| Lynsey Harley

Specialty Coffee - Learn more about Colombia

Colombia boasts more than half a million coffee farmers producing anywhere from 10 to 25 bags on 870,000 hectares, with many lots as small as 50 kg. Due to the small size of the farms, it is necessary to complete thorough cuppings of every lot tendered by growers in order to obtain a good blend. This makes cupping

Colombian coffees at origin both time consuming and expensive, but ultimately worthwhile in order to guarantee quality and consistency.

Two million Colombians rely directly on coffee for their livelihoods. There are very few estate coffees; 60% of Colombian coffee farmers cultivate their bushes on less than one hectare of land while only 0.5% have more than 20 hectares. Most of the coffee shipped from Colombia is a blend of the production from 50 or more individual farms. While this situation is typical of cooperatives in various regions of various coffee producing countries, it is unusual, and on Colombia’s scale, unique for it to be the predominant arrangement.

Generally, given the vast complexity and variety of coffees coming from this origin, Colombian coffees can be characterised as sweet and big bodied with notes of caramel and balanced fruitiness.

Coffee farming in Colombia is, to put it quite simply, woven into the fabric of everyday life. People farm the land, producing most of the food and raising the animals that they eat. Money from coffee farming provides cash to improve homes, buy clothes, maintain cars, motorcycles, and equipment, and buy necessities for their children. Without the extra income that coffee provides, these farmers would be subsistence farmers. It is for this very reason that Colombian coffee farmers are so willing to try and please coffee buyers. It is not uncommon to find a wet-mill architecturally integrated into a coffee farmer’s home.

Colombia’s geo-political map is divided into departments, which also serve as more specific indicators of origin for Colombian coffees.

This department includes coffees from the Inza region and those areas surrounding the colonial city of Popayan. Cauca’s can be generalized as floral and feminine with great depth of complexity and lingering sweetness. They have low to medium body with delicate notes of peach, apricot, and sugar cane.

The department of Huila is more rural than Cauca. The coffees here have massive body and a heavy, syrupy texture, strong fruitiness, and occasional tropical notes. Pitalito and its surrounding areas are becoming the largest coffee producing region in Colombia. Huila coffees can be bold, nutty, chocolaty, and citric, with sweet caramel notes and have medium to high acidity.

Further South, nestled atop rugged mountain peaks lies Nariño and its hub township La Union. Specialty coffee production here is in high demand; a satiny mouth feel along with a creamy, often buttery body accompanied by deep rich, dark fruity flavours, hints of spices and stone fruits can be tasted in the best coffees of Nariño.

Santander —Large amounts of typica and shade coffee are grown here and much of it is Rainforest Alliance certified. With a drier micro-climate and a lower growing altitude, Santander coffees range from medium bodied, floral, soft, and delicate with crisp acidity, to low acid, big bodied, earthy coffees with notes of tobacco.

Sierra Nevada
On the north coast of Colombia, at a relatively lower altitude and close to the Caribbean, lies the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, a mountain range isolated from the Andes chain that reaches an altitude well over 18,000 feet. The coffees here have big body, medium to low acidity, caramel, tobacco, and spice notes. In Sierra Nevada, many farmers are part of either the Arhuaco or Kogui native tribes, both of which produce organic coffee.

The coffees here are floral and crisp with bright acidity and a good, refreshing mouth feel. The South of Tolima is currently a centre of FARC Guerrilla activity and it is of strategic importance in Colombia’s ongoing civil war. At the present moment, it is not advisable to travel to South Tolima. North of Tolima’s capital, Ibague, however it is relatively safe and coffee is being produced and exported without incident.

Farm Size
One to two hectares

Main Growing Regions
Antioquia, Caldas, Tolima and Huila

Common Varieties
Typica, Bourbon, Caturra


First semester around September, second semester around March. Lots of minor flowering occurs between.

First semester April - July, second semester September - December

Year round, except for regions with only one harvest, which are mainly Sierra Nevada, Santander, Nariño, Cundinamarca and Boyaca.

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