Coffee is gossip, says entrepreneur trying to save his family’s legacy

Colombian teaches human-rights and personal finance classes to his employees to give back to his country

By Michael Jabri-Pickett, Editor-in-Chief

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Photo: Duncan Couto
Photo: Duncan Couto

Published: Mon 24 Jun 2024, 3:01 PM

The future of Colombia rests in the hands of men like Juan Felipe Lozano, a 30-year-old law school graduate who is also a coffee maker, an entrepreneur, and a social activist.

Lozano is part of the new generation that has emerged from the deal the government signed with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) eight years ago this month. It is his focus and passion for his business and for his compatriots that has helped him discover what is important. If Colombia is going to rise from its guerilla-fighting and drug-producing past, Lozano’s vision must become reality.

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To appreciate the challenges ahead for Lozano and his generation, it is essential first to know a little about his country over the past half-century.

In the mid-1960s, the guerrilla group called the National Liberation Army (Colombia) was created (different from FARC, which also started in the 1960s); in the 1980s, Pablo Escobar started to make a name for himself; and for 15 years, starting from 2001, a relentless and persistent number of bombings, kidnappings, and politically motivated killings occurred in major Colombian cities.

Two civil wars will disrupt a country’s growth and impact generations. In 2023, the US think-tank Fund for Peace ranked Colombia 58th on its Fragile States Index (previously known as the Failed States Index). The country, however, is bouncing back and Colombians like Lozano are the reason why.

His family comes from coffee growers. As a result of the violence that followed the guerilla fighting in the 1970s and 1980s, many families in the coffee-growing business moved from the rural areas to the cities. “As a kid, I grew up listening to my family’s stories of the coffee fields,” he says. “I figured it was my duty to recover our family tradition.”

KT Photo: Michael Jabri-Pickett
KT Photo: Michael Jabri-Pickett

The World Bank Group, which is an observer at the UN Development Group, says that Colombia is the second-largest coffee exporting country at about six million bags per year. (Brazil is number one.) In Colombia, coffee cultivation accounts for about seven percent of GDP.

Colombian coffee has countless varieties and textures due to the accidental geography of the country. Interestingly, coffee has a more complex chemical structure than that of wine and yet it is 98% water.

To Lozano, however, coffee is 100% his everything. It is “my identity, my family, and my country”.

When Lozano speaks of the smell of coffee, he takes on the persona of an aromachologist. He speaks first of fragrance and then aroma, and how the olfaction system is at work “like getting to know a person”.

In Colombia, he says, coffee is “gossip”. It is an excuse to come together and chat, gossip, socialise. Coffee is the justification to be with your friends and family, he says.

KT Photo: Michael Jabri-Pickett
KT Photo: Michael Jabri-Pickett

Lozano’s journey is part of the fabric of modern-day Colombia. Before starting university a decade ago, he served in Colombia’s army as a soldier. “I realised that most – if not all – army and guerilla fighters had no idea why they were fighting. They are just normal people put in awful circumstances,” he says.

While serving in the 7th Logistics Batallion, Lozano says he had “amazing” conversations with people on both sides of the conflict. “In the end, we could all agree that war was pointless and that there was nothing better than sharing a cup of Colombian coffee with our families.”

After his military service, Lozano studied law and international relations at Pontificia Universidad Javeriana in Bogota. This was where his coffee idea hit him. “I started selling coffee in the hallways of the university.”

Despite graduating with a law degree, Lozano approached his parents seven years ago for a loan of what was the equivalent of less than Dh300 to start his own coffee company, Caffa Colombia. He proudly declares: “I started Caffa with less than 100 US dollars!”

His third coffee shop is set to open this year, and he says it will be four times the size of his first shop. For Lozano, building a coffee company is not enough. His Caffa Colombia Instagram bio states: specialty coffee experiences with social impact. So, in his soon-to-open third store, the kitchen will be rented out to those who need a chance to build their own business. “We call it cocina emprendedora or entrepreneurs’ kitchen. Not free of charge, but definitely lower prices than renting a kitchen in the normal market." Special prices and companionship for entrepreneurs is how Lozano describes it.

KT Photo: Michael Jabri-Pickett
KT Photo: Michael Jabri-Pickett

The social impact aspect is also at the core of why Lozano started his company. He makes an effort to hire women – they make up 80% of his staff – and he goes one step further. He teaches all his employees human-rights and personal finance classes. “Money is useless” without proper personal finance knowledge, he says. “I’m already working very hard to give them fair wages. I need to make sure that money is properly expended. If you are going to help, make sure that help is real and useful.”

Lozano leans into one of the biggest segments of the business world in Latin America in 2024: single mothers.

According to a March 2016 story from Colombia Reports, an online English newspaper based in Medellin, 84% of the country’s children were born outside of marriage, which means there are plenty of single mothers in the country.

“Especially in Latin America, there is a hiring gap regarding gender and it is even worse for single mothers. I’m just trying to pull the balance the other way.”

As he tries to change the perception of his beloved country, he is also changing the lives of the people with whom he works.

After the first few classes he taught to coffee growers, he noticed how they viewed their own coffee. Helping young people, who had no idea what they wanted to do, gave him purpose. “I figured that if doing this could change their lives then it was something I was meant to do. That was the moment I realised the power of coffee in Colombian society.”

Want to experience Colombian coffee culture for yourself? What to know


Emirates daily flight EK213 departs Dubai at 0215hrs and arrives in Miami at 1005hrs. The flight then departs Miami at 1205hrs, arriving in Bogota at 1455hrs. Emirates return flight EK214 leaves Bogota at 1719hrs and arrives in Miami at 2215hrs. The flight then departs Miami at 0045hrs the next day arriving in Dubai at 2300hrs. All times are local.


Emirates Boeing 777 aircraft


Passengers on flights in both directions between Dubai and Bogota should meet entry regulations for the United States and hold the required documents, due to immigration procedures in Miami.


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