Learn how geography, climate, and a generations-old coffee harvesting tradition have made Colombia into an international coffee powerhouse.
Together with Brazil and Vietnam, Colombia has long been hailed as one of the best coffee-growing regions in the world. Anyone who’s had a chance to relax while enjoying a locally grown Colombian brew (hint: not tinto) can attest: Colombian coffee manages to produce consistently good, well-balanced coffees that are rich and nutty but also bright, fruity, and lively.
A formidable giant in the international bean scene, Colombia supplies a hefty 15% of the world’s coffee (compare that to Colombia’s size, which is approximately 1% of the globe).
As the third largest exporter in the world, Colombia exported more than 14 million bags of coffee last year. The country is best known for its Arabica beans, a world-renowned bean with a faint aroma of blueberries that produces a wide taste range ranging from sweet to tangy.
Beyond Arabica, Colombia delivers superior coffee like the delicious Burbón or caffeine-packed Robusta.
If you’ve ever had the luxury of enjoying a cup of locally grown coffee on the sunny patio of a local joint like El Poblado’s Pergamino or Laureles’ Rituales Compañía de Cafe, you may have found yourself exclaiming, “Why, this is the best cup of coffee I’ve ever had!” (of if you’re practicing your Spanish, “Esta es la mejor taza de café que he tenido!”) — and you would not be the first.
While it may be tempting to chalk it up to the magic of Colombia, there is science behind what makes Colombian coffee so good.
Let’s explore the science behind what makes Colombian coffee irresistibly delicious.
Colombia’s proximity to the equator puts it in a unique position to undergo two harvest seasons a year, compared to the one harvest season experience in many coffee-growing regions around the world. As a result, Colombia is able to deliver fresh coffee year-round.
What’s more, Colombian coffee thrives in the region’s volcanic soil, which is nutrient-packed and considered the best for coffee growth.
Colombian coffee is grown at an elevation of around 4,000 – 6,000 feet (1,200 – 1,800 meters), which translates to a higher-quality, more fruit- and berry-flavored, rich coffee.
Colombian’s main growing region lies between Medellín, Cali, and Bogotá, and it’s known as the Zona Cafetera, “Coffee Belt,” or Colombian coffee-grown axis.
The area sees a minimum of 80 inches (200 centimeters) of rainfall per year and enjoys spring-like temperatures (46-75 degrees Fahrenheit or 8-24 degrees Celsius) that never fall below freezing. Colombia’s mountainous terrain, balmy climate, and ideal rainfall amount give it one of the best coffee-growing geographies in the world.
Within this Colombian coffee region you can expect variances in coffee flavors depending on the area. In the central area, you’ll find coffee with a more balanced profile, strong aroma, and medium acidity.
Up north coffee is less acidic but features more body. In the south you can enjoy distinctive coffee with higher acidity.
Growing and harvesting
The impact of the way Colombia typically harvests its coffee beans cannot be understated. The vast majority of coffee farms in Colombia are small, family-owned, and less than 12 acres in size.
Colombian coffee is grown on steep slopes under the shade of trees and banana plants, preventing the precious beans from being burnt by the sun.
But what really sets Colombian coffee apart is its harvesting process. While other coffee regions follow the “strip picking” method, which pulls the coffee off the branches at once, in Colombia, nearly every one of the 600,000 coffee growers ‘cherry picks’ beans by hand.
What makes the hand-picking process so impactful? While a machine can’t differentiate between ripe, unripe, and overripe beans, a seasoned coffee-picker human can.
As a result, only the finest beans are processed and make their way to your favorite coffee shop. (Interestingly, the “bad” beans are processed and enjoyed locally in the form of “tinto,” or the instant coffee beloved by many Colombian locals.)
Colombia is best known for its arabica, one of the most sought-after (and priciest!) varieties of coffee beans, arabica beans have a sweet, subtle flavor with notes of fruit and sugar.
These coffee beans tend to generate a sweeter cup with complex aromas and a smooth, rich texture.
Arabica is one of two species of coffee plants most widely cultivated around the world. The second, robusta coffee, is grown at lower altitudes from crops that yield double the number of beans.
With its bitter, harder flavor, robusta is cheaper and generally considered of lower quality than arabica.
The Colombian coffee region is blessed with an optimal altitude and climate, a hand-picked harvesting process perfected over generations, and some of the finest beans in the world.
With international companies like Starbucks and Nestle taking an interest in Colombian bean production in Antioquia, the future looks bright for Colombian coffee.
If you want to know more about investment opportunities in Colombian coffee, get in touch with Lifeafar to learn about The Green Coffee Company — our Medellín-based partner company that specializes in investment opportunities in the country’s coffee industry.
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