Carlos Sanchez, Who Portrayed Coffee Icon Juan Valdez, Dies At 83

Carlos Sanchez, who portrayed Juan Valdez the unofficial ambassador of Colombian coffee for some 30 years, has died at the age of 83.

Carlos Sanchez, a Colombian coffee grower who became something of a worldwide celebrity as Juan Valdez, the face of Colombia’s coffee industry, has died at the age of 83:

Carlos Sánchez, who for nearly four decades played Juan Valdez, the embodiment of Colombian coffee and one of the most recognizable pitchmen in the world, died on Dec. 29 in Medellín. He was 83.

His death was confirmed in an email from Colombia’s National Federation of Coffee Growers, which did not specify the cause.

Mr. Sánchez first donned Valdez’s signature wide-brimmed hat in 1969. He took over for Jose F. Duval, a Cuban actor who had played the character since it was created by the New York advertising agency Doyle Dane Bernbach in 1959.

Mr. Sánchez was Colombian and grew coffee as a youth before turning to painting and acting. As Valdez, an indefatigable farmer with a warm expression, a lush mustache and a mule named Conchita, he became an avatar for the farmers who harvested Colombia’s coffee beans and a positive depiction of a country that was often equated with terrorism and drug trafficking.

“I presented the image of the Colombian coffee grower, an honest man, hard-working, traditional,” Mr. Sánchez told The New York Times in 2001. “Juan Valdez would get up early, pick coffee, and what happened in time is the character became mythologized.”

Valdez picked beans on a Colombian hillside while a narrator described the laborious process behind what an early commercial called “the richest coffee in the world.”

He became more playful in later television commercials, in which he surprised consumers in markets and cafes; and in print advertisements, in which he surfed and hang-glided as part of a campaign that encouraged young coffee drinkers to “grab life by the beans.”

Carlos José Sánchez Jaramillo was born in Fredonia, Colombia, in 1935. He studied at the University of Antioquia before becoming a painter, and at 25 enrolled in a theater school in Cali.

His survivors include a wife and two sons.

A downturn in coffee prices beginning in the late 1990s led the Colombian coffee growers’ federation to dial back its advertising, putting Valdez at risk. Mr. Sánchez said that losing the character would be like undergoing an amputation.

“Juan Valdez is an integral part of Carlos Sánchez,” he told The Times in 2001. “So if Juan Valdez ceases to exist, well, naturally it is like losing a limb.”

Valdez survived the setback, and in 2006 Mr. Sánchez retired from the role, which he said he had played with pride.

The commercials featuring the Valdez character were common on television in the 70s and 80s, when the primary source of coffee for most Americans were from store-bought brands such as Maxwell House and Folgers and they were meant to promote those brands that used beans picked in Colombia as opposed to other sources such as Brazil. The character was also featured in magazine and newspaper advertisements to the point where it became so ubiquitous that it was referenced by Johnny Carson during his Tonight Show monologues on many occasions during that period. Starting in the 90s, when coffee started to become more of a gourmet item thanks to the marketing that led to the rise of Starbucks and other similar brands, it seemed as though the character had disappeared, although that was not really the case. In any event, at some point, Valdez became something of a celebrity although I can’t say I recall the actor portraying him going on many publicity tours, most likely because the advertising agency and its client wanted to keep the illusion as alive as possible.

Here are some of the original commercials, for those who don’t remember:

And I guess in this case, the appropriate thing to do is to have a mug of coffee while watching, though I’m sure Mr. Valdez would want you to make sure its coffee from Colombia.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. CSK says:

    Vaya con Dios, Senor Sanchez. Colombian coffee is superb.

  2. Kathy says:

    Colombian coffee never had much penetration in the Mexican market. I am aware of the Juan Valdez character and the branding behind him, but have never seen the commercials.

    Colombian coffee is good, no question, if you get a good bean properly processed. The local Costco sells big cans of allegedly Colombian coffee grounds, which is just a bit better than instant coffee.

    I’ve been lucky at the office since we landed customers in Veracruz. Whenever someone goes to a meeting there (several times a year), they bring back 2 kilos of a local mix, freshly ground on site. We also have customers in Chiapas, though meetings there are less frequent.

  3. Lynn says:

    Those orders at the beginning of the third video remind me of being in Starbucks.