Process: Washed We Taste: Honeydew Sweetness, Buttered Rye Toast, Bananas ‘n Cream, Breakfast Time! Roast Level: Light-Medium
Colombia is the third largest coffee-producing country in the world and, until the arrival of Vietnam on the coffee scene (whose outputs are mainly Robusta), Colombia was second only to Brazil.
Coffee first began to be cultivated commercially in Colombia in the mid-1830s and throughout the twentieth century was the country’s main export crop. A mountainous topography and many tropical micro-climates contribute greatly to Colombia’s reputation for ideal growing conditions, which – in turn – have helped Colombia establish itself as a recognizable ‘brand’ around the world.
The importance of coffee to the country’s economy can’t be overstated. Colombia has around 875,000 hectares planted with coffee across 590 municipalities and 14 coffee-growing regions. On average, 75 percent of the country’s production is exported worldwide, with the crop generating some 10-16 per cent of the agricultural GDP. The majority of this production surprisingly comes from small farms: 60 percent of Colombian coffee farmers cultivate less than one hectare of coffee while only .5 percent have more than 20 hectares.
Traditionally, the majority of coffees from Colombia have been processed using the fully washed method. However, Centre for Coffee Investigation (Cenicafé) has developed an ecological system that uses very little water, reduces contamination of local water sources by 90 percent and reduces water consumption by 95 percent. This dry pulping method has proven reliable not just in preserving the eco-system but also in guaranteeing a consistent cup quality and is increasingly used across the country.
The drying process in much of Colombia is unique – small-holder farmers spread the parchment across the flat roofs (or ‘elvas’) of their houses to dry in the sun. Polytunnels and parabolic beds are also used in farms with high altitude and cold weather conditions. Parabolic beds – which are constructed a bit like ‘hoop house’ greenhouses, with airflow ensured through openings in both ends – both protect the parchment from rain and mist as it is dried and prevent condensation from dripping back on the drying beans.
The diversity of coffee and profiles found across Colombia is enormous and coffee is harvested practically year-round depending on the region. The main harvest takes place from October to February with November and December being the peak months. There is also a second fly (or 'mitaca') crop several months later, again varying by region and micro climate.
As the country becomes more developed, labour costs have risen, making harvesting more and more expensive. In 2015, unemployment in the country reached historic lows and labour supply in the rural coffee growing areas has increasingly failed to meet demand – the FNC calculates that some coffee regions are under-staffed by between one- and two-fifths. The issue could have implications for overall exports in coming years.