Colombian Coffee: Everything You Need To Know
Enjoying a cup of Colombian brew means indulging in a brightly acidic brew with mild fruity and chocolatey flavors.
Colombia’s national identity is closely tied to its coffee production, with the fictional coffee grower Juan Valdez being one of the country’s most recognizable exports.
The “Coffee Cultural Landscape” of Colombia was even designated a 2011 UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Read on to find out what makes Colombian coffee so special and how it has served to shape and define a nation.
Interesting Facts About Colombian Coffee
Flavor: How does it taste?
Coffee in Colombia consists of a large number of varietals stemming from a number of different growing areas. This makes it difficult to peg down a particular set of flavors in this region’s coffee.
However, certain dominant features recur.
Tasters regularly describe it as mild and well-balanced with a medium, silky body and a clean-ness in the cup. Acidity levels are medium to high, yielding a bright and lively brew.
The most common flavors are floral hints, traces of tropical fruits, red berries or apples and a sweetness akin to chocolate, sugar cane or caramel.
Aromas tend towards citrus, fruits and hints of spice.
Their easy-drinking nature makes Colombian beans popular in blends for mellowing out the more intense flavors of beans from other countries.
Three of Colombia’s most prestigious coffees are named for the regions in which they are grown -- Medellin, Armenia and Manizales -- with Medellin Supremo being of particular importance.
They are collectively located in the main central growing region and frequently marketed together under the acronym MAM.
Coffees from this region have higher acidity than those grown in the Eastern Region.
Castillo coffee is worth mentioning for its popularity as well as controversy within Colombia. Bred to be resistant to the perils of coffee rust, it shares a genetic heritage with robusta beans, which leads many to doubt its quality.
Castillo is known for its smoothness, aroma and citric acidity and there is evidence that its holds the potential for high-end single-origin beans.
Caturra beans are considered to be some of Colombia’s finest offerings.
They were first developed in Brazil, but are now widely popular throughout the region.
Caturras are distinguished by their bright acidity and low-to-medium body. Unfortunately, they are under the constant threat of coffee rust.
An interesting final mention is the coffee known as tinto, which roughly translates to “inky water”.
This is coffee of the people, widely available on the streets in Colombia for as little as ten cents a cup.
It is not renowned for it’s high quality or single-origin, but rather for its contribution to the coffee culture of the nation.
The FNC and Juan Valdez
Colombia’s government has long recognized the economic potential of their coffee industry, and has solidified it as part of the national identity.
The Colombian Coffee Growers Federation (FNC) was created in 1927 to represent coffee growers interests and is now the largest rural non-profit organization in the world.
In 1959, the FNC created the character of Juan Valdez, an incredibly successful and long-running marketing campaign that no other coffee-growing nation has matched.
This popular character appealed to consumers who for the first time began to seek out beans from a particular country.
Today, the FNC continues to strive not just toward profit generation, but to creating a positive social impact.
Research projects, training, environmental protection and community development all contribute positively to Colombia’s half million coffee growers.
Growing Conditions For Perfect Colombian beans
Colombia has two main growing regions, in the highlands of the Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta, and the slopes of the three sections of the Andes mountains that traverse the country.
The larger central region around Medellin comprises nearly 14,000 square kilometers and is known as the Colombian coffee-growing axis.
The mountainous eastern region is smaller and located around the cities of Bogotá and Bucaramanga.
Both areas are blessed with high elevation farms up to 6,400 feet and fertile volcanic soils. The coffee is predominantly shade grown with temperatures ranging from 8 to 24 degrees Celsius (46 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit).
The alternation of wet and dry seasons in the tropical nation allows for two harvests, one running from September to December and the other running from April to June.
The growing conditions throughout the country are ideal for the production of superior, high acidity beans. Those of the central region are known for their heavy body, rich flavor, and higher acidity.
Bogotá is less acidic, but maintains a rich brightness. Bucaramanga is milder, often heavy-bodied, and rich in flavor.
How Are colombian beans processed?
Colombian arabica beans are exclusively wet-processed, with water being used to separate the precious cherries from the surrounding pulp.
Wet-processing is a relatively new technique which results in a cleaner, brighter and fruitier product.
This makes it well-suited for the brightly acidic Colombian product.
Because the coffee industry in Colombia is largely made up of very small farms dispersed on steep hillsides, significant mechanization of the harvesting process is impossible.
Coffee beans are carefully picked grain-by-grain.
Though the process is inefficient, it results in overall higher quality product and is one of the features on which the nation has built its reputation.
The Current State of the Coffee Industry In Colombia
Coffee growing is a big business in Colombia. They are the world’s third largest coffee producer with 12% of the world’s production.
This puts them behind only Brazil and Vietnam, but in contrast with these two, Colombia grows almost exclusively high-end arabica beans.
For Colombians, coffee is not merely a plant, but a part of their national identity.
Coffee growing directly employs a half million farmers, making it the country’s largest source of rural employment.
Nearly all Colombian beans are grown on small plots of land averaging 5 acres and tended by single-families.
One of the greatest risks to the industry at present is the shifting weather patterns wrought by climate change. Rising temperatures and intense, unpredictable rainfall have both negatively impacted bean production.
Arabica beans, which make up the vast majority of Colombia’s crop, are particularly vulnerable to climatic variability.
Climate change has also hastened the spread of the coffee industry’s other major scourges -- the coffee rust fungus and the coffee berry borer insect.
Both dangers have now spread to higher elevations where they are able to infect more farms and further decrease coffee yields.
Best Brew Methods
Colombian beans are known for being high in acidity and mild in flavor which makes them ideal candidates for espresso.
They can be roasted dark and brewed strong without the risk of an overt bitterness.
The high acidity also means they take well to milky espresso drinks like macchiatos and cappuccinos.
For similar reasons, the Aeropress is also commonly recommended with Colombian beans.
Their balanced taste and smooth, full-bodied mouthfeel make these beans well suited to the Aeropress brew method.
Bogota, Colombia’s capital, even hosts an annual Aeropress Championship which is serving to enhance the brewing culture within the country.
Though instant coffee is never the recommended way for a coffee-lover to enjoy a quality bean, it is worth noting that Colombians are among the best for the production of instant coffees.
Because they are so smooth and mild, none of the off-tastes that can arise from the brewing and processing of instant coffees are as pronounced.
Indeed, within Colombia itself, instant coffee is widely popular. If you must drink instant, make it Colombian instant.
Where to Buy Colombian Beans
Cooper’s Coffee Company
If you want to source top notch single-origin Colombian beans, consider ordering from Cooper’s Coffee Company, a tiny roastery based in Rhode Island, USA.
This small company carefully sources only the best Fair Trade beans.
The company roasts the beans only once they’ve been ordered, and each bag is marked with the date of roasting.
Uniquely, Cooper’s ages their beans in used barrels - this adds subtle new flavors and aromas that serve to enhance the natural taste of the beans without disguising it.
Cooper’s offers single origin Colombian beans in a dark roast which gives them a rustic sweetness, a hint of cocoa and dark fruit notes.
If you’re unsatisfied, this company also offers a 30 day full money back guarantee.
If you’re looking for a provider that’s just as committed to sourcing high quality beans, but a little less expensive and a little less hipster, consider Peet’s Coffee.
Peet’s began as a coffee shop on America’s West Coast and has since grown into a mini-empire selling all nature of coffees, teas, gifts and accessories.
Peet’s has a loyal fan base thanks to a consistent offering of high quality products. The company offers dark roasted Colombians which are roasted once a week on Wednesdays to guarantee freshness.
The coffee is available as whole beans or in a variety of grind sizes.
The dark roast is balanced and full-bodied with a brightness and sweetness.
Peet’s also offers a lightly roasted blend, Colombia Luminosa, which incorporates Ethiopian beans for additional floral aromatics. The result is a pleasantly mild, smooth flavor with delicately sweet aromas.
For home roasters, Copan Trade offers Colombian Supremo green beans in quantities starting from 25 pounds. The beans are sourced in the Cauca region and have caramel and almond as their primary attributes.
Most Suitable Roast Type
One of the wonderful things about Colombian beans is their ability to take well to a variety of roasts.
This is largely a result of their mild flavors and smooth mouthfeel.
Light roasts are best for appreciating the subtle nuances of a brew and are highly recommended if you’re looking to sample a number of varietals.
The light roast allows the differences between each to be more readily detected.
Their bright acidic nature and citrus fruit undertones are best highlighted by a light roast which maintains the underlying tastes of the beans.
Cocoa and caramel flavors are also brought to the forefront.
Medium to dark roasts have more intense flavors and rich aromas. While still acidic, their bright fruitiness is muted and sweeter cocoa flavors take the stage.
So now that you know everything about Colombian coffee...
Colombia and coffee are inextricably linked and I hope this article has given you some insight into why.
High-elevation volcanic soils and a commitment to growing only the finest arabica beans have left this South American nation with a well-deserved golden reputation.
Consider starting your day with a cup of Colombian coffee and let us know what you think in the comments below.
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