Colombian Coffee: Everything You Wanted to Know

Colombian coffee is one of our most popular products at Cadena, so we wanted to write about what makes Colombian beans special!  

In 2018, Colombia produced nearly 2 billion pounds of coffee, making it the third-largest coffee-producing country in the world, after only Brazil and Vietnam. How did Colombia come to be one of the largest coffee producers worldwide?

History

The Jesuits introduced coffee to Colombia in 1723. Cultivation took off when the priest Francisco Romero began assigning the planting of coffee trees as penance for confessions. By 1912, coffee comprised 50% of Colombian exports.

Colombia cultivates the Arabica bean, which provides a familiar flavor due its being more widespread (about 60% of global production) than the alternative robusta bean and other, less-cultivated species. Believed to be the first coffee species to emerge, Arabica has documentations dating to the 12th century. It is commonly called “Arabian coffee” from its origin in Yemen. Arabica coffee is less bitter and more acidic than robusta and has a lower concentration of caffeine. Colombia cultivates three sub-varieties of Arabica: typica (“typical” in Spanish), caturra (“small” in Guarani), and castillo (“castle” in Spanish).

Coffee Bean Varieties 

Typica was the original Arabica variety, which in the early 1500s spread from Yemen to India and then Indonesia via commerce. From there, colonial trade routes brought it to the Netherlands, The Guianas, and then the Americas. Typica is a large bean that grows on a tall plant and provides a relatively low yield.

Colombia’s second Arabica subvariety is caturra. A mutation of the Bourbon sub-variety (not cultivated in Colombia), caturra was first discovered in 1935, on a coffee plantation in Brazil. Its single-gene mutation causes the plant to grow smaller, with closely placed secondary branches. This popularized the breed among cultivators, as they could now grow more in the same amount of field space. Once it spread to Colombia, caturra accounted for almost half of the country’s coffee production until 2008, when the government began incentivizing production of the castillo sub-variety. Caturra has medium-sized beans and moderate cup quality.

Finally, after 23 years of research and development, the Colombian Coffee Federation released the castillo sub-variety in 2005. Designed to resist leaf rust, Castillo was heavily promoted among farmers and now accounts for 45% of Colombian coffee production.

Present Day Production

As coffee grows in cool, rainy areas at elevation, Colombia has a wide range of coffee-producing zones. These zones are in the Andes Mountains and run through the country from North to South. Most Colombian coffee is grown on small farms before being collected, wet-processed, milled, and exported by the Colombian Coffee Federation.  

Colombian coffee is often described as rich, citrusy, and medium bodied. It has a large range of flavors from heavy and chocolaty to sweet and mildly fruity. Its tones are more subtle than many other coffee types. Colombian coffees are compatible with most roasts. They are rated as “Supremo” (largest) or “Excelso” (still large but slightly smaller) based upon bean size.

Colombia even has a theme park dedicated to coffee called the National Coffee Park (Parque del Café), located in Quindio.

Support our Colombian farmer partners by purchasing some Colombian Cadena Coffee today!