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A Tour Of Coffee Origins: Colombia

May 09, 22 | Adrian Constantin

Colombian coffee has been a mainstay on our grocery shelves for years. It's a favorite because it's easy to find, and because it tastes great. But did you know there are so many varieties of Colombian coffee?

There are actually over 100 different types of coffee that grow in Colombia. Each one has its own unique taste profile, from floral and fruity to chocolate-y and roasty.

You may have heard about some of the most common types of coffee grown in Colombia like Caturra and Typica, but there are many more amazing varieties out there. You can find coffees with names like Castillo, San Agustin, Nariño Supremo (a specialty grade), or even Gesha (a super rare variety). This list goes on!

So next time you're looking for Colombian coffee, try something new! You might be surprised at what you find.

In this article, we'll take you on a journey through the different coffee producing regions of Colombia and what to expect from each. The country is divided into 32 departments, which is what they call their states here. Each department has its own unique climate and growing conditions, so it's no surprise that the style of coffee coming out of each one is different.

At the very end of this article, we're going to recommend some of our favorite Colombian coffees that are available on Gems of Edmonton from local roasters. But first: let's start with how it all started! 

 

The History Of Coffee In Colombia

Colombian coffee was first introduced to the country by Jesuit priests, who brought it with them from the Caribbean in 1723. This was the beginning of what would become a national tradition and one of Colombia's most important exports. Since then, coffee has been grown in every region of Colombia except La Guajira.

 

The first commercial plantations started in the early 1800s

The first commercial plantations started in the early 1800s. Coffee production has grown steadily since then, and since the 1990s, coffee production has been increasing. The main export region is Antioquia in northwest Colombia, producing about 10 percent of the world's coffee.
 

More than 500,000 families are involved in coffee cultivation in Colombia

Coffee is so much more than a beverage—it's a way of life, especially in Colombia. Over 500,000 families are involved in coffee cultivation in the country. Additionally, there are over 500,000 coffee farms and 700,000 coffee producers who keep the industry moving. The industry employs more than 1 million people during harvesting time alone.

Today, 90 percent of Colombian coffee is produced by small farmers, who are known as campesinos

These farmers own and operate their farms with the help of family members and a few hired workers. In Colombia, it's not uncommon to see families working together on the farm during the harvest season. Many campesinos live on their farms year-round so they can take care of trees year-round also.

Did you know that most coffee beans sold today are picked by hand? Almost all of this hard work is done by campesino farmers. After picking only ripe fruits (berries) from the tree, campesinos must pulped, fermented, washed and dried before being exported to countries like yours!

 

The fair trade system helps ensure that coffee farmers in Colombia are paid fairly 

Fair trade is definitely prevalent in Colombia. This is because the country's economy has been marked by a long history of conflict, which has caused many people to become displaced and impoverished. As a result, fair trade has become an important part of Colombia's economy. 

 

What characterizes Colombian coffee

It’s easy to associate Colombia with the familiar image of a South American jungle—think tropical rainforests, exotic birds and animals, and plenty of humidity. Well, it turns out that this lush ecosystem is also home to some pretty delicious coffee beans. In fact, the country is known around the world as one of the biggest producers of high-quality Arabica beans in existence. The geography that makes Colombia such a great place for growing coffee is also responsible for giving each region its unique taste characteristics.

One of the most important factors affecting Colombian coffee lies in its altitude to grow on such an immense scale without sacrificing quality—a feat accomplished by separating coffee crops into three distinct altitudes: low (up to 4500 feet), medium (4500–6000 feet), and high (6000–8000 feet). This means that at any given time you could find farmers bringing in harvests from various regions all over the country; each batch has its own distinctive flavor profile.  

 

The Colombian coffee mascot

When you think of Colombian coffee, you probably picture a man. But it's not just any man! It's Juan Valdez. Juan Valdez is a fictional character who represents the countless farmers of the region. He has appeared in advertisements for decades, and is a very recognizable figure.He’s used as a marker to identify that a coffee is 100% Colombian, as opposed to blends of coffee that use multiple origins for their beans.

 

Colombia's coffee regions and what coffee tastes like in each region

Coffee grows in many parts of the world, but Colombia has one of the most diverse arrays of flavors to choose from. Regions like Antioquia, Cundinamarca and Quindío are known for their unique terrain and climates, resulting in a wide range of distinct coffee bean flavors.

The variations in Colombian coffee could be compared to wine, which also has a number of differing blends depending on where it is grown. Factors like soil composition and moisture levels affect the taste that each bean will produce, much like how temperature affects a bottle's flavor profile.

There are 22 distinct key coffee growing regions in Colombia, which are divided into three main groups:

Northern: Traces of chocolate and nut flavor. Less acidity, more body.
Central: Herbal and fruity tasting.
Southern: Stronger hints of acidity and citrus.

These three distinct flavor profiles, and the fact that Colombia has two yearly harvests, make it a very unique country of origin that is tricky to pin down with any one flavor. Variety is part of how you would define the taste.
With its impressive growth, research and innovation in all aspects of the industry, it's no wonder that Colombia has  become so famous for quality coffee production.

Colombian coffee is an industry worth exploring, and we are excited to share what we've learned while doing our own research here at Gems of Edmonton.
There are a lot of different regions in Colombia, each with a unique set of challenges and benefits. Here's a quick look at the different regions:

 

Antioquia

Antioquia, one of the northwestern coffee regions of Colombia, is known for its high altitude, as it’s surrounded by mountains. Coffee grown in this region tends to be medium-bodied and richly complex in acidity. The aroma you’ll find with Antioquia coffee is bright and fruity (some even compare it to tropical fruit).

Cup Profile: Medium body,  rich acidity; bright fruity aroma
Altitude: 1300-2200m
Harvest: September-December (main crop), April-May (mitaca crop)
Varieties: 65% Typica, 59% Caturra, 35% Castillo
 

Caldas 

Caldas Coffee is a well-known coffee producing region that is located in the central Andes. It has a cool, wet climate which makes it ideal for growing high quality coffee, especially on the steep slopes of its mountainsides. Caldas is a department (region) of Colombia that is most notable for its natural hot springs, but it is also a great place to find fantastic coffee. The National Coffee Growers Federation (FNC) has classified Caldas as one of their premier “coffee triangle” regions.

Cup Profile: Medium body, high acidity and delicate fruity aroma
Altitude: 1300-1800m
Harvest: September-December (main crop), April-May (mitaca crop)
Varieties: 8% Typica, 57% Caturra, 35% Castillo
 

Cauca 

Cauca is a department (region) in the South-West of Colombia, bordering Ecuador. The capital city is Popayán. Cauca has a wide variety of microclimates, which allows for a diverse range of coffee profiles. The higher altitude coffees tend to be more floral and sweeter, while the lower elevation coffee has heavier body and darker chocolate notes.

Cup Profile: Medium to Full body, low to bright acidity, floral to chocolatey and nutty finishes
Altitude: 1700-2100m
Harvest: March - June (main crop), November - December (mitaca crop)
Varieties: 21% Typica, 64% Caturra, 15% Castillo
 

Huila

The Huila region, located in the south-west of Colombia, is one of the most important coffee regions in the country. The department has an area of 23,000 km² and a climate that favors the cultivation of coffee. Huila is known for its high-quality coffee, with a balanced body and acidity, which puts it among the best coffees in Colombia.

Cup Profile: Balanced body, crisp acidity, complex sweet flavor profile.
Altitude: 1250-2000m
Harvest: September - December (main crop), April-May (mitaca crop)
Varieties: 11% Typica, 75% Caturra, 14% Castillo

 

Quindí

Quindío is located in the mountainous central Andes, and it's the smallest region of Colombia. It’s also the region that produces the most coffee per hectare, with a production that stands at around 50 quintals per hectare (this is about 2.5 times higher than the national average). As you can imagine, this makes for a very important and relevant coffee-producing region. This is due to a combination of factors: rich volcanic soil and high altitudes (with an 8° temperature difference between night and d ay), both of which contribute to one of Colombia’s best cup profiles. The coffees here are often characterized as having a clean acidity with light citric notes and peach aromas, along with sweet caramel elements that give them excellent balance and sweetness on the palate.

Cup Profile: Balanced body, clean acidity, fruity aromas
Altitude: 1400-2000m
Harvest: September - December (main crop), April-May (mitaca crop)
Varieties: 14% Typica, 54% Caturra, 32% Castillo

 

Santander 

Out of Colombia's 32 departments (similar to states), Santander is the largest in terms of population and has the largest economy. It also leads the way in coffee production, producing about 30% of the country's annual output. This terrain primarily consists of mountains and valleys, with a smattering of rivers flowing through them. The climate is warm, with abundant rainfall throughout most of the year. The cup profile for coffees from Santander tends to be bright and fruity, with notes of orange and honey. These are balanced out by herbal notes like eucalyptus as well as sweet caramel flavors—but not too sweet!

Cup profile: Medium body, bright acidity, fruity with notes of orange and honey.
Altitude: 1200-1700m
Harvest: September - December 
Varieties: 15% Typica, 32% Caturra, 53% Castillo
 

Risaralda

Risaralda is also home to one of Colombia's most popular national parks, Los Nevados National Park, which features snow-capped mountains and active volcanoes like Tolima and Santa Isabel. The park's peaks reach over 5,000 metres (16,000 feet) above sea level—pretty impressive for a tropical country! 
Colombia's coffee region of Risaralda has a well-rounded cup profile with a clean aftertaste, and flavor notes that may include citrus, chocolate, caramel and toffee.

Cup profile: Medium body, low acidity, and rich chocolatey notes.
Altitude: 1300-1650m
Harvest: September - December (main crop) April - May (mitaca crop)
Varieties: 6% Typica, 59% Caturra, 35% Castillo
 

Narino

Narino is a coffee growing department of Colombia located in the Andean region, bordering Ecuador and the Pacific Ocean. The capital city of Narino is Pasto, which is also one of the largest cities in the country. Coffee production in Nariño can be divided into two subregions: Andes North and South Andes South—which differ significantly due to their geographical makeup as well as their climate conditions: temperature ranges and rainfall patterns are less predictable than those found further north with wider fluctuations between summer months (December through March) and winter months (April through November). In addition to slight changes in temperature across these sub regions, both also experience variations in altitude (1,400-1,900 meters above sea level) that result in differences in flavor profiles among coffees grown there—with coffees grown at higher altitudes tending to exhibit more fruitiness while coffees grown at lower altitudes are generally more balanced with a fuller body but less acidity or fruitiness than those grown further upslope.

Cup profile: Medium to full body, low to bright acidity, and sweet and fruity
Altitude: 1500-2300m
Harvest: April-June
Varieties: 54% Typica, 29% Caturra, 17% Castillo

 

Cundinamarca

Cundinamarca is one of the largest departments in Colombia, and it's located right in the center of the country, surrounding the capital city of Bogota. It is known for growing coffee, as well as producing cheese, milk, vegetables and flowers. The department itself has both lowlands and high altitudes, which means the coffees produced here are full of character and diversity.

Cup profile: medium body, low to bright acidity, and caramel and chocolate notes
Altitude: 1400-1800m
Harvest: March-June (main crop) October-December (mitaca crop)
Varieties: 35% Typica, 34% Caturra, 31% Castillo

 

Tolima

The region of Tolima is one of Colombia's most fertile regions, and home to some of the best coffee in the world. It has been growing coffee since colonial times and was a major player in the global coffee economy for much of the 20th century.

Located in the center of Colombia, the Tolima department is known for one great thing: coffee. The volcanic soil and high altitude makes Tolima a great region for growing coffee beans. This can be tasted in many cups of Colombian coffee that are produced here. The typical profile of a cup of coffee from this region is clean, sweet, medium body and mild aftertaste.

Cup profile: medium body, low acidity, and clean flavor profile with sweet notes
Altitude: 1400-1800m
Harvest: March-June (main crop) October-December (mitaca crop)
Varieties: 9% Typica, 74% Caturra, 17% Castillo

Shop Colombian Coffees Roasted in Edmonton and the surrounding areas

If you're looking to try some Colombian coffees roasted right here in Edmonton, we've got you covered! We carry 28 Colombian coffees from 14 different roasters on Gems of Edmonton. Most are single origins, and there's even a decaf option if you're looking for something mellow. Click here to see them all.

If you're not sure where to start, try some of our favorites:

 

 

Colombia - Granja Paraiso 92 – Gems of Edmonton

This particular batch of coffee from Rogue Wave comes from the Cauca region of Colombia, and was procured by Wilton Benitez at his farm Fina El Paraiso.  It's the perfect cup for those looking for a refreshing, yet balanced cup of coffee. It opens with fruity aromas and it's balanced by cocoa  notes - making it perfect for anyone who wants to enjoy an approachable craft coffee.


 

Exotic Toledo – Gems of Edmonton

This coffee from BeanZilla Coffee comes from the region called North Santander. Exotic Toledo is a flavorful, full-bodied coffee with a silky finish. This is the kind of coffee you can drink every day, all day. Colombia is famed throughout South America for its high-quality coffee!

 

 

Roasti - Zaragoza – Gems of Edmonton

This coffee from Roasti Coffee Co comes from Narino. If you want a coffee that brightens the start of your day then this Colombian blend is a great option. Yuzu lemon, black tea and ginger ale notes give way to a sweetly acidic finish that makes this a great coffee.

 

Colombia, Quindio – Gems of Edmonton

This coffee from Alternate Route Coffee Co comes from Quindio. This thoroughly washed coffee is farmed in the Armedinia region of Quindio, Colombia, at an elevation of 1500-1600 meters. Sweet cacao with undertones of citrus and raisins are the flavor notes.

 

**We used many online sources in our research, but one of the most notable is: The World Atlas of Coffee by James Hoffman 

categories : Better Coffee

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