Coffee Origins: Colombia

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Coffee was most likely introduced to Colombia by the Jesuits in 1723, though conflicting accounts abound. It took a long time for it to expand as a commercial crop across the country, and its production did not become significant until the late 1800s. By 1912, coffee accounted for almost 40% of Colombia’s overall exports.


Colombia was one of the first countries to grasp the importance of branding and marketing. Perhaps their greatest accomplishment was the creation of Juan Valdez, the Colombian coffee farmer, in 1958.
Juan Valdez and his mule became the icon of Colombian coffee, appearing on coffee bags and in many advertising campaigns throughout the years, portrayed by three different actors. Juan Valdez gained notoriety, particularly in the United States, and added value to Colombian coffee. The success of early marketing slogans like ‘Mountain Grown Coffee,’ as well as the persistent advertising of ‘100% Colombian Coffee,’ meant that Colombia would stand out in the eyes of consumers all over the world.

The Federación Nacional de Cafeteros was in charge of this marketing and continues to do so (FNC). This group, which was founded in 1927, is unique in the coffee-producing world. While several countries have organizations dedicated to coffee export and promotion, few are as vast and sophisticated as the FNC.

It was founded as a private non-profit organization to protect the interests of coffee farmers, and it is funded by a special tax on every exported coffee. Because Colombia is one of the world’s major coffee growers, the FNC is well-funded and has grown into a giant bureaucratic monster. Because the FNC is now technically owned and governed by its 500,000 coffee-producing members, this bureaucracy is maybe unavoidable. While the FNC is involved in the more visible tasks of marketing, production, and certain financial matters, it also has a hand in the development of social and physical infrastructure such as rural roads, schools, and health centers in coffee-growing regions. It has also made investments in businesses other than coffee to diversify its portfolio.


Colombia is one of the largest producers of coffee in the world, and export is controlled by a national federation. The country’s well-deĀned growing regions produce a varied range of crops.

The fnc and quality

Recently, there has been some friction between the FNC and the more quality-conscious segment of the industry, as the FNC’s perceived farmer interests may not necessarily lead to the highest possible coffee quality. Many argue that the promotion of variants like Castillo has favored the amount of yield over cup quality. The FNC has a research division called Cenicafé that produces certain types. It’s possible to see both sides of the argument, and as global climate change has a greater impact on the stability of Colombia’s supply, it’s becoming more difficult to argue against varieties that protect producers’ livelihoods, even if it means losing some outstanding cups of coffee.


The FNC coined the phrases ‘Supremo’ and ‘Excelso’ in order to promote Colombian coffee. These phrases solely refer to the bean’s size, and it’s vital to note that they have nothing to do with quality. Unfortunately, because coffee sold in this manner may come from a variety of farms and be blended before being sieved mechanically to the required size grade, this classification obscures any traceability.
In essence, this is generic coffee, and its nomenclature provides little assistance in determining its quality. The specialty coffee business has been attempting to retain traceability, so if you’re searching for something truly delicious, make sure the beans come from a certain location rather than being a specific size.

Plantations in the mountainous territory of Risaralda, one of Colombia’s western-central departments, produce some of the country’s best-known coffee.

Taste profile

Colombian coffees have a huge range of flavors, from the heavier, chocolatier coffees to jammy, sweet, fruity lots. A huge spectrum of flavors exists across the regions.

Growing regions

Population: 49,829,000
Number of 60kg (132lb) bags in 2016: 14,232,000

Colombia has well-defined coffee-growing regions that generate a wide range of coffees. Whether you prefer rounder, heavier coffees or something more lively and fruity (or something in between), Colombia has a coffee to suit your needs. Because the regions are divided physically rather than politically, it is not uncommon to find shared characteristics among the coffees produced in each. If you like one coffee from a region, you’ll probably like it a lot more.
Each year, Colombian coffee plants produce two harvests: the main harvest and the mica crop, which is locally known as the miracle harvest.


Among others, this area is best known for its coffees grown around Inza and the city of Popayán. The Meseta de Popayán is a high plateau with attractive growing conditions provided by the altitude, its proximity to the equator and the surrounding mountains, which protect the coffee against the humidity of the PaciĀc and the trade winds from the south. The result is a very stable climate year-round, and the region has notable volcanic soil too. Historically there has been a predictable, single rainy season each year in October to December.

Altitude: 1,700–2,100m (5,600–6,900ft)

Harvest: March–June (main crop) November–December (maca crop)

Varieties: 21% Typica, 64% Caturra, 15% Castillo

Cauca’s valley

With the Cauca river running between two enormous Andean mountain ranges, the Cauca Valley is one of the most productive sections of the country. The region was one of the hotspots of Colombia’s armed conflict. The area has roughly 75,800 hectares (187,300 acres) under coffee production, spread between 26,000 farms owned by 23,000 families, which is typical of Colombia.

Altitude: 1,450–2,000m (4,750–6,600ft)

Harvest: September–December (main crop) March–June (mitaca crop)

Varieties: 16% Typica, 62% Caturra, 22% Castillo


Tolima is among the last strongholds of Colombia’s notorious rebel group FARC, which had maintained control of the area until relatively recently. Tolima has suffered in recent years from the Āghting, which has made access difĀcult. Quality coffees from this area tend to come from small farmers in very small micro-lots via cooperatives.

Altitude: 1,200–1,900m (3,900–6,200ft)

Harvest: March–June (main crop) October–December (mitaca crop)

Varieties: 9% Typica, 74% Caturra, 17% Castillo


Huila has a unique combination of soil and topography for growing coffee, and it produces some of the most complex, fruit-forward Colombian coffees I’ve ever tasted. More than 70,000 coffee farmers work on more than 16,000 hectares (39,500 acres) of land in the region.

Altitude: 1,250–2,000m (4,100–6,600ft)

Harvest: September–December (main crop) April–May (mitaca crop)

Varieties: 11% Typica, 75% Caturra, 14% Castillo


Quindio is a small region in the country’s central region, about west of Bogotá. Coffee is a huge element of the economy in this region, which has a lot of unemployment. However, due to the hazards associated with cultivating coffee as a result of climate change and higher occurrences of illnesses affecting coffee plants, many farmers have shifted their crops to citrus fruits and macadamia nuts.
The National Coffee Park, a theme park themed on coffee and coffee manufacturing, is located in Quindio. Since 1960, the municipality of Calarcá has hosted the National Coffee Party at the end of June every year. This is a day of coffee celebrations, complete with a national coffee beauty pageant.

Altitude: 1,400–2,000m (4,600–6,600ft)

Harvest: September–December (main crop) April–May (mitaca crop)

Varieties: 14% Typica, 54% Caturra, 32% Castillo


This is another well-established coffee-growing region, with many farmers belonging to cooperatives. As a result, ethical labeling organizations have expressed interest. Coffee has a significant social and economic impact in the area, supplying many people with jobs. While many individuals moved to the region in the 1920s, often to plant coffee, the recession at the turn of the millennium resulted in widespread emigration to other regions and countries. The capital city serves as a transportation hub for the Caldas and Quindio regions, and the Autopista del Café is the interdepartmental road network (Coffee Highway).

Altitude: 1,300–1,650m (4,300–5,400ft)

Harvest: September–December (main crop) April–May (mitaca crop)

Varieties: 6% Typica, 59% Caturra, 35% Castillo


Nario produces some of Colombia’s highest-quality coffees, as well as some of the most beautiful and complex. In many regions, growing coffee at these high altitudes is difficult since the plants suffer from ‘die back.’ Nario, on the other hand, is close enough to the equator that the environment is perfect for coffee plants. The vast majority of Nario’s 40,000 producers are smallholders with plots of less than 2 hectares (4.4 acres). Many people have developed organizations and groups to help one other and interact with the FNC. In fact, the average farm size in the region is less than 1 hectare (2.2 acres), with only 37 farmers owning more than 5 hectares (11 acres).

Altitude: 1,500–2,300m (4,900–7,500ft)

Harvest: April–June

Varieties: 54% Typica, 29% Caturra, 17% Castillo


Caldas is part of the Colombian Coffee Growing Axis, or Coffee Triangle, along with Quindio and Esmeralda. They grow a substantial majority of the country’s coffee between them. Historically, this was regarded as some of Colombia’s greatest coffee, although other regions are now more competitive.
Cenicafé, the FNC’s National Coffee Research Centre, is also located in the region. It is regarded as one of the world’s foremost research institutes for all areas of coffee production, and it is here that a number of Colombian-only variations (such as the disease-resistant Colombia and Castillo kinds) were developed.

Altitude: 1,300–1,800m (4,300–5,900ft)

Harvest: September–December (main crop) April–May (mitaca crop)

Varieties: 8% Typica, 57% Caturra, 35% Castillo


This department is the birthplace of both coffee in Colombia and the FNC. This is a key
growing region with around 128,000 hectares (316,000 acres) of coffee, the most of any
region. The coffee is produced by a mixture of large estates and cooperatives of small

Altitude: 1,300–2,200m (4,300–7,200ft)

Harvest: September–December (main crop) April–May (mitaca crop)

Varieties: 6% Typica, 59% Caturra, 35% Castillo


This department surrounds the capital city of Bogotá, one of the highest capital cities in the
world at 2,625m (8,612ft) above sea level, higher than coffee would grow. This was the
second region in Colombia to produce coffee for export, with its production peaking just
before World War II. At that time it produced about ten percent of the nation’s coffee, but
the percentage has since declined. In the past, this region had some very large estates,
some with over one million coffee trees.

Altitude: 1,400–1,800m (4,600–5,900ft)

Harvest: March–June (maincrop) October–December (mitaca crop)

Varieties: 35% Typica, 34% Caturra, 31% Castillo


This was one of the first coffee-producing regions in Colombia. The location has a lower altitude than some of the others, which may be observed in the coffees, which tend to be round and sweet rather than juicy and nuanced. The Rainforest Alliance certifies a large amount of coffee from this region, and the region’s biodiversity is valued highly.

Altitude: 1,200–1,700m (3,900–5,600ft)

Harvest: September–December

Varieties: 15% Typica, 32% Caturra, 53% Castill

North santander

In the north of the country, bordering Venezuela, this region was producing coffee very early on, and may have been the Ārst area in Colombia to grow coffee.

Altitude: 1,300–1,800m (4,300–5,900ft)

Harvest: September–December

Varieties: 33% Typica, 34% Caturra, 33% Castillo

Sierra nevada

This is another low-altitude location, and the coffees here are heavier and fuller than the more delicate and vivacious counterparts. In this region, coffee is cultivated in the Andean mountains, and the incredibly steep hillsides (ranging from forty to eighty degrees) present a unique challenge to the producers. The term translates to snow-topped mountains’ and is used in several Spanish-speaking nations.

Altitude: 900–1,600m (3,000–5,200ft)

Harvest: September–December

Varieties: 6% Typica, 58% Caturra, 36% Castillo