Guide To Colombian Coffee

What Makes Colombian Coffee so Special?

From all the well-known coffee growing regions of the world, Colombia is one of the most well known. Why?

Facts about Colombian coffee

Flavor Profile

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.
  • 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.
"The classic Colombian profile...brings together a mellow acidity and a strong caramel sweetness, perhaps with a nutty undertone" - Meister, Serious Eats

>>> HERE is a customer favourite for quality Coffee from Colombia

The Most Sought After beans In Colombia

Three of Colombia’s most prestigious coffees are named for the coffee farming regions in which they are grown: Medellin, Armenia, and Manizales. They are collectively located in the main central growing area 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 (1). 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 it holds the potential for high-end single-origin beans.

Caturra beans are considered to be some of Colombia’s finest. 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.

Tinto Coffee, which roughly translates to “inky water”, is the coffee of the people. It's widely available on the streets in Colombia (for as little as ten cents a cup). Tinto is not renowned for its high quality, but rather for its contribution to the coffee culture of the nation. If you are in Colombia, you must try a cup of Tinto to have a real cultural experience of their coffee.

tip on ordering tinto coffee

The FNC And Juan Valdez

Colombia’s government has long recognized the economic potential of their coffee industry (2) and has solidified it as part of the national identity.

The Colombian Growers Federation or FNC for Federación Nacional de Cafeteros de Colombia was created in 1927 to represent coffee growers interests (3).

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. Long story short: this is why Colombian brew if often considered as good coffee universally. It may even be the reason you're reading this article!

Today, the FNC continues to strive not just toward profit generation but toward creating a positive social impact. Research projects, training, environmental protection and community development all contribute positively to Colombia’s half-million coffee growers.

Ideal Growing Conditions 

Single origin coffee from a farm from colombia

Colombian coffee farmer

Colombia has two main growing regions:

  • The highlands of the Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta
  • 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.

Information about coffee

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). 

Colombian growing conditions 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.

Processing

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.

The growing landscape in Colombia is made up of small farms on steep hillsides. This means machine harvesting is impossible so beans are carefully picked by hand. This process is inefficient but results in a higher quality product.

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.

Coffee growing directly employs a half million farmers, making it the country’s largest source of rural employment. Nearly all Colombian coffees are grown on small plots of land averaging 5 acres and tended by single-family coffee farmers.

information about colombian coffee industry

One of the greatest risks to the industry is the shifting weather patterns thanks to climate change(4). Rising temperatures and unpredictable rainfall negatively impact bean production. Arabica beans, which make up the vast majority of Colombia’s crop, are particularly vulnerable to climatic variability. 

Climate change has also increased the spread of the coffee industry’s other major worries: coffee rust fungus and the coffee berry borer insect (5). Both dangers have now spread to higher elevations where they are able to infect more farms and further decrease coffee yields.

The Best Colombian Coffee Beans

Avoid picking some 'Colombian' up from your local supermarket if possible. Why? Because its abundant, cheap, and definitely not fresh.

"Is there good Colombian coffee? Absolutely, but not from Supermarket bulk bins and the like. Good Colombian is rarely sold simply as Supremo or Excelso, a name that designates the size of the beans only and means nothing about the quality of taste." - Sweet Maria's

Here are some solid options for good quality Colombian beans online:

Colombian Peaberry (Volcanica Coffee)

colombian peaberry in colombia

Peaberry beans come from the top 5% of a crop so you know you're getting the best possible quality. They’re grown in volcanic soil way up at very high elevations (nearly 6,000 feet) which is part of what helps them pack a flavor punch. Lovers of these beans report flavor notes of malt, walnuts, and cherry-chocolate, along with wood-toned chocolate notes in the finish.

The beans are medium roasted, but in true Volcanica style, they’re roasted after you order to ensure maximum freshness.

  • Rare peaberries coming from the top 5% of each crop
  • Fair Trade certified, allowing for peace of mind for the consumer
  • Affordable for peaberry

Colombian Supremo (Volcanica Coffee)

colombian supremo at fields

These beans have a smooth yet unmistakable flavor profile. Packed with sweet, fruity, and nutty tones that follow a fruity and floral aroma, the brew is composed of a rich, full body with a smooth acidity and finish.

These amazing flavours result from their ideal growing conditions: shade grown in rich volcanic ash high up in the Colombian Andes on the Andeano Estate. Again; being from Volcanica means they’re roasted after you place your order. This ensures your beans will be as fresh as possible.

  • Shade Grown in volcanic soil at high altitudes on the Andeano Estate
  • Fair Trade, Rainforest Alliance, Organic certified

Copan Trade Colombian Supremo (Green Beans - Copan Trade)

For home roasters Copan Trade offers Colombian Supremo green coffee beans in quantities starting from 25 pounds. The beans are sourced in the Cauca region and have caramel and almond as their primary cupping notes. See our section below on roasting notes and tips.

a brand of colombian coffee

For high quality beans without the hipster price tag: check out Peet's Colombia selection here. They offer dark roasted Colombians in whole bean, or in a variety of grind sizes.

The dark roast is balanced and full-bodied for a bright, sweet cup of coffee. 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.


How To Brew It Best

Now that you have some beans, make sure you brew them the right way. There are a few schools of thought on how best to brew Colombian, but it depends on the roast and origin of the beans. Heres a few safe brewing options:

brew methods for colombian coffee

Espresso - Being high in acidity and mild in flavor makes these beans ideal for espresso brewing. They can be roasted dark and brewed strong without the risk of an overt bitterness. The high level of acidity also means they take well to milky espresso drinks like macchiatos and cappuccinos.

The Aeropress - The balanced taste and smooth, full-bodied mouthfeel of these beans make them well suited to the Aeropress style of brewing. Bogota, Colombia’s capital, even hosts an annual Aeropress Championship (6) which is serving to enhance the brewing culture within the country.

Roasting Tips

One of the wonderful things about these beans is their ability to take well to a variety of roasts well. This is largely a result of their mild flavors and smooth mouthfeel.

best roast profile for colombian beans

Light roasts will highlight a Colombians bright acidic nature and citrus fruit undertones. Cocoa and caramel flavors are also brought to the forefront, while maintaining the flavor of the bean.

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.

color differences of roasted coffees

FAQ's

Is Colombian Coffee the best in the world?

Yes, Colombian coffee is considered some of the best in the world due to ideal growing conditions, processing methods flavor profiles. You should note however, that the coffee producing industry in Colombia has been marketed very well by the FNC, which adds the notion of this coffee being the best. Try some and see for yourself.

What makes Colombian coffee unique?

Colombian coffee has unique flavor due to its growing conditions and processing methods. High-quality Arabica beans are grown at high altitudes. They are then processed naturally, by hand, on small farms. This all leads to amazing coffee.

Is Colombian coffee more acidic?

Yes, good quality Colombian coffee is more acidic in general. This is because of the growing conditions: high altitudes and lower temperatures (7).

"This has more to do with temperature than altitude. Coffee that is grown at cooler temperatures tends to ripen slower, allowing the development of more complex flavors. When brewed, it tends to be more acidic and aromatic than those coffees grown in warmer climates – say, lower down the same mountain" - Fernando Pocasangre, Perfect Daily Grind

Disfruta De Tu Café, Amigo! (Enjoy Your Coffee, Friend!)

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 Joe and let us know what you think in the comments below.


References

  1. Coffee in Colombia: Waking Up to an Opportunity. (n.d.). Retrieved May 29, 2019, from https://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/coffee-in-colombia-waking-up-to-an-opportunity/
  2. Coffee in Colombia: Waking Up to an Opportunity. (n.d.). Retrieved May 29, 2019, from https://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/coffee-in-colombia-waking-up-to-an-opportunity/
  3. Portal de transparencia FN Cafeteros de Colombia (FNC). (n.d.). Retrieved May 29, 2019, from https://www.federaciondecafeteros.org/
  4. Rosenthal, E. (2011, March 9). Heat Damages Colombia Coffee, Raising Prices. Retrieved May 31, 2019, from https://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/10/science/earth/10coffee.html
  5. Colombia. (n.d.). Retrieved May 29, 2019, from https://legacy.sweetmarias.com/library/colombia
  6. 3 Top Recipes From The Colombia AeroPress Championship. (2016, May 29). Retrieved May 29, 2019, from https://sprudge.com/colombian-aeropress-championships-100478.html
  7. Pocasangre, F. (2018, June 11). Why Are Some Coffees More Acidic Than Others? A Brew & Roast Guide. Retrieved from https://www.perfectdailygrind.com/2018/05/why-are-some-coffees-more-acidic-than-others-a-brew-roast-guide/
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Alex
 

Alex is the Founder and Editor of Homegrounds.co. He is passionate about brewing amazing coffee at home, and teaching others to do the same.

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