Colombian Coffee Beans: What is Colombia coffee and is it the best?
Whether you’re at the store, or your favorite coffee shop, you're probably on the hunt for the best whole bean coffee available. With so many options, it can be a bit overwhelming. So, why not start with a Colombian coffee?
Colombia is right behind Brazil and Vietnam when it comes to coffee production. In fact, Colombia accounts for roughly 12% of the world’s supply, and over 500,000 families are growing and producing these popular beans, even today. The beans are commonly dark roasted but when taken a bit lighter, they really shine!TRY OUR ORGANIC COLOMBIAN COFFEE →
The Flavor of Colombian Coffee
When people think of coffee-producing countries, Colombia almost always comes to mind. Colombian coffee beans have a mild, balanced flavor even when they’re dark roasted. You won’t get a bitter taste if carefully roasted. Instead, you get a bold, bright flavor and aroma with hints of citrus, spice, caramel, and dark chocolate.
Also, the acidity level is considered medium to high for those that enjoy a good "snap" to their coffee. Where the beans are grown also affects the flavor and aroma of the coffee which we will get into more down below.
Colombian Coffee Growing Regions
There are more than 22 regions in Colombia where coffee plants thrive. These regions are divided into four areas that each produce a uniquely flavored coffee bean. There is a false notion that every single origin has a specific taste that is uniquely tied to the region it comes from, but that is not always the case!
Coffee beans harvested in northern Colombia are less acidic than other regions and have a full-body taste. You’ll notice stronger hints of nuts and chocolate than with other Colombia coffees.
The reason for the nuttier flavor is due to the growing conditions. Northern Colombia only has one dry season, from April to November, and rain falls between December and March. The heavy seasonal rains encourage the coffee plants to grow and flower during the dry months.
The beans are ready for harvest in November, usually during the first two weeks.
Southern Colombia has a higher altitude and lies close to the equator. Its geographical location produces a specialty coffee bean with caramel and fruit being the prominent flavors and aromas.
The weather is similar to the country's northern region, a wet season followed by a dry one. However, harvest time is different in the south. The coffee beans are harvested in the spring instead of in the fall. The variation in harvesting times ensures that you can find Colombian coffee year-round.
Three main areas grow coffee in the south. Nariño, Huila, and Cauca. These locations make-up what is known as the “New Colombian Coffee Triangle.”
The growing region is smaller in the country’s eastern region, but this is changing. A priority has been placed on coffee bean production after the FARC revolutionary members signed a peace treaty in 2016. Now the former members are being trained as baristas and coffee bean farmers.
The climate is similar in the east to the weather patterns in the northern part of the country. Rainfall and humidity levels are higher, especially in the Arauca, Casanare, Caquetá, and Meta regions. These are also the only four areas in the east that are currently growing coffee beans.
To improve coffee bean production and encourage new farmers to harvest the plants, the Colombian government is helping landowners select hardy, sustainable plants and encouraging farm expansion.
There’s a good chance your cup of Colombia coffee originated in the country’s central zone. The area is known for its exceptional beans, and it’s the location of the Colombian Belt. Coffee beans from central Colombia have a high acidity content, with a fruity and herbal aroma.
Coffee beans from the Colombian Belt are usually from one of five areas. Caldas, Quindío, and Risaralda are known for their large quantities of beans. Two other areas in the country’s central region are Tolima and Antioquia. With two rainy seasons annually, coffee bean farmers can put in larger crops.
Best Colombian Coffee Beans
Central Colombia is the original “golden triangle” when you’re discussing coffee beans. There’s even an acronym for the area's best Colombian coffee beans. Marketed as MAM, it includes Manizales, Armenia, and Medellin.
These areas are famous for producing three of the best-known Colombian coffee beans. At Black Ink, we cycle our coffee in based on what is fresh and in crop. Often times you'll see coffee at our roastery that are from these regions.
Castillo Coffee Beans
These are popular beans, but they also come with controversy. The beans are hybrids, which has some coffee connoisseurs doubting its quality. The beans are genetically similar to Robusta beans. You get a smooth and robust cup of coffee.
The hybrid beans are bred to withstand rust disease. Coffee rust can decimate an entire crop if it’s left unchecked. Castillo beans are resistant to the disease and have the potential to become a high-yield, single-origin bean. You get the same flavor and aroma with every cup of coffee brewed from Castillo beans.
Caturra Coffee Beans
Even though these beans are susceptible to coffee rust, they’re still a global favorite. Caturra coffee beans have a bright flavor with a medium to low body. It’s the perfect cup of coffee for people looking for a smoother taste.
Developed originally in Brazil, Caturra beans are now synonymous with Colombian coffee.
Tinto Coffee Beans
Tinto roughly translates to English as “inky water,” and it’s an apt name for the coffee beans. It’s marketed as the everyday coffee for the people, and you can find it on almost any street corner in Colombia.
It is a lower quality coffee bean, which is why you can get a cup for as low as ten cents on a Colombian street corner. Even though the quality isn’t noteworthy, Tinto coffee beans are an important part of the Colombia coffee culture and history.TRY OUR ORGANIC COLOMBIAN COFFEE →
Growing Conditions for Colombia Coffee Beans
Coffee beans need a specific climate, and Colombia is one of a few countries that have regions ideal for the plants. While the regions are divided into four main areas, it encompasses two zones that have the ideal climates coffee bean plants need to thrive.
One area is the Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta highlands, and the other is the slopes of the Andes Mountains running through the country.
These areas have the higher elevations coffee plants love, around 6,400 feet, with nutrient-rich volcanic soil for fertilization. Coffee plants also thrive in shade, and in temperatures that range from 46 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
Processing Colombian Coffee Beans
Colombian coffee farms normally are not mechanized. Everything from planting to harvesting the beans is done by hand. Coffee farms are usually located on steep hillsides. It’s difficult to get machinery into the fields. The beans are hand-picked, ensuring top-quality.
Picking the beans by hand isn’t efficient. It takes longer to bring in a Colombian coffee crop than in some other countries. The upside is a better product, even before the beans are roasted and brewed into a pot of coffee.
After the beans are harvested, they go through a process that separates the pulp from the skin. Known as wet processing, it’s a new technique that leaves most of the aroma and flavor behind. You get a stronger, bolded cup of Joe when the bean is wet processed before brewing.
Colombian Coffee Bean Farms
Most coffee farms in Colombia are family-owned and operated. The farms are small, though they can form a type of consortium when several band together. The MAM in central Colombia is one example. Three regions work together to produce some of the best Colombian coffee beans.
The Coffee Industry in Colombia
Colombia is the third-largest producer of coffee beans in the world. Brazil and Vietnam export more coffee, but Colombia is known for its high-quality beans. Almost all Colombian coffee beans are Arabica.
The Colombian coffee industry currently generates around 800,000 jobs with half a million farmers growing the beans. Twenty percent of the country’s farmland is used for arabica beans, prompting UNESCO to declare Colombia a world heritage site for its “Coffee Cultural Landscape'' in 2011.
Threats to Colombian Coffee Bean Farms
A Colombian coffee shortage happening isn’t that far fetched. The small global industry faces several threats, both manmade and from nature.
Insects are a concern to any farmer, along with disease and fungi. Colombian coffee farmers faced a crisis in 2018. An estimated 500,000 small family-run coffee farms battle two types of fungi, while also fighting off borer beetles. This was on top of the leaf rust disease that dropped coffee production by 31 percent.
Coffee bean plants need a cooler, shady climate with a certain amount of rainfall to thrive. Warming temperatures and changing rainfall amounts are affecting Colombian coffee bean production.
Plants aren’t as healthy as in previous years. Disease is also a problem, which is why the rust-resistant Castillo beans are gaining in popularity with farmers and coffee brand owners.
While switching to the hardier Castillo plant will help save some farms, smaller ones are suffering around the country.
Production and Market Prices
Unfortunately, production and market costs don’t match up for Colombian coffee bean farmers. Prices for the beans are set in New York City and influenced by the larger Brazilian and Vietnamese markets.
Colombian farmers are left struggling to maintain quality with a lower profit margin. The small farms can’t compete against the larger conglomerates and distributors.
How Strong Is Colombian Coffee
You won’t get a huge caffeine jolt from Colombian coffee. The dark roast may be perfect for espressos, but you’re not going to get the same “kick.”
Colombian coffee beans have the same caffeine content as those grown in Brazil or Ethiopia. Arabica beans are also lighter than Robusta, giving your coffee a lighter, more fruity taste and aroma.
You will get more flavor and acidity with a darker roast, but Colombian beans are still mild when compared to others.
How to Brew Colombian Coffee
There’s no right or wrong way to brew Colombian coffee as long as you love the taste. If you want to know how coffee aficionados make a cup, the beans determine the brewing steps.
How the beans were roasted, along with their origins, determines the best way to brew a cup of Colombian coffee.
Cappuccinos, macchiatos, and other milky espresso drinks are smooth and rich with Colombian coffee beans. So much so that 50% of our espresso blend is made up of Colombian beans.
Similar to a French press, AeroPress drinks have a strong flavor but a more mellow taste. An AeroPress machine is also easier to use and clean than a French press. Colombian coffee beans have a bold, smooth flavor that’s ideal for this type of coffee drink.
AeroPress coffee drinks are so popular that Colombia’s capital city, Bogota, hosts an annual championship. It’s also another way the country is keeping its rich cultural heritage with coffee alive.
Colombian Coffee Bean Roasting Tips
Colombian coffee beans are of a single origin, which makes them extremely easy to roast if not inside of a blend. Light, medium, and dark roasts all bring out the bean’s unique flavor.
Lightly roasted Colombian coffee beans have a bright flavor, and the high acidity brings out the citrus notes. You’ll also taste caramel and cocoa, along with the bean’s rich, natural flavor.
Medium and dark roasted Colombian beans have a stronger flavor and richer aroma. You won’t taste the citrusy notes as much, but the cocoa and caramel are stronger. You get a sweeter cup of coffee with less acidity.
Different Coffee Roast Flavors
How Colombian coffee beans are roasted determines everything from how the beverage feels in your mouth to its taste, aroma, and acidity levels.
- Light roasted Colombian beans have fruity and chocolate undertones. You get a toasted grain taste, along with a high acidity content.
- Medium roasts have a rich coffee flavor, along with hints of nuts, fruit, and chocolate. It is slightly more bitter than light roasts, but it’s also less acidic.
- Dark roast has the lowest acidity level and the strongest coffee taste. It’s slightly bitter with a smoky aftertaste. Dark roasted coffee beans are best suited for espresso-style drinks, and for people that need a strong pick-up in the morning.
The Future of Colombian Coffee Bean Farmers
Coffee bean farmers in Colombia are facing a few challenges. Climate change is encouraging pests like leaf borers and coffee bean rust that are decimating small family farms across the country. However, there is hope for Colombian coffee lovers around the world.
The FARC peace treaty has brought stability to the country, and the former rebel fighters are being trained as farmers to cultivate the caffeinated cash crop.
Sustainable farming awareness is also on the rise. It’s estimated that 42% of Colombian coffee bean farms use sustainable practices. The coffee industry is also part of the country’s national history, and the Colombian Coffee Federation (FNC) has vowed to make the industry entirely sustainable by 2027.
If the coffee bean industry across Colombia is entirely based on sustainable practices, it will continue to be the favorite morning wake-up drink for people around the world.
Enjoy a Cup of Colombian Coffee
It doesn’t matter if you like a stronger cup of coffee or a milder one with less of an aftertaste. You can roast Colombian coffee beans to the precise flavor you love, which makes Colombian coffee beans one of the best options out there!
Lighter roasts give you a milder flavor with plenty of fruit and chocolate accents. Go for a darker roast if you want a stronger cup. The one thing you’ll notice is no matter the roast, the coffee is always smooth and never bitter. It’s one of the reasons why Colombian beans are a favorite among coffee drinkers.TRY OUR ORGANIC COLOMBIAN COFFEE →