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Colombia

Colombia has been producing and exporting coffees renowned for their full body and bright acidity since the early 19th century. Thanks to its wide range of coffee growing regions, microclimates, and altitudes, Colombia is harvesting throughout the year.

Key details

Harvest months

Year-round, depending on the region

Production volume

13,800,000 (in 60kg bags)

Main regions

Huila | Antioquia | Tolima | Cauca | Caldas | Risaralda | Quindío | Valle del Cauca | Santander | Nariño

Common varietals

Colombia, Castillo, Caturra, Typica, Bourbon

History of coffee in Colombia

Although coffee production in Colombia did not become a large commercial industry until the 19th century, it is likely that coffee was introduced to Colombia about a century earlier by Jesuit priests.

Once commercial production started, it spread quickly. The first commercial coffee plantations were established in the east, near the border with Venezuela. Today, coffee is widespread and grown commercially in 20 of Colombia’s 32 Departments.
Historically, Colombia’s the most renowned coffee-growing region has been the Eje Cafetero (Coffee Axis), also known as the ‘Coffee Triangle’. This region includes the departments of Caldas, Quindío and Risaralda. With a combined total area of 13,873 km² (5356 mi²), the region covers about 1.2% of the Colombian territory and composes 15% of the total land planted under coffee in the country. The region has also been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site.

While the Eje Cafetero is still a coffee-producing power house, coffee production in Colombia now extends far beyond this zone. In recent years, the departments of Huila, Tolima, Cauca and Nariño have become sought after and well-known coffee growing regions. These departments rose to such prominence thanks, in part, to their high-scoring submissions in national and international cupping competitions, such as the Cup of Excellence.

Today, there are an estimated 540,000 coffee producers in the country; around 95% of these are smallholder farmers with landholdings that are under 5 hectares. These farmers collectively contribute around 16% of the country’s annual agricultural GDP. 

A range of flavours

 

Colombia boasts a wide range of microclimates and geographical conditions that produce the unique flavours so loved in Colombian coffees. While there are many sub-regions and progressively smaller geographical designations—all the way down to individual farms—broadly speaking, coffees in Colombia can be separated into three major regions whose climate, soils and altitudes affect tastes.

Coffees grown in the north (Magdalena, Casanare, Santander and Norte de Santander) are usually planted at lower altitudes where temperatures are higher. As such, these coffees tend to have deeper, earthier tastes with a medium acidity, more body and notes of nuts and chocolate.

Coffee coming from the central regions (Caldas, Quindío, Risaralda, North of Valle, Antioquia, Cundinamarca and North of Tolima) are celebrated for their overall balance and their fruity, herbal notes. Flavor variations highlight the specific characteristics of each micro-region.

The southern regions (Cauca, Nariño, Huila and South of Tolima) are prized for producing smooth coffees with high sweetness and citrus notes. They are also known for their medium body and more pronounced acidity.

Another distinguishing feature of Colombian coffee production is the mitaca crop – a second harvest that occurs roughly 6 months after the main crop in most regions. The mitaca crop is a result of moist ocean air rising from both the Pacific and the Caribbean and the north-to-south orientation of the central cordilleras (mountain ranges). Colombia is one of only a few countries in the world that has this feature of production.

Colombia’s wide range of climates also means that harvest times can vary significantly. Due to these varying harvest times—and the mitaca crop—fresh crop Colombian coffee is available nearly year round.

Processing coffee in Colombia

Most farmers conduct primary processing (pulping and drying) on their own farms. Processing infrastructure varies widely but there are noticeable similarities between farms of similar sizes or regions. Broadly speaking, most farms have traditionally used the Fully washed method and utilize dry pulping to minimize water usage.

Drying processes in Colombia are innovative and varied. Farmers may spread their parchment across the flat roofs (elvas) of their houses to dry slowly – sometimes in the shade but more often in the sun.

In parts of Antioquia, drying ‘drawers’ are used. These are sets of moveable drying screens that can be pulled out from under the house or storage sheds when the weather is warm and pushed back under shelter when it rains.

Polytunnels and parabolic beds are also commonly used, particularly in high altitude and cooler temperatures zones. These structures are usually raised beds constructed similarly to mini-greenhouses with plastic sheeting stretched over an arched frame and openings at both ends to ensure airflow. These structures protect parchment from wet weather conditions while the even airflow allows for drying even in humid conditions.  

As Colombian farmers are increasingly accessing specialty markets, they are producing more Naturals and Honeys of exceptional quality. And these processes are not limited to a select few. Along with Naturals and Honeys, experimentally processed coffees are now coming from a variety of regions.

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