Often grown at high altitudes, coffee from Colombia is also high in acidity and sweetness, with impressive cup quality. Expect a broad range of flavours including dark chocolate, cherry and other sweet fruits.
Coffee in Spanish: Café
Population: 49.4 million (2017)
Tons Produced: 816,000 (2016)
Main Varieties: , Typica, Caturra, Castillo, Colombia, Mundo Novo, Tabi, Bourbon, Catuai, Maragogype
Main Coffee Growing Regions
Santander (and North)
Valle Del Cauca
Coffee in Colombia
Colombian coffee is well known for its high quality. Typically grown at high altitudes, the beans mature more slower becoming denser and developing a bright acidity. It's success is in a large part down to the Federación Nacional de Cafeteros de Colombia (National Federation of Coffee Growers, FNC), which has focused on three simply stated goals since its founding in 1927; furthering the interest of Colombian coffee, to study its problems and to protect the industry. The terms are fairly broad but examples of this can be seen as follows.
In furthering the interest of Colombian coffee, the FNC have been strong marketeers. Perhaps their most successful marketing creation is Juan Valdez, a fictional and relatable coffee farmer who works hard with his mule, Conchita. Along with this, there is a strong emphasis on exported coffee being 100% Colombian, and therefore suggesting it's of premium quality.
For protecting the industry, the FNC also invests in local communities, helping to build roads and other institutions of public benefit all in an effort to keep production steady and growing. In addition to this, farmers are supported in getting their harvest to market. With over half a million farmers as part of the organisation, there is much faith in its mission.
And then to study its problems, the FNC founded Cenicafé. This research institute investigates and analyses threats to production, such as rust and pests, and in part of the solution creates new varieties to tackle these problems. There is much more to FNC's work, more of which can be found following the links above.
Cenicafé has helped produce new varieties to increase yield and protect the plant. One criticism is that it sometimes favours yield over quality. However, Colombian coffee is generally of very high quality and whereas Brazil and Vietnam are respectively the biggest producers of coffee, Colombia is the greatest producer of Arabica.
Another great aspect of Colombian farming is the diversity of the ecosystem. Many coffees are shade grown with lemon, orange, maize, apples and many other fruits. This is both highly beneficial for soil quality and Colombia's bird species, of which are over 1900. No other country has as many bird species.
Main harvests are generally at the end of the year whilst there is also a smaller fly harvest, or mitaca, just before the midpoint of the year. Most Colombian coffees are wet processed.
It's worth tasting coffee from the different regions as each one has distinct characteristics. Coffee from Nariño can be quite special, grown at very high elevation and therefore highly acidic and aromatic. If it weren't for the rising heat from the valley, coffee crops here would probably die from the night's cold. It's mild flavour contrasts with the obvious fruitier coffees from the Huila region.
Colombian coffees are graded by size rather than quality, though some believe greater size correlates with high quality. It is easy to misinterpret the meaning of terms Supremo and Excelso to equate to quality, but what it really means is the size of the bean.
Supremo is the largest of the beans. I personally feel these terms are not overly helpful for the specialty market, as different varieties have different sizes. Maragogype beans are very large. They are helpful for sorting coffee for roasting though, with similar size beans more likely to roast evenly. This is sometimes a problem with Ethiopian coffee, of which the beans' size in one bag can greatly vary.
Most of the growing regions' main three varieties are Typica, Caturra and Castillo.
The Caturra is a naturally occurring mutation of the Bourbon variety first found in Brazil. Its speed of maturity (ripens both red and yellow) and disease resistant properties are relatively high. Cup quality is also good, making it an ideal choice for farmers.
Castillo (2005) is another widely farmed cultivar in Colombia. Its lineage includes Catimor, a Robusta-Arabica hybrid and as such, the Castillo's cup quality has received some negative bias. This bias might be misplaced though, as this research conducted in 2015 shows cuppers could not much distinguish quality between the Castillo and Caturra varieties. Perhaps a win for the more disease and pest resistant Castillo?
Colombian Coffee Culture
As is natural in a country of such great coffee production, Colombians drink a lot. Unfortunately for many locals, a lot of the best coffee is packed off for export, leaving lower quality coffee and beans exported from neighbouring countries to fulfil demand. This might be why in the countryside, coffee is boiled in sugar cane water to help improve the taste.
Tinto is a coffee drink enjoyed in Colombia. A friend of mine described it as "a version of Americano but way better, in a small cup and sweet as most Colombian coffee." Usually made with commercial quality coffee, Tinto has a thicker mouthfeel and is more concentrated than filter.
The global trend for coffee is to have more awareness of a coffee's provenance. Colombia is no different. Café Cultor in Bogotá is one such coffee shop which provides its guests with a wide range of Colombian coffees. A quick look on the website will show you the different coffees they offer and the type of soil they're grown, along with other origin information.
With peace being made in 2017 with the guerrilla fighters of FARC, we can now expect more quality to come from regions like Tolima affected by the group. This is a welcome new era with this disruptive force hopefully at an end. Long may it continue.