Colombia could be approaching best-of-both-worlds status as coffee producer. On one hand, standard commodity Colombias are still rolling down to the ports and onward into “100% Colombian” supermarket cans and jars, whose quite decent contents put to shame the bland, woody, Robusta-laden contents of competing supermarket cans and jars.
At the same time, emerging from blessed little pockets along the slopes of the Andes, small lots of amazing and exceptional specialty Colombia coffees have been surfacing over the decade starting in 2010. Many are conventionally wet-processed coffees aiming for classic power and completeness. In other words, they aim to transcend the standard-issue Colombia cup by doing the same thing better. But other recent Colombia coffees represent the anything-goes, push-it-to-the-limit experimentation with processing method that since around 2015 has accelerated at the trendy high end of the coffee market.
A Model of Successful Organization.
All of Colombia’s coffee production is Arabica, almost all grown at relatively high altitudes on small-holder farms, and most is relatively carefully picked and wet processed, easily making Colombia the world’s largest producer of the top commercial category of high-grown mild coffee.
Colombia’s success at producing very large quantities of good-quality coffee and selling the world on it can largely be attributed to the work of the National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia (Federación Nacional de Cafeteros de Colombia) or FNC. A nonprofit, quasi-governmental organization with 513,000 small-holding farmer members, the FNC is a model of successful coffee organization, institutional persistence and savvy marketing. Its decades-long, innovative marketing program featuring the photogenic farmer Juan Valdez (played by a succession of actual coffee farmers over the years) remains a remarkable, award-winning success story in establishing brand recognition with North American consumers.
Meanwhile, at the producing end, the FNC has relentlessly pursued its goal to turn all of its members into one unified coffee expression, as near as possible offering the same cup no matter where in Colombia the green coffee comes from or which of its 513,000 farmer-members grows it.
The Changing Colombia Cup
The standard Colombia cup also has appeared to change over the last decade or so. Arguably, it has tended to simplify and coarsen somewhat owing to farmers’ occasional sloppy use of the mechanical demucilaging machines promoted by the FNC. When these machines are not adjusted correctly, for example, they may leave some fruit mucilage on the beans, and if the beans are then not dried carefully, the mucilage can mildly ferment and develop off-notes. Nevertheless, over recent years I have tested samples from entire container-loads of standard-issue Colombia Excelso that have escaped the ordinary into the outstanding and even exceptional.
Colombia Growing Regions
In terms of cup tendencies, a practical way to look at Colombian growing regions is to simply divide them very broadly into north, central and south. The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta or Magdalena region in the far north of Colombia, an isolated mountain massif close to the Caribbean, tends to a soft cup, sweet and round. The classic regions in the mountain highlands of the west-central part of the country tend to bright acidity, big body and straightforward aromatics. The mountains of the south in the Huila, Nariño and Cauca departments tend to produce the most distinctive range of cup, with balanced brightness and often more complex aromatics than typical with Colombias from the central regions. These southern regions also have greatly expanded coffee production over the past 15 years while the central regions have seen reduced production.
Colombia Coffee Ratings and Reviews
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