General Cup Profile
Colombian Coffees are commonly known to be big, rich, chocolaty coffees with exceptional fragrance and often great acidity. Colombia has many diverse growing regions, so the coffee varies mildly from region to region. Tropical fruit, vanilla, caramel, and chocolate are common adjectives. More intense acidity and bigger velvety body are variations you might find going from south to north as well.
Colombia is bisected by the Andes Mountains, which split into three parallel cordilleras (mountain ranges) as they run south to north. Coffee grows throughout these mountains from north to south, with the addition of Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, an isolated mountain range in the north of the country where a number of indigenous tribes produce organic- and Fair Trade–certified coffees.
The three mountain ranges produce diverse microclimates. The majority of Colombian coffee territory has two harvests: principal and the mitaca ("fly crop"), which is typically smaller. In the north, principal harvest is in November with the mitaca in May–June. The South has the opposite of that; principal harvest in May–June and mitaca in November, scattered across the country in some of the most biologically diverse landscapes in the world.
In our search for the best coffees out of Colombia we have been and still are cupping hundreds of coffees, talking with producers and exporters, competing in cup of excellence competitions and trying to understand and innovate with our partners.
Colombia is a beautiful country and the people are exceptionally kind and happy. The coffee is rich and intense a good at-home brew. We have been focusing our efforts on the three states in the south where we import coffees from specific regions, and we import microlots from specific farmers who have the best coffee in the country—and some of the best in the world.
All of the coffee in Colombia is Arabica. Traditional varieties are Bourbon, Typica, and Caturra, a dwarf Bourbon. Variedad Colombia was introduced by Cenicafe in 1982 as a disease-resistant strain of coffee; more recently, Cenicafe has developed the Castillo variety to combat the coffee-leaf rust (aka roya) infestation of 2008, which caused yields to drop from 11 million bags to 7 million. Both of these newer varieties were created by splicing together the genes of a Caturra and a Timor Hyrbid variety. Timor Hybrid is an interspecific hybrid that occured as a random mating of an Arabica and a Robusta plant on East Timor; he has some characteristics of both species, including the disease resistance (and some of the flavor) of a Robusta. (Note that coffees with Timor Hybrid in their genetic past are still considered full Arabica by the coffee industry.)
Most Colombian coffee farmers have their own small wet mills on the farm; basically a depulper, a fermentation tank, and water with which to wash their coffee. The harvest of the day is typically depulped in the afternoon, fermented overnight, and dried on patios on the farm, where the farmer can control the quality. Raised beds are quite popular now, and many producers are beginning to experiment with varieties, fermentation and drying times in an attempt to create a more unique quality coffee.
Colombian coffees differ in flavor from region to region because of the unique microclimates and processing styles. Farmers will pick and process coffee during the week and drive it in to town on Saturday to sell. So coffees from the town of Pitalito will be different from the coffees out of Campo Alegre, for instance.
History of Production
For many years, Colombia was the number-one world producer of washed coffees, and the second-largest producer to Brazil. In 2000, Colombia was surpassed by Vietnam, and then the rust infestation of 2008 set them back significantly. Today they are currently in the top five of coffee production with roughly 10 million bags per year. Colombians farmers and citizens alike drink a lot of coffee every day; nearly 20% of their annual production.
Colombia has over 600,000 farms, most of them farmed by small landholders with less than 5 acres nestled in the hills at roughly 1,200 to 2,000 meters above sea level.
The National Federation of Coffee Growers, Federación Nacional de Cafeteros de Colombia is a quasi-governmental industry association which represents 500,000 of the nation’s coffee producers. Founded in 1927, the FNC has been responsible for creating a name for Colombian coffee with their well-known spokesman, the fictional, charismatic Juan Valdez. The FNC guarantees purchase of green coffee to every farmer in the country, but farmers are under no obligation to sell to them.
The federation supports research and development in the production of coffee through grants to local universities and through federation sponsored research institutes. They have agronomists on staff that go out in to the field to help farmers with the production of coffee, fruit, beans and other vegetables. These “technicos” also carry the message that the FNC is spreading which can be of great debate as well. 88% of Colombia’s growers have less than 6 acres of coffee. It is very common for these small producers to band together as an association like a co-op and to communicate with the FNC and elect representative members to its body. The federation also monitors production to ensure export quality standards are met by sampling every coffee that passes through port to make sure that it meets standards for cleanliness, screen size and cup. For all of these services they exact a fee of about $.03 cents per pound.