Paraguay isn’t well-known in the specialty coffee world – and, if I’m honest, the specialty coffee world isn’t well-known in Paraguay. Yet slowly but surely, things are changing. Small pockets of consumers are discovering the third wave, thanks to the hard work of local pioneers.
Let me introduce you to Paraguay’s coffee scene, from its festivals to its roasteries, and the challenges it still has to face.
Coffee bar at Asu Coffee Fest in Paraguay. Credit: Mer Espinola
Do Paraguayans Drink Coffee?
Traditional yerba mate drinks have always been more popular than coffee here in Paraguay, with customers ordering tereré (cold mate with herbs) or cocido (mate burned with coal) over a flat white or even an espresso.
What’s more, coffee imports have fluctuated greatly since 2009. They dropped to just 530 US tons at their lowest point in 2013 (UN Comtrade). This was despite a higher than average rate of economic growth from the region (World Bank).
Yet in 2016, after eight years of wobbly trade, imports reached their pre-slump height of 840 US tons again. On top of that, a CGR market study indicates that 2016 coffee sales grew by 2% compared to the previous year, with US $22.7 million of sales. It’s a small increase, but compared to the falling imports of previous years, it’s promising.
In third wave coffee shops like Mary’s Coffee House, where I work, we believe Paraguayans are rediscovering their thirst for coffee. And the data appears that we might be right.
Mary’s Coffee House serves up a coffee, complete with latte art, for a customer. Credit: Mary’s Coffee House
A More Diverse Menu for Paraguayans
What’s more, we believe this new trend has more room for specialty coffee. Five years ago, there was little choice on the average coffee shop menu or even the supermarket aisle. Today, however, there are more brands, more origins, and more options – and the consumer is beginning to ask for them.
Juan Valdez, the coffee brand belonging to the Colombian Coffee Growers Federation, has been available in Paraguay from late 2014, and opened its first shop in 2015. US coffee shop chain The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf arrived that same year.
Today, Paraguay also has its very own specialty coffee roaster, specialising in Salvadoran coffees: Kafa Tostadores. This gives consumers a greater variety of coffees to purchase but also more information about where their coffee is from.
Paraguay’s coffee scene is growing, new shops are opening their doors. Credit: Matt Hoffman
More Knowledgeable Consumers
Although there are some coffee farms here in Paraguay, they are limited in number compared to neighbouring countries. This means Kafa Tostadores and other third wave cafés are enriching experiences for those who want to know more about coffee, whether it’s production, roasting, or brewing.
Café Consulado, for example, fuses good coffee with art to pique consumers’ curiosity. Mary’s Coffee House holds regular educational activities: barista courses on origins, varieties, coffee history, and brew methods; coffee pairings; coffee cuppings; and more.
And as of 2016, Paraguay even has its own coffee festival, Asu Coffee Fest. It’s held in Asunción, the capital city. In its first year, 1,500 people attended; this year, that number rose to 3,000. Laura Doldán, one of the organizers, tells me that coffee is gaining more and more prominence at the country level and that they organized the event to answer consumers’ questions and concerns.
The country’s third wave pioneers are working hard to show consumers that coffee is more than just a drink – and that knowing the story behind the coffee makes for an even better experience.
Baristas with their certificates after completing a one-day course at Mary’s Coffee House. Credit: Mary’s Coffee House
Challenges Facing Paraguay’s Cafés
However, while passion for coffee is growing among consumers, there are still several challenges facing coffee shops. In particular, they need to:
- Find ways to share information with consumers. In Paraguay, there are many myths about coffee, often with no factual basis.
- Explain the story of coffee in a way that is accessible, informative, and interesting so that the consumer wants to know more. Creating a space to learn about coffee and then driving interest in it is key.
- Introduce consumers to quality coffee. Like many countries that are only just beginning to adopt coffee, this can be a challenge. Mary, the Barista Manager of Mary’s Coffee House, believes in the importance of the barista-consumer relationship for this.
A barista explains different brew methods at Mary’s Coffee House. Credit: Mary’s Coffee House
Yet although it’s slow, there is clear progress in Paraguay. Consumers are looking for professional baristas, different brew methods, and high-quality coffee. The trick is to nurture this trend so that more and more consumers grow interested in it.
Written by Silvia Jung of Mary’s Coffee House, Paraguay.
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