Colombia’s Cafe Tinto: a Cultural Symbol

Tinto coffee is the most popular coffee beverage in Colombia, where coffee is a famous export and a cultural symbol. Whenever someone asks for a cafe Tinto in Colombia, it means they are ordering a strong and dark black coffee with added sugar.

Tinto is a staple drink in the country, and its preparation is the most popular way of consuming coffee; it is sold in street cars, coffee shops, mall cafes, and restaurants. This serving and distribution style is a longstanding tradition in many parts of Colombia, where Tinto is a culturally ingrained and cherished coffee option.

This article explains the Colombian Tinto coffee drink, its cultural background, relevance, how to prepare it, and the Tinto Campesino variation.

The name “Tinto” is Spanish for “red” or “dark red” and refers both to the color of the coffee cherries that carry the coffee “beans” (actually, they are the coffee cherry seed) before roasting and “Tinto” is also a term to describe something that has color in it, tinted.

Colombian coffee is known for its rich, smooth flavor and medium to high acidity. The red-Tinto terminology also caught on with the populace because of the ‘Sello Rojo’ brand, the most famously consumed by nationals. Sello Rojo (red seal) is considered one of the top coffee brands in Colombia and is widely popular both in the country and internationally.

Culture and Hospitality of Tinto Coffee

Offering a Tinto coffee is also associated with warmth and hospitality amongst family and community, welcoming them into one’s home or workplace. Having a “tinto” is a common cultural practice everywhere in Colombia for people of all ages and a way to start a conversation or business meeting.

Tinto coffee, also colloquially called “tintico” in Medellin – where the traditional brewing recipe is believed to originate, is often served in small, 4oz cups and is distributed by local vendors who carry their coffee in well-worn thermoses. Despite the unassuming appearance of the equipment, many people enjoy the traditional and authentic experience of drinking Tinto from a street vendor.

The historical background of Tinto Coffee

The origins of Tinto coffee in Colombia can be traced back to the late 1700s when coffee was first introduced to the country by French and Jesuit priests. Tinto is commonly associated with the region of Antioquia (where Medellin is located) and can be traced back to the traditional coffee-growing practices of the area. Colombia developed its own distinct culture and traditions over the years.

Tinto refers to the traditional preparation of black coffee, which is made by brewing freshly ground coffee beans with boiling water. This preparation method is straightforward, reflecting Colombian culture’s practical nature. Today, Tinto remains a beloved and ubiquitous beverage.

The Latin-American world has many cultural versions of dark coffee with sugar variations, which is by no means a coincidence. Sugar cane and coffee are two of the most important crops in Latin America. They play a significant role in the region’s economy in many countries, such as Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico. In addition, sugar cane and coffee production employ many people and provide a substantial source of income for rural communities in Colombia.

Some famous dark coffee with sugar variations includes “café con leche” (coffee with milk), “café cortado” (coffee with a dash of milk), and “café con hielo” (coffee with ice). Each country and region has its unique way of making coffee and its specific variations, making coffee an essential part of the cultural heritage in Latin America.

What is Panela sugar that goes into Tinto Coffee?

Panela, also known as “panela sugar,” is Colombia’s most commonly used sugar. It is made from pure, unrefined cane sugar and is known for its distinct flavor and aroma. The traditional small-scale production method helps retain higher amounts of molasses in the sugarcane, contributing to panela’s unique taste and smell. In addition, using panela instead of regular white sugar can add a unique flavor and aroma.

It has a distinctive, slightly molasses-like flavor and is widely used in traditional Colombian cooking and baking.

How to prepare Tinto Coffee

Tinto coffee is usually brewed using a traditional pour-over coffee pot at home or with a cafetiere similar to a French-Press, called “Chichera.” Street vendors either pre-prepare the coffee and serve them in thermo-jars or brew the Tinto in a Steam powered coffee maker to serve the beverage fresh.

First Method for brewing Tinto: classic pour-over

The classic pour-over brewing method for making Tinto coffee results in a soft and tasty cup of coffee, mainly because it allows the usage of the skimming technique by separating the coffee foam with a spoon.

For those who want to prepare Tinto coffee following the authentic Colombian Method, a cloth filter called a “colador” is necessary. It is used to strain the coffee grounds from the mixture. This is similar to the Japanese Nel drip method.

The “colador” goes on top of the serving pot (or tazas, meaning mugs), filtering the boiled mixture of coffee grounds, sugar, and water.

The traditional Method for preparing Tinto coffee involves a few simple steps. First, the ratio is 60% coffee to 40% sugar (preferably panela sugar).

  1. Boil water in a pot.
  2. While the water is boiling, grind coffee beans to a medium-fine consistency.
  3. Add the ground coffee to a large cup (taza) or serving pot
  4. Once the water has boiled, pour it over the ground coffee and the sugar and let it steep for about 3-4 minutes.
  5. Stir the coffee to mix the grounds and water thoroughly.
  6. Serve the Tinto coffee hot.

The Tinto Chichera Method

“Chichera” is a Spanish term used in Colombia to refer to a traditional coffee pot or coffee maker. It is similar to a French press in that it consists of a cylindrical glass or stainless steel container with a plunger and a metal or nylon mesh filter.

The coffee, water, and sugar (panela) are placed in the container.

The plunger separates the coffee grounds from the liquid once it has brewed to the desired strength.

It brews coffee by steeping the grounds in hot water and then separating them from the liquid using a plunger. “Chichera” is often used interchangeably with “cafetera”, another Spanish term for a coffee pot. “Cafetera” and “Chichera” are traditional Colombian coffee-making terminologies.

The ratio is also 60% coffee to 40% sugar (preferably panela sugar).

What is the Tinto Campesino?

“Tinto campesino” or “rural tinto” is a popular variant of the traditional Colombian “tinto” coffee. It is made by flavoring black coffee with panela and a mix of spices like cinnamon and cloves. Considered to have a stronger, more robust flavor than traditional “tinto” coffee, many people in Colombia enjoy this coffee as a unique variation of their regular cup of joe.


Every region in the world has unique perspectives and preferences on coffee consumption based on history, culture, and the love of coffee.

In Colombia, the world’s third biggest world coffee producer, having a Tinto is celebrating the country’s heritage in each cup.