The Complete Guide to Colombian Coffee
Located at the northern tip of South America, Colombia is a coffee cultivation hub and the third largest exporter of coffee globally.
But there's so much more to Colombian coffee than the beans it exports.
Home to the world-famous Coffee Triangle, the region boasts ideal topography and terroir for coffee production, with coffee farms now playing an important role in Colombia's growing tourist trade.
Deeply rooted in tradition, coffee has become a cultural symbol in Colombia, with a history and farming heritage that spans generations.
The complex history of Colombian coffee
In Colombia, coffee production is an emblem of resilience through struggle, demonstrating the industry’s ability to withstand political instability, armed conflict and significant economic and social disparities.
Following cycles of violence, post-conflict stability has led to relative peace in Colombia, and now, agricultural tourism is providing coffee producers with opportunities to diversify their income and regrow.
But to recognise the significance of coffee in modern-day Colombia, it’s important to understand how the industry has been shaped over time. Summarising a history that spans centuries is hard, but to give you a brief overview:
How coffee arrived in Colombia is unclear, but it's widely believed Jesuit priests introduced coffea seeds to the country in the early 1700s, with one of the oldest records of coffee cultivation found in Joseph Gumilla’s book, El Orinoco Illustrato.
Chronicling his exploration of the Orinoco River basin (regions that are now Venezuela and Colombia), Gumilla wrote, 'Coffee, considerable fruit, which I tried, planted and grew, providing these soils suitable abundant bean harvest'.
Throughout the 1700s, farmers across the region adopted coffee crops as a potential source of income, but it wasn't until the early 1800s that coffee was commercialised.
In 1835 the first recorded export of coffee left Cúcuta Customs - a shipment of 2,560 bags of coffee to the United States.
The 1850s - 1880s saw Colombia's export trade grow, facilitated by the development of railroad infrastructure and integration of uncultivated lands for small and large-scale coffee operations.
During this period, small-scale farmers largely depended on wealthy landowners who controlled large coffee plantations - often imposing growing restrictions and exploitative working conditions on labourers.
The end of the 19th century marks historic events linked to the coffee trade - such as the War of a Thousand Days. In the years that followed, social and political shifts saw small-scale farmers begin to separate from landowners and gradually gain greater independence.
As decreasing international market prices caused financial issues for landowners, the importance of small and medium-scale farmers became increasingly recognised.
In 1927, a group of producers established the Federacion Nacional de Cafeteros de Colombia (National Federation of Coffee Growers - FNC) to represent the interests of small-scale farmers and promote fair trading prices.
Agrarian reforms, cooperative movements and advancements in agricultural systems continued to transform Colombia's speciality coffee sector, with FNC marketing campaigns like 'Juan Valdez' helping to establish Colombian coffee as a global brand.
What makes Colombian coffee special?
Colombian coffee has a special place in our hearts for several reasons. Optimal altitudes, ideal growing conditions and generational farming processes work in harmony to produce high-quality beans that make for a well-balanced cup.
Like Peruvian coffee, coffees grown in Colombia offer diverse flavour profiles due to the origin's wide range of microclimates. Producers continue to perfect their processes, experimenting with natural decaffeination methods and innovative honey processing.
What's more, roughly 95% of Colombia's coffee farmers are smallholders, and to this day coffee production remains a family affair.
💡Did you know? Throughout history, household participation has been essential to production in small-scale farms.
While men typically dominated decision-making roles in production, women played a central part in farming - la chapolera representing the work of female coffee pickers, who would spend hours collecting coffee by hand. Children were involved too, often responsible for sorting beans in the drying stage.
Now, more than 500,000 coffee farming families are responsible for growing and processing the wide majority of Colombian coffee we enjoy today.
Where is coffee grown in Colombia?
The majority of Colombian coffee is produced in the departments of Caldas, Risaralda and Quindío.
These departments are located in Colombia's Coffee Triangle (Triángulo del Café). Also referred to as the growing axis, the largest towns in these departments, Manizales, Armenia, and Pereira, have long served as major centres for the origin’s export trade.
While this area is most famous for coffee production, coffee is grown in several sub-regions that extend across Colombia.
Northern departments: The north zone comprises coastal and mountainous regions with varying altitudes, home to roughly 62,500 Colombian coffee producers.
- Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta
- Norte de Santander
Southern departments: Colombia’s south zone sits close to the equator, with high altitudes providing optimal growing conditions for speciality coffee.
Eastern departments: While coffee in the eastern zone is produced on a far smaller scale, the FNC is prioritising investment in this region to help approximately 5,500 coffee producers adapt their varietals and develop their harvests.
Colombian coffee varietals:
- Caturra (natural mutation of Bourbon)
- Castilla (hybrid varietal through crossbreeding of Caturra and Timor)
- Tabi (hybrid varietal from crossbreeding of Typica, Bourbon and Tima)
- Maragopipe (natural mutation of Typica)
Where to buy Colombian coffee?
We've always been huge fans of Colombian coffee - in fact, Aguas Claras was the first coffee we sourced and roasted ourselves.
Colombia is one of our seven origins, so if you're looking to buy Colombian coffee in the UK you'll love what we have to offer:
|Decaf||Pitalito||Caturra, Castillo||1,400 - 2,100 MASL||Brown sugar, almonds, hibiscus||£8.50 SOLD OUT|
|Red apple, butterscotch, Brazil nuts||£8.30|
|Peach, frangipane, tropical fruit||£10.50|
|Caturra, Castillo||1,500 - 2,070 MASL||Cinnamon, dark chocolate, rose||£8.50|
"As a roaster, we are responsible for ensuring best practice when it comes to buying coffee and ensuring the farmers we source from have been fairly compensated for their craft. We are also responsible for taking steps to ensure long-term stability for the coffee industry by working towards a better climate future for all."