THE ZONES, THE VARIETIES, THE PROCESS
THE NORTH, CENTRAL, AND SOUTH ZONES
With a coffee farming area of around 940,000 hectares spanning over 22 regions, Colombia ranks third in world coffee exports. It is one of the few coffee producing countries with two harvests in one year. Families operate farms on the steep slopes of the Andes at ranges of altitudes, which provides them with volcanic and fertile soil.
Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Magdalena
Norte de Santander
Altitudes: Lower altitudes, warmer temperatures, 800-1850 metres.
Bean: Lower balanced acidity, medium-fuller body, notes of nuts and chocolate, soft and sweetness in aroma
Factors: Volcanic soil, shadows generated by trees for solar radiation.
Seasons: December-March, dry season and April-November, wet season. Coffee blooms in March, and is harvested October-November.
Valle del Cauca (Norte)
Altitudes: 1200-1650 meters. Known as the coffee belt or zona cafetera.
Bean: Fruity and herbal
Factors: Volcanic soil, steepy mountains and valleys formed by rivers.
Seasons: December-February and June-September are the dry seasons. March-May and September-November are the wet seasons.
This leads to two harvest seasons, October-December and May-June which is why most of the coffee originates from this axis.
UNESCO declared the "Coffee Cultural Landscape" of Colombia, a World Heritage site.
Altitudes: Between 1600-2300 meters. Grown at higher altitudes with low temperatures between 3-12c.
Bean: Higher acidity, medium-bodied mouthfeel, distinctive cup profiles, citrus notes, sweetness, clean quality aroma.
Factors: Nutrient rich volcanic soil, proximity to the equator, humid air reaching up to 2300 meters.
Seasons: One dry season which lasts from June-September, followed by coffee blossoms. One rainy season strikes in October and can last until May. Harvest season is usually to April-June
THE ARABICA VARIETIES
The Coffea Arabica species production accounts for approximately 70% of the industry. Coffee varieties are the diverse subspecies derived through selective breeding or natural selection. In comparison to Robusta it has less caffeine content, tends to be sweeter, more complex, and more aromatic. Colombia invests more than any other country in scientific researc with their National Centre for Coffee Investigation (CENICAFE) to improve efficiencies, quality and the wellbeing of farmers.
Typica was first coffee variety introduced to most coffee growing countries, including Colombia. Typica still accounts for about 25% of Colombian trees and is the base from which many coffee varietals have been developed. Known to originate from Yemen, it has a conical shape, a main vertical trunk, and long secondary verticals that grow at a slight slant; thus causing it to have low yields. Its fruits are bold and long. Despite having a very low production, Typica has an excellent cup quality. It is a little sweet and can have a mild fruit note to its taste. It was replaced in Colombia starting in the 1970’s with the Caturra variety, because the latter is more productive.
Originally from the French island of Bourbon (now know as Reunion), it is a natural mutation of Typica with a less of a conical shape. It has smaller angles between the branches and stem, more secondary branches, and the branch points on the main stem are closely spaced. In addition to that, the small and dense fruits make Bourbon 20-30% more productive than Typica. Bourbon tends to have a smaller harvest than most coffee varietals, although the cherries mature quickly. The best results are between 1000-2000 meters. Bourbon is valued for its sweet, caramel quality and a complex crisp acidity but can also present distinct flavours depending on where it is planted.
Caturra is the most common varietal accounting for approximately 45% of coffee found in Colombian. It was first introduced in 1952 and widely accepted by the late 60’s. Originally discovered in Minas Gerais, Brazil as a natural mutation of the Bourbon variety. It is considered a “dwarf Bourbon” because of it's shorter and more closely placed secondary branches. This gives it higher productivity in terms of 'density of trees per hectare'. Caturra has a medium body and presents citric overtones like lime and lemon. It adapts well to almost any environment, but does best between 1200-2000 feet. Quality increases at higher altitudes, but production decreases.
Cenicafé 1 is the latest variety created by the FNC and Cenicafé, after 20 years of research. Cenicafé 1 was born from a cross between Caturra and the Timor Hybrid 1343. It is resistant to both coffee rust and coffee berry disease. The aim was to provide a solution for Colombian coffee growers who wanted Caturra-like trees that were also rust-resistant. With a Castillo-level yield, a large average bean size, and notes of honey and hazelnut; it comes as no surprise that this cultivar has received speciality-grade scores on the cupping table.
The Colombian cultivar, was developed by Cenicafe after five generations in 1982. Produced to be resistant to Coffee rust, it is a cross between Caturra and the Timor Hybrid. It is a compound variety, a result of many progenies. Colombia can be planted in high densities due to its small size and is the breeding base for different sub-varieties. The usual notes associated with Colombia are caramel or chocolate.
Released in 2005, an improvement of the Colombia variety, Castillo is another disease and coffee rust resistant compound varietal from Cenicafe. It is the flag of the FNC 'Colombia without Rust' initiative. It is quite popular amongst Colombian farmers due to it having a high yield, being very productive, and environmentally adaptive to growing zones. The fruits are also slightly larger and display more resistance to pests and insects. Profile flavour is similar to Typica, Caturra, and Bourbon. Castillo is known for its smoothness, aroma, and citric acidity.
Catui, Catimor, Geisha, Maragogipe, Maragaturra, Mundo Novo, Pink Bourbon, Red Bourbon, SL 28, Tabi..
Processing is the method in which the beans are removed from the coffee cherry. The process impacts the acidity, flavor, and body.
Light, clean, and tangy
Coffee pulp is mechanically removed, leaving a sticky layer called mucilage on the bean. Beans are washed and then held in a concrete fermentation tank for 18–36 hours to develop flavor, acidity and body. One final washing, and the beans are dried, parchment is removed and the green beans are sorted and graded.
Lower acidity, light-bodied and smooth
Coffee pulp is removed using small handpulping machines, and then the coffee is washed and laid out to dry in the sun. After partial drying, parchment is removed and the coffee is laid out again for final drying, followed by sorting and grading.
Wild, unpredictable and berry
Coffee cherries are allowed to dry completely on the bean, letting the bean develop flavors before the skin and parchment are removed, followed by sorting and grading.