• Cher Dayrit

Colombian Coffee: One of the World's Best

An outstanding coffee, loved by consumers around the world.

Colombian coffee is the name given to a 100% washed Arabica coffee produced in the coffee growing regions of Colombia. The quality coffee grows because of a lot of factors like Colombia's coffee growing zone, its soils, the botanical origin of the species and varieties of coffees produced, the climate and rain pattern over the coffee area, the ever changing topography, the favorable temperature range within the day, a sufficient amount and distribution of the rain. These factors, together with the hard work of coffee growers lead to the production and sale of an outstanding coffee. Colombian coffee is described as mild, of a clean cup, with a medium to high acidity and body, and a pronounced and complete aroma. It is a balanced coffee with a sensory profile of excellent quality.

Colombian Coffee is without a doubt an outstanding coffee not only due to its combination and balance of quality attributes, but due to the union of the Colombian Coffee producers around their Colombian Coffee Growers Federation to be able to carry out a consistent effort throughout the years.

Many have become interested in selling Colombian Coffee as they know that it is not only a high quality product but also represents values that respect and prioritize the social and environmental aspects of growing coffee

History of coffee in Colombia

According to the historical data, it is said that in 1730, the Jesuits brought small seeds with them but there are different versions of this. Tradition says that the seeds of coffee came from the East of the country, brought by a traveler from the Guyana who passed through Venezuela until reaching Colombia. The oldest written testimony of the presence of coffee in Colombia is attributed to a Jesuit priest, Jose Gumilla. In his book "The Orinoco Illustrated"(1730) he registered the presence of coffee in the mission of Saint Teresa of Tabajé, near where the Meta River empties into the Orinoco. The second written testimony belongs to the archbishop-viceroy Caballero y Góngora (1787) who registered the presence of the crop in the North east of the country near Girón (Santander) and Muzo (Boyacá), in a report that he provided to the Spanish authorities.

The first coffee crops were planted in the eastern part of Colombia. In 1835 the first commercial production was registered with 2,560 green coffee bags that were exported from the port of Cúcuta, near the border with Venezuela. According to the testimonies of the time, the priest Francisco Romero is attributed to be very influential in the propagation of the crop in the North east region of the country. After hearing the confession of the parishioners of the town of Salazar de la Palmas, he requested as penitence the cultivation of coffee. These seeds permitted the presence of coffee in the departments of Santander and North Santander, with its consequent propagation, since 1850, to the center and western regions, such as Cundinamarca, Antioquia, and the historic region of Caldas.

The large Colombian landowners had already tried to make use of the new opportunities that the expansion of the international markets offered. Between 1850 and 1857 the country experienced a significant increase in products like tobacco and quinine exports. These early efforts in the export of agricultural commodities turned out too fragile. The production of these sectors went into period of decline and then a true industrial consolidation was ended.

With the fall of international prices, that registered the transition from the 19th century to the 20th century, the profitability of the large estates crashed. As if this was not enough, the Thousand Days War, which took place during the first years of the new century, also negatively influenced the important landowners, making it impossible for them to maintain their plantations in good conditions. Because of this circumstance, these producers had suffered in large amounts of foreign debt in order to further develop their plantations, which finally ruined them. The coffee estates of Santander and North Santander entered into crisis and the estates of Cundinamarca and Antioquia stalled.

The crisis that affected the large estates brought with it one of the most significant changes of the Colombian Coffee Industry. Since 1875 the number of small coffee producers had begun to grow in Santander as well as in some regions of Antioquia and in the region referred to as Viejo or Old Caldas. In the first decades of the 20th century a new model to develop coffee exports based on the rural economy had already been brought together, supported by internal migration and the colonization of new territories in the center and western regions of the country, principally in the departments of Antioquia, Caldas, Valle, and in the northern part of Tolima. Both the expansion of this new coffee model and the crisis that affected the large estates allowed the western regions of Colombia to take the lead in the development of the coffee industry in the country.

This transformation was very favorable for the owners of the small coffee estates that were entering the coffee market. The cultivation of coffee was a very attractive option for local farmers, as it offered the possibility of making permanent and intensive use of the land. Under this productive model of the traditional agriculture, the land remained unproductive for long periods of time. In contrast, coffee offered the possibility of having an intense agriculture, without major technical requirements and without sacrificing the cultivation of subsistence crops, thus generating the conditions for the expansion of a new coffee culture, dominated by small farms.

The union of local farmers and small producers around the Federation has permitted them to confront logistical and commercial difficulties that would not have been possible individually. Over time and through the research made at Cenicafé, founded in 1938, and the Federation's agricultural extension service, improved cultivation systems. More efficient spatial patterns were developed that permitted the differentiation of the product and supported its quality. Currently the Land of Coffee in Colombia includes all of the mountain ranges and other mountainous regions of the country, and generates income for over 500,000 coffee farming families.

Colombian coffee Farmers

Coffee farming requires a great deal of know-how and experience in the specific microclimate of each geographical area.

In Colombia, coffee grows on the slopes of the Andes almost throughout the entire length of the country. The coffee plant likes intraday variation in temperature and, the higher you get on the mountains, the larger the temperature range gets. But at the same time the thinner air at higher altitudes makes the sun merciless. The delicate coffee tree cannot cope with direct sun and must therefore be intercropped with. On the other hand, in the northern parts of the country the daily temperatures range from +30 degrees during the day to +10 degrees at night, but the conditions in the north are more difficult to grow shade-providing plants. Farmers must also decide whether or not to prune their coffee trees and, if so, how to do it because a cut plant may not yield anything the next year while potentially producing a much bigger yield for the three years following that.

The farmer’s income is dependent on the world market price of coffee as well as the value of the Colombian peso. Sustainability certification makes sense for farmers as they get a slightly better price for certified coffee. Although the production of uncertified coffee has also been financially viable in Colombia for several years, profitable coffee farming takes a lot of working hours and competence.

From bean to cup

Through various coffee exporters' sustainability programmes and by improving their yields through training and tips provided by agronomists, individual farmers can seek to increase their farm's profitability. Together with coffee exporters’ agronomists, farmers plan how their yields and quality could be improved.

Farmers know their coffee inside out but from a totally different perspective than end users up here in Northern Europe. Whereas the consumer is mainly interested in what the coffee tastes like and, for example, whether the roast is light or dark, the farmer does not know the cup profile of the end product. The farmer is interested in the coffee plant’s resistance, productivity and ease of picking.

It could be easily said that before a lot of Colombian Coffee is exported it has gone through at least 4 points where its quality is analyzed and evaluated from the farm up to the exporting port. In addition to this, through companies specialized in sampling and laboratories contracted to that effect, further analysis are carried out in all continents. Approximately 1,200 quality analysis per year are performed for Colombian Coffee brands sold outside the country.

Thus, Colombia has become a worldwide reference in terms of coffee, due to its obsession to build a system to assume quality, which starts in the seed of the tree and finishes in the 100% Colombian Coffee cup that gets to millions of consumers in the whole world.

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