With numerous microclimates, climbing altitudes, and biodiverse ecosystems - Colombia produces high quantities of excellent coffee.
Colombia is the third largest coffee-producing country in the world, and thanks to its vast array of unique microclimate, are able to have harvests throughout the year.
Commercial coffee cultivation began in the mid-1830s and spread so rapidly that throughout the twentieth century coffee already became the country’s leading export. A mountainous topography and many tropical micro-climates contribute greatly to Colombia’s reputation for ideal growing conditions, which – in turn – have helped Colombia establish itself as a recognisable origin around the world.View Coffees
Place In World For Coffee Exporter3rd
Sacks (60kg) exported annuallyApprox. 13,672,000
Percentage of world coffee market10%
Other major agricultural exportsBananas, Sugar
Estimated number of families relying on coffee for livelihood?More than 2 million
Typical varieties producedTypica, Bourbon, Tabi, Caturra, Colombia, Maragogype, Castillo (among others)
Key coffee regionsNariño, Cauca, Meta, Huila, Tolima, Quindio, Caldas, Risaralda, Antioquia, Valle, Cundinamarca, Boyacá, Santander & Norte de Santander
Typical harvest timesMarch-June; September-December
Typically availableFrom July/August & January/February
The Importance of Coffee
Coffee truly has a significant place in the country’s economy. Colombia has roughly 875,000 hectares planted with coffee across 590 municipalities and 14 coffee-growing regions. On average, 75 percent of the country’s production is exported worldwide, with the crop representing 7.9 per cent of the country’s overall exports in 2020. The majority of this production surprisingly comes from smallholder producers: 60 percent of Colombian coffee producers cultivate less than one hectare of coffee while only .5 percent have more than 20 hectares.
Traditionally, the majority of coffees from Colombia have been processed using the fully washed method. However, Centre for Coffee Investigation (Cenicafé) have developed an ecological system that uses little water, reduces contamination of local water sources by 90 percent and reduces water consumption by 95 percent. This dry pulping method has proven reliable not just in preserving surrounding ecosystems but also in guaranteeing a consistent cup quality and is increasingly used across the country.
The drying process in much of Colombia is unique – smallholder producers spread the parchment across the flat roofs (or ‘elvas’) of their houses to dry in the sun. Polytunnels and parabolic beds are also used in farms with high altitudes and cold weather conditions. Parabolic beds – which are constructed a bit like ‘hoop house’ greenhouses, with airflow ensured through openings in both ends – both protect the parchment from rain and mist as it is dried and prevent condensation from dripping back on the drying beans.
The diversity of coffee and profiles found across Colombia is enormous and coffee is harvested practically year-round depending on the region. The main harvest takes place from October to February with November and December being the peak months. There is also a second fly (or ‘mitaca’) crop several months later, again varying by region and microclimate.
Antioquia was the ‘wild west’ of the country for many years and was initially settled almost entirely by gold miners. During the latter part of the 19th century, coffee was introduced in the mountainous, fertile borderlands of the department, and Antioquia became one of Colombia’s most important coffee producing areas, bolstered by ideal coffee growing conditions made possible by the central and western cordilleras (mountain ranges) that cross the department. As of the 1980s, coffee was the most important export from the region.
Despite the department’s ideal setting as a producer of specialty coffee, for many years it was overlooked in Colombia’s portfolio of powerhouse coffee producing regions. This, however, has been changing in recent years. Coffee (and the valorisation of the department’s production) has been at the heart of this ‘makeover’, and these days, Antioquia is truly on the specialty ‘coffee map’.
Coffee from Cauca includes the Inza region and areas surrounding the colonial city of Popayan. Situated on the “Macizo Colombiano” (the Colombian Plateau), which surrounds the high peaks of Tolima and Huila, the region is an important source of water and wildlife, in addition to being prime coffee growing land.
The region’s violent past, with a heavy presence of FARC guerrillas, had historically prevented the FNC (Colombia’s national coffee board) and specialty-focused exporters from establishing a presence in the region. As violence has diminished, it has enabled the growers in the region to seek increased access to markets for quality, not only taking advantage of the region’s wonderful coffee-growing conditions but also the economic resource that nearby tourist destinations bring (for instance, the World Heritage Site “Parque Nacional Arqueológico de Tierradentro”).
Other Producing Areas
Chocó – Most coffee from Chocó is grown near the municipality of El Carmen de Atrato, separated from the fertile coffee-growing slopes of southwest Antioquia by only a steep ridge. An area of rich biodiversity, the region is also one of Colombia’s most remote and has, in the past, been plagued with violence and isolation due to FARC presence.
Huila—The department of Huila is more rural than Cauca; nonetheless, is renowned for the quality of its coffee and is quickly becoming the largest coffee producing region in Colombia. With many smallholders dotted throughout the region, these producers rely on cooperatives to assist with processing and accessing markets.
Nariño— Nariño lies in the far south of Colombia, bordering Ecuador in the high peaks of the Andes. Due to its proximity to the equator, coffee can be grown at high altitudes in the department, and many farms are located on mountainsides of well over 2,000 metres.
The Nariño coffee producing zone presents a combination of factors such as 1666 sunlight hours per year, 1,866mm (74 inches) of rainfall per year with reliable rainfall patterns and soils with a high percentage of organic material, all of which make it possible to cultivate coffee at a high altitudes and cooler than average temperatures.
Lesser-known Producing Areas
Santander—Large amounts of typica and shade coffee are grown here and much of it is Rainforest Alliance certified. The department has a drier micro-climate and a lower growing altitude.
Sierra Nevada— The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta is a mountain range isolated from the Andes that reaches an altitude well over 5,000 metres. On the north coast of Colombia, many coffee farmers in the department are part of either the Arhuaco or Kogui native tribes. Most of the coffee here is grown organically, either certified or passively.
Tolima—The South of Tolima has for many years been a hotbed of FARC Guerilla activity and is a strategic region for Colombia’s ongoing civil war. Access is difficult across much of the department and producers growing in the region tend to be small scale.