For many people, thinking of Colombia immediately conjures up images of coffee, such is the association of the country with the crop and the drink. Within Colombia, too, coffee cultivation is such a part of the cultural fabric that they even have a theme park devoted to the beverage.
Everyone knows Colombia is a major coffee producer and most people are aware that some of the most prized beans in the world come from there too. Here, we dig a little deeper to discuss some of the most important brands of coffee in Colombia
Before we come to the most popular brands of Colombian coffee available on the market today, let’s have a look at the history of coffee production in the country to see how it came to be such a force in the world of coffee.
Coffee was probably first brought to Colombia in the early 18th century by Jesuit priests, and beans were first exported to the US around 30 years later. Due to favorable growing conditions, by the latter part of the century, exports to the US alone had reached 170,000 bags.
In 1927, the Federación Nacional de Cafeteros de Colombia was created to help regulate the industry and help it to grow in a more integrated way.
From the 1950s, the Federación introduced Juan Valdez, a fictional coffee farmer, who became the face of Colombian coffee around the world and helped raise the profile of beans from the country.
Check out this classic advertisement from the 70s.
Since then, despite some problems attributable to the vagaries of the international market, as well as a sometimes-volatile situation at home, coffee production in Colombia has continued to grow. It is now the third largest producer of coffee in the world and the largest grower of arabica beans.
So what is it about Colombia that makes it such a perfect place to grow world-class coffee? Let’s have a look at the characteristics specific to coffee from this South American country.
Coffee beans, as you may know, are the seeds from the fruit of the Coffea plant. There are many species of Coffea, but only two are grown commercially for coffee, Coffea arabica and Coffea canephora – the latter is commonly known as robusta.
Robusta is the hardier of the two species, but coffee made from these beans is more bitter and contains more caffeine. Arabica, on the other hand, is a much more refined bean that can produce delicate, complex coffees.
Of the two, arabica is the most highly prized and fetches the highest prices at auction; all specialty coffees are arabicas.
Arabica plants are fussier about where they grow; they can grow at altitudes of around 2,000-7,200ft (600-2,200m) but thrive at altitudes of 4,400-7,000ft (1,340-2,130m). They require 1,200-2,200mm of rainfall and a temperate of 62-75°F (17-23°C).
Colombia has many regions that provide exactly the right growing conditions for Arabica plants. Furthermore, many growing areas are blessed with rich volcanic soil, which is particularly favorable to coffee cultivation and which also imparts a certain quality to the flavor of the beans.
Only Arabica beans are grown in Colombia, and 12% of the world’s arabica comes from Colombia.
Considering that Colombia only grows arabica beans, coupled with the fact that the majority of them are processed using the wet method, there is still significant variation between coffee grown in different parts of the country.
In general, Colombian coffees are characterized as having a strong aroma, high acidity and a medium to high body; they are regarded as clean, well-balanced and mild. However, the country has several distinct growing regions and there is much variety between beans from each.
The most famous coffee-producing region, known as the “coffee belt”, is the central part of the country that includes the departments of Caldas, Quindío and Risaralda. This is Colombian coffee’s heartland.
Further south, nearer the equator, coffees are grown at higher altitudes due to the higher temperatures. This allows the beans to ripen more slowly and so develop more flavor. The yield is lower, but these are some of the most sought-after beans the country has to offer.
Several other regions also grow coffee with characteristics unique to those parts of the country.
Check out this video that introduces coffee in Colombia.
Colombian coffee is divided into categories according to quality. The highest grade is known as Supremo, the best Colombian coffee available. After this, the second grade is Extra; the third grade, Excelso, is an inferior mix of the first two.
In the past, Colombian beans have been blended with coffees from other countries, but now, people are starting to pay more attention to the origins of their beans. To be sure you are buying Colombian beans, always look for the 100% Brands of Colombia logo.
With specialty coffees, you should also be able to find further details of the particular farm where the coffee you are buying was grown, the altitude, the processing method and so on.
Here is a list of a few of the best brands selling high-quality Colombian coffees. A couple are Colombia-based companies while others are US roasters who import and roast premium-quality Colombian beans.
Don Pablo was founded in 1989 by a man from the US and his Colombian wife. The coffee they produce is characterized as mild, sweet and rich, with a full body and a pleasant acidity. Some tasters detect notes of citrus.
The beans are sold as a medium-dark roast. The company prides itself on roasting in small batches rather than in bulk, as some other companies do. The beans are roasted in small regional facilities in the US to ensure beans reach consumers in optimal condition.
Peaberry beans are a genetic mutation that affects only about 5% of any particular harvest, but many coffee aficionados say this mutation gives them a superior flavor to the other 95% of the crop.
Volcanica offers a variety of Fair Trade, organically-grown Colombian Supremo peaberry beans. They are medium-roast, with a medium to high acidity and a bright, nutty flavor.
Coffee Bean Direct sell a high-quality Colombian Supremo bean that produces coffee of medium acidity, with a balanced body and a smooth yet complex taste. Some tasters detect hints of lemon, brown sugar and milk chocolate. This coffee is light-roasted.
Juan Valdez is the fictional farmer who has been the face of Colombia’s coffee marketing strategy since the 50s and is also the name of the country’s answer to Starbucks.
The company sells home-grown beans, and predictably, they offer a broad range of products from many of Colombia’s growing regions.
Their gourmet coffees include many of the most famous origins, including Sierra Nevada, Nariño, Huila, Cauca, Santander, Tolima and Antioquia. They also offer a Premium range as well as a Sustainable range. An ideal brand for those beginning to explore the world of Colombian coffees.
Koffee Kult is a US-based artisanal roaster who offer a Colombian single origin Huila beans of very high quality. The beans are grown at an altitude of 6,230ft (1,900m) and are processed by the wet method before being sun-dried, or sometimes mechanically dried. They are medium-roast.
In terms of flavor profile, they have a mild cherry taste, with notes of caramel.
This US-based roaster currently offers two Colombian single origin coffees, a Sierra Nevada coffee and a Colombian Supremo bean.
This company prides itself on choosing only the freshest, highest-quality beans and also works hard to operate as ecologically as possible.
The Eight o’ Clock Coffee range features a 100% Colombian product that comes from beans grown at high altitude in volcanic soils, although they provide no more specific information on their origin within the country.
They are medium-roast and display winey notes, a rich aroma and a full-bodied finish.
San Francisco Bay Coffee have a broad range of coffees that include Colombian Supremo beans. The coffee these beans produce is full-bodied and mild with a sweet taste. San Francisco Bay sell coffee as either whole beans or pre-ground to your requirements.
Stone Street Coffee is a New York-based artisanal coffee roaster that offers two types of single origin Colombian beans. The first is a Colombian Supremo, sold as a light-roast coffee with above average acidity, a clean, lingering finish, a solid body and a complex flavor profile.
The second is a Rainforest Alliance certified bean that produces creamy coffee with a distinctive acidity and a clean and aromatic flavor profile. It is sold as the medium roast.
As we explained before, despite the fact that Colombian beans are all arabica and are mostly processed in the same way, it is a country that still produces top-grade beans with a wide range of flavor profiles. Now it’s time to go and explore the coffee brands in Colombia!
Which Colombian coffee do you love most? Have we missed your favorite? Perhaps you have uncovered a little-known brand that you wish to tell us about?
If you have anything to add, please leave us a message as we love hearing from you – and if you enjoyed reading, please don’t forget to share
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