When icons do battle, it’s epic stuff… Godzilla and Mothra. Kirk and Kahn. IBM and Apple. Juan and the Mermaid?

The Colombian Coffee Federation – that even sounds epic! – fronted by the fictional Juan Valdez, is preparing for battle with the Siren of Seattle. The Seattle Times calls it thisaway:

Long before Starbucks hit the mainstream, Valdez was the face of coffee to many Americans, leading his mule through coffee fields and grocery-store aisles on TV ads sponsored by the National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia.

Now, the federation is looking to parlay Valdez’s familiar image into a global chain of high-end coffee shops. Ten Juan Valdez stores are up and running in Colombia, and federation chief Gabriel Silva told Reuters this week that the chain will open at least eight U.S. stores later this year.

It’s a bold move for the Colombian group… and the logic is eminently clear: why settle for pennies per pound for green coffee beans when the beverage business gets dollars per cup?

The upside is huge, but so’s the risk. Does Juan still carry the iconic power he held while Mrs. Olson was hawking Folgers, and Mr. Coffee was the state-of-the-art of brewing tech? Can any coffee house stand on the one leg of a single origin, ‘specially one that’s the very definition of mild, unassuming coffee? We’ll see soon enough.

Bonus question: What was Juan’s mule’s name? [Look in the comments, below, for the answer!]

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