Americas Beans Series 1 - Colombian Coffee Story
Updated: Sep 21, 2018
Coffee has made its path around the world, travelling in the trading routs from Ethiopia to the Arabic world, passing through Europe and reaching the “new world”, becoming part of the economic force of the so called “developing countries”.
The arrival of coffee to Colombia was most probably made from Venezuela, due to the spreading of Jesuit religious groups, the oldest documented reference of coffee in Colombia was made in 1730 by priest Joseph Gumilla in his book: “El Orinoco Ilustrado y definido” (the illustrated and defined Orinoco), this man and others used the religious mission to spread the cultivation of coffee and other crops from the old continent. Since then, coffee was a earning a place in the Colombian society, majorly as an item consumed by the Spanish families.
Commercial cultivation of coffee remained low especially during the independence conflicts, during the 1810-1819. After a period of relative peace, started to appeared bigger plantations or “Haciendas” capable of produce enough amount of coffee for exportation in 1835, above 2.500 bags of 60 kg each. The major yields were produced after 1850, replacing as tobacco and leather as the major trading goods to United States and Europe, becoming a stable source of profit in the in international markets, promoting a progressive increase of land dedicated to its cultivation, passing from a national annual yield of 60.000 to 600.000 sacs, from the region of Santander, Antioquia and Cundinamarca. Everything was looking good, till the drop of international prices during the end of the 19th century and the start of the “Guerra de los mil Dias” (One thousand days war).
Once again, another conflict was happening in the region in the post-independence era, in the brand new century. This sort of violence and chaotic environment wasn’t seen since the independence days, causing a crisis among the big “Haciendas” that weren’t able of keep working, for instance, a new productive model appeared and coffee economy was grabbed by an increasing number of small farmers, owners of their own lands.
Coffee industry in Colombia growth again during the period 1905-1935, thanks to the work of increasing population of farmers and politics oriented to organize their efforts, creating the “Federaciòn Nacional de Cafeteros” (National Federation of Coffee farmers). Improved methods and adoption of new techniques and knowledge along creation of regulation and norms allowed Colombia to be the second coffee producer in the world in 1930. “Cenicafe” was borne in 1938 as an extension service for the farmer, with the vision of guaranty the quality and traceability of coffee bean produced in Colombia to add more value in International markets.
In the last decades, major coffee plantations in Colombia were l the Andean region, mountains, in Antioquia, Boyacá, Caldas, Cauca, Cesar, Caquetá, Casanare, Cundinamarca, Guajira, Huila, Magdalena, Meta, Nariño, Norte de Santander, Quindío, Risaralda, Santander, Tolima y Valle de cauca, all places with a great weather and soil conditions that allowed the implementation of high density crops, mostly from Arabica sp, Catimor descended varieties, not only with the intention of produce quality flavor beans, also because warmer areas to grow as Canephora species (commonly found in Venezuela, Brazil and Costa Rica), were located in conflictive zones with the FARC and other guerrilla groups. With the current possibility of resolution to these conflicts, Colombia could give more attention to Canephora growing, especially because the issues related to climate change.
We can’t talk about coffee history in Colombia without mention the name “Juan Valdèz”, the character and the brand created in 1959 by the “Federaciòn Nacional de Cafeteros” to represent the product of the organized farmers that dedicated their lives to this crop. The image of a man with his mule in front of a mountain became the international face of coffee from Colombia, having shops in several countries. Now, we can say that Colombia is the biggest coffee producer, its products reaches markets as far as Japan, Russia and even Hong Kong.
Growing Conditions, Harvesting and Processing
The ideal growing conditions are located between 1.200 and 1.800 meters high, template weather (17-23 Celsius degree) with annual precipitations of proximally 2.000 mm. the Colombian soils have developed from the residues of volcanic activity, a property that allowed coffee to get good yields without the need of add chemical fertilisers to the soil.
The methods of processing the harvested coffee cherries to obtain the bean are very similar around the world. Avoiding the green, immature cherries during the picking is a crucial action, since the flavor, smell and other characteristics of the final product can be significantly changed, to worst. The same goes to time and conditions which the cherries are summit-ed, manual machinery to remove the pulp from the bean are normally used by the farmers, after this the beans are carefully washed and then putted in woody surfaces under plastic sheets, to be naturally dried by sunlight and air, then the beans are acquired by the industry, respecting the work made by the farmers. Investment in methods that demand less amount of water are being made, to decrease the ecological impact; even the wasted materials are gaining appreciation due to its utilisation for composting, cosmetics and other profitable areas.
Around the world the roasting process is similar, but there are some steps or factors that kept as a secret by the companies and Colombia saves theirs in a safety box.
Coffee and Tourism, Good Combination
Imagine vast extension of plantations mixed with diversity of native plants and animal species, with a nice weather and rural communities relaying in the conservation of this lands to earn profit in sustainable practices. This attractive scenario is common in all coffee areas around Colombia to make use of tourism as another source of income for the communities, offering tours visiting beautiful landscapes and showing the daily activities made by the farmers. The other side of coffee tourism is exposing visitors to the work of “Baristas” with expertise in the preparation of Colombian coffee and its different presentations.