BOGOTA, Colombia -- When coffee giant Starbucks recently announced it was bringing its frappuccinos and skinny lattes to Colombia where a cup of coffee is better known as a tinto it sparked jokes about selling ice to Eskimos and captured global headlines. But it also obscured a growing contender in the global caffeine war, Colombias Juan Valdez coffee shops.
The high-end java retailer is already in eight countries including the United States, where it has stores in Washington, D.C., New York and Miami International Airport but it has far more ambitious plans.
In the next year or so, it will be opening locations in Central America, South Korea, Malaysia and throughout the Middle East.
It also has Venti-sized aspirations for Florida. Starting early next year, Juan Valdez expects to open the first of 50 or 60 locations in southern Florida, said Hernán Méndez, chief executive of Procafecol, which operates the Juan Valdez chain.
The company that will lead Juan Valdezs incursion into the heartland of Café Cubano is JVC Franco LLC.
Juan Valdez is a high-quality brand and product and were confident that it will be successful in Florida, said Rafael Belloso with JVC Franco, who is also a longtime Burger King franchisee through his company Beboca. This is a niche where Juan Valdez can develop into a global brand.
When the coffee shops were launched in 2002, Juan Valdez was already a household name. The mustachioed farmer and his mule Conchita are the personification of Colombian coffee and they have been promoting it around the globe ever since the 1950s, when the characters were hatched by a Manhattan ad firm.
The coffee chain, owned by the National Federation of Colombian Coffee Growers, simply capitalized on the name.
But you wont find many farmers in ponchos at the cafes. In many ways the Juan Valdez chain is Colombias answer to Starbucks. It sells high-end brew to urbanites willing to pay a premium for their black fantastic. And for the most part, it has gone unchallenged on its home turf.
At the Procafecol headquarters in a trendy area of Bogotá, Méndez admits Starbucks arrival is a game-changer. But he also thinks Juan Valdez has home-field advantage.
We dont feel a threat seeing them here and I think it would be good for people to really compare and see what the difference is, he said. We think we have an edge on quality. And we have  stores with great locations. Thats a very big asset.
Even so, Juan Valdez has struggled to turn a profit until recently. The company operated in the red until 2012, when it eked out a net profit of about $762,000. Its on track to more than double that number this year.
In countries where the two companies are competing, such as Mexico and Aruba, Juan Valdez is holding its own, Mendez said. Chile is a prime example. There, Juan Valdez has 13 stores, many of which are close to the 50 stores that Starbucks operates.
We monitor perceptions and what our [Chilean] clients say, Mendez explained. What they always bring out is the quality of the coffee. There is a very big base of consumers who would prefer the 100 percent Colombian coffee that we serve in our stores versus blends that Starbucks might have.
In Colombia, at least, Starbucks seems sensitive to the issue.