Later spots featured Juan Valdez and his mule, Conchita, turning up in grocery aisles, commuter trains and kitchen cupboards, hawking "100 percent Colombian coffee," a label adopted by retailers such as Folger's and Yuban. Airplanes and locomotives were shown reversing course after forgetting their hauls of Colombian coffee.
Subsequent ads, catering to a younger crowd, featured Juan Valdez surfing, snowboarding and hang gliding. The slogan: "Take life by the beans."
But plummeting coffee prices in the late 1990s sent the industry reeling, and Colombian growers have been seeking new strategies ever since.
The newest Juan Valdez is played by Carlos Castaneda, 41, a coffee farmer and father of three from the appropriately named town of Andes, in the Antioquia department.
Castaneda was chosen after a two-year search that involved branding consultants, casting agents, psychologists, physical trainers, coffee executives and agronomists, among others. Screeners filtered more than 400 mustachioed hopefuls.
Some compared the procedure to a papal succession - but there have been more popes in the last half-century than Juan Valdezes. Castaneda received the poncho and mule in a formal hand-over ceremony staged to melancholy music and memorialized on YouTube. Castaneda, who had never flown in an airplane before winning his post, seems to have warmed to being a traveling trademark and celebrity.
David Altschul, whose Portland, Ore., company, Character, helped reshape the character, recently ran into Castaneda at a coffee confab in Arizona.
"He had just gotten back from Tokyo, and as soon as he was finished in Phoenix, he was heading off to Moscow," Altschul said. "But he was as solid and well-grounded and charming as when I first saw him in Colombia. He hasn't let this global icon status go to his head at all."
Patrick McDonnell writes for the Los Angeles Times.