation to generation," said Alejandra Londoño, vice president of international business at Juan Valdez. "Other major growers in the world harvest their crops mechanically."

At the entrance of the store, there was a large sign. It had a picture of a man dressed like a peasant standing in the middle of a field. On the top it said, "Carlos is one of the 500,000 coffee growers' who owns this coffee shop."

About 18,000 growers are shareholders. The Colombian Coffee Growers Federation is the company's main shareholder, and since it created the Juan Valdez icon it also gets a percentage of the revenues.  

"With every cup of coffee, customers can help Colombian growers," Londoño said.

Juan Valdez adopted the franchise model in 2011. A franchise group invested in the brand. They opened the downtown coffeehouse and plan to open 60 more in Florida within the next five years. The location at 364 SW 1st St., in downtown Miami is next.

Venezuelan businessman Rafael Belloso is part of the Juan Valdez franchise group investing in Florida. He said in Spanish that he was proud to stand behind the brand, because he knew the growers were committed to producing "the best coffee in the world."

In following the brand's concept, the person who prepares the coffee is known as a "baricultor," Londoño said.  The word is a combination of "barista," Italian for the person standing behind the bar, and "caficultor," Spanish for coffee grower.

The coffee house in downtown sells different types of iced coffee, lattes, cappuccinos and espressos. Customers can also create their own drink. The 16-ounce latte is $3.65 and the 12-ounce latte is $2.95. The drinks' flavorings include the expected Oreo cookie and brownie, and the unexpected "arequipe," a decadent jam made out of milk and sugar. 

The locally produced selection of pastries and desserts included Key lime pie, fruit tart, cupcakes, chocolate croissants and salty snacks. Le Macarone bakery in South Miami is one of the providers.

There were also corn griddle cakes called arepa de chocolo that are popular among Colombians and Venezuelans. The cheese bread called pandebono and small beef stuffed pastries called empanadas looked fresh.

The Miami coffeehouse, with a seating capacity for 40 and free Wi-Fi, has been hosting private events until its opening next week. Soccer superstar Radamel Falcao, 28, and some of his AS Monaco team members recently stopped by.  They were in town for a soccer game at Marlins Park.

Falcao posed for pictures with Juan Valdez, a man with the mustache and a wide-brimmed straw hat who was representing the fictional character. And with a full house, there was not enough room for Valdez's mule, Conchita.

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