Country Profile: Colombia
Pink Bourbon at Finca Villarazo in Quindio, Colombia
Colombia. This nation is no stranger to specialty coffee, as Colombia is frequently listed among the top three coffee-producing countries in the world. Since it’s introduction to Colombia in the early 1700’s (with some accounts attributing the Jesuits as being responsible), coffee has since become a pillar of Colombia’s commercial crop and export economy. Colombia boasts a rich diversity of landscapes, altitudes and climates. From the ocean breezes of the Pacific and Caribbean, to the high-altitude, tropical convergence of the Andes and the Amazon rainforest; the geographic diversity of this nation has resulted in an impressive variety of coffees.
Here’s a quick rundown on the top seven, coffee producing regions in Colombia that you should know about.
Huila is home to over 67 thousand coffee-producing families who grow coffee across more than 16,000 hectares of land. The diverse region is surrounded by the Central and Eastern ranges of the Andes, is split by the Magdalena River and neighboured by the Tatacoa Desert. The high quality soil and the region’s geography provide advantageous growing conditions; conditions which result in a coffee with a bright acidity, a distinct sweetness and a fruity flavour profile. The coffee produced in Huila is also commonly acclaimed by the Cup of Excellence, and in 2013, the region even received the Denomination of Origin status.
Antioquia has always been known for its exquisite terrain and superb growing conditions. Yet it was only relatively recently that the region’s potential for coffee production was realised. Since then, a strong heritage and expertise in coffee production has been established in Antioquia, and the region now produces the second largest amount of coffee in Colombia. This is only to be expected from the 92 thousand families that produce coffee, not to mention the 128,000 hectares that are allocated for coffee production (the largest area of all regions in Colombia). The coffee produced in Antioquia is known for its fruity profile, with sweet notes and a herbal scent.
Nariño is home to active volcanos and precipitous landscapes. While such altitudes prove difficult for producing coffee of consistent quality, the productive soils (as provided by the local volcanos) makes Nariño not just one of Colombia’s best coffee growing regions, but also the producer of some of the highest coffees in Colombia. Nariño was also the first region in Colombia to be recognised as a region of Denomination of Origin status. The coffee from Nariño is characterised by an intense aroma, high acidity and distinct sweetness.
Located in Colombian Plateau in the southwest of the country. Surrounded by the high peak of Tolima Huila, Cauca is a perfect growing condition for coffee, which gives its distinctive complex acidity and floral flavour profile.
Cauca hasn’t been the specialty-focused coffee region in Colombia mainly because of its violent past of conflict between the government and the FARC rebels. Since the violence diminished, many coffee farmers have been able to utilise its incredible location to produce some of the best coffee in the country. Juan Carlos, an agronomist who works for Cenicafe, described Cauca alongside Nariño and Huila as the new Colombian coffee triangle.
Lying just to the west of Bogotá, Quindio is a region that is known for it’s love for coffee. So much so, that the municipality of Calarcá hosts a National Coffee Party (and has been doing so for the last 50 years). That being said, coffee plays an extremely integral role to the local economy. Quindio is also home to the beautiful Cocora Valley: a perfect example of the idyllic, mountainous and sub-tropical terrain conducive to producing exquisite coffee.
While coffee production in Colombia started in the eastern side of the country, it was soon brought to the Caldas region in the 19th-century and quickly became one of the most profitable crops for local farmers. The success story of Caldas’ production of high quality coffee was a catalyst for furthering coffee cultivation in Quindio and Risaralda; all of which have become the highest producing regions in the country. Caldas is also home to the National Coffee Research Centre (known as ‘Cenicafe’), which is one of the world’s leading institutions for researching all things related to coffee production. This research has led to the creation of a number of coffee varieties, such as the Colombia and Castillo varieties, both of which are disease resistance.
Located deep in the central Andes, the region Risaralda boasts volcanic soils and a climate that’s perfect for producing amazing coffee. Risaralda is also uniquely exposed to both Pacific and Caribbean breezes, resulting in a microclimate that further contributes to the versatile flavour profile; a characteristic that is not found in other Colombian coffee regions. Along with Quindio and Caldas, the region of Risaralda is part of an area known as the ‘Coffee Triangle’ (locally known as the ‘Eje Cafetero’). Historically, the Coffee Triangle has been the main contributor of quality coffee for Colombia. Risaralda is a well established coffee-producing region in it’s own right. A large number of farmers in Risaralda belong to cooperatives, which has attracted interest from ethical labelling organisations.
Image by Cafe Imports