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The Rise of Colombian Coffee

The rise of Colombian coffee in a world where many people  associate good coffee with countries like Brazil, has put the central South American coffee growing countries such as Honduras, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Mexico and Colombia, and even Peru further south, on the quality map. These countries offer beans with unique flavour profiles that roasters like us, simply cannot ignore.

We especially love using Colombian beans in our blends. Colombian coffee cultivation has been traced back as far as 1739 when a Jesuit priest, José Gumilla, brought this wonderful plant to Colombia and later another priest, Francisco Romero, encouraged its growth by telling sceptical farmers that planting coffee plants could be considered penance!

Since then, Colombia has come a long way, and is now considered to be the second largest producer of arabica coffee after Brazil. In fact, over 10.5 million bags of beans were exported in 2023, and what is equally impressive about the Colombian coffee industry, is that it is produced on over 500 000 farms of varying sizes. Most coffee farmers farm on less than 5 acres, but their production yields are good, and this contributes to the livelihoods of more than 25% of Colombians.

Roasted coffee in bagColombian coffee is of great importance to roasters like us because it offers a very diverse range of flavour profiles which are determined both by where it is grown and because Colombia is blessed by a wide range of varieties. The combination of variety and growing region, gives us a spectrum of flavours to work with in defining our blend profiles. We will look at a few of our favourite varieties later but as far as geographic diversity is concerned, for such a small country, Colombia has very different  growing regions.

The best-known region is the “coffee belt” which runs through the centre of Colombia and includes the areas of Caldas, Quindío and Risaralda. To the North, in places like Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, the Perija mountains, Casanare and Santander, coffee grows at lower altitudes where warmer climates give the bean more body and less acidity than that grown at higher altitudes to the South in Narino, Cauca, Huila and the south of Tolima. Here, acidity and a natural sweetness become prominent.

Generally, Colombian coffee is characterized as having a strong aroma, high acidity and a medium to good body. It is smooth and clean, well-balanced and mild with typical flavour profiles having fruity, chocolate and even nutty, overtones. The fact that the beans are wet processed in Colombia (where the berries are immersed in water to help remove the fruit pulp that surrounds the seed) only helps to accentuate these profiles.

The success of the industry in Colombia can most likely be ascribed to two pivotal organisations, the National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia established back in 1927, and Cenicafe, the research arm of the Colombian Coffee Growers Federation. In fact, Cenicafe helped save the country’s coffee industry when it developed “Variedad Colombia”, a variety that emerged from crossing the ever-popular Caturra and the Timor Hybrids. This variety, developed before the first leaf rust outbreak in 1983, allowed Colombia to weather the outbreak well.

Having disease resistant varieties is especially important to small scale farmers who cannot afford, or who may be so remotely located that they cannot source, agricultural chemicals in times of looming disaster. The Colombia variety not only produces a high yield, but its resistance to diseases, makes it a popular choice for the many small-scale farmers that grow coffee in Colombia.

As the years have passed, this variety has improved and has been the breeding base for the Castillo and Tabi cultivars. These bright and full-bodied beans are often classified as offering sweet notes such as caramel and chocolate and this allows us the opportunity to smooth out flavours in blends that contain high percentages of Brazilian and African coffees.

Castillo was developed in 2005 by Cenicafe by crossing male Caturra plants with female hybrids of Timor. Castillo is now at the centre of the “Colombia sin Roya” (Colombia without Rust) initiative that has allowed Colombia to increase its exports of higher quality coffee.

We love Castillo for its acidity, smoothness and aroma that offers strong fruity notes.

More recently in 2020, Cenicafe released the Tabi (which is a Guambiano tribal word for “good”) variety by crossing Bourbon, Typica and the Timor Hybrid. The Tabi variety is particularly well suited to higher altitudes and as Colombia is a mountainous country, this allows for increased plantings. Like the Colombia variety, it is resistant to leaf rust.

Colombian coffee berries from the Typica variry on a coffee treeFinally, we are fans of the Typica variety. This has been the genetic base for many of the other varieties we like, but has been outpaced by these newer varieties which offer higher yields and greater resistance to diseases. Yet, we like it for its balance and sweetness, and it is these qualities that still make it a favourite among roasters across the world. 

So it is no surprise to us why Colombia has emerged as a major player in our industry. While the coffee drinking public may be more familiar with the marketing campaigns featuring Juan Valdez promoting Columbian coffee (and who wouldn’t identify with a Spanish looking moustached man wearing a poncho and leading a donkey loaded with beans!), roasters like ourselves, find the range that Colombia produces, to be indispensable for blend development and flavour.

You can find a range of our blends on our coffee page where you can select, and have delivered, the blends that contain these amazing Colombian coffee varieties.


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