It’s hard to say which of Colombia’s two cash crops garners more international attention, the white or the black one. One thing is for certain: both are synonymous with quality. The country’s first bumper crop was coffee. Colombia is the second-largest producer of hand-picked mild Arabica coffee after Brazil and the third-largest overall coffee producer in the world (behind Vietnam and Brazil). High temperatures, heavy rainfall and cool evening breezes make Colombia the bean’s ideal habitat, though changes in weather patterns have led to poor crops in recent years: 7.8 million bags were produced in 2011 following torrential downpours, fungus and flooding, well below the average of around 12 million.
Cocaine was perceived as an innocuous stimulant until the twentieth century. Two US presidents, several European monarchs and even a pope were early addicts (and vocal advocates) of Vin Tonique Mariani, a nineteenth-century liqueur made from coca extract. The “real thing” that Coca-Cola initially pushed on its customers was cocaine. For Sigmund Freud, a spoonful of coke each day was the cure for depression. Plan Colombia has seen some decline in coca cultivation, though coca growers have merely moved on to producing hardier coca crops that give four times as much yield and grow far faster than old crops, though the cocaine-related cartel violence that used to plague the cities of Medellín and Cali has recently been “exported” to Mexico, where drug trade-related murders have risen dramatically in the last few years.