Rediscovering Colombian Coffee

Colombian coffee is thriving. At the production level, the newly launched variety Cenicafe 1, the next in a line of hybrids selected for both final cup quality and crop management, is resistant to la roya leaf rust and other diseases. In a technical bulletin announcing the availability of the new seeds, the Colombian Coffee Federation’s research branch, Cenicafe, stated, “genetic diversity is a mechanism that can be used to establish long-term resistance to coffee leaf rust.”

Genetics aren’t the only aspect of Colombian coffee that is becoming more diverse.Colombian coffee, long associated with a uniform profile of fully washed beans differentiated by screen size as Excelso or Supremo, is now being sought after and sold by its region, varietal, and process.

This trend started with individual producers wanting to showcase the particular attributes of coffee grown on their farms, often referred to as terroir, the terminology used in winemaking to describe the culmination of soil, microclimate, varietal, and plant management that yields the final flavor profile unique to each location. This shift in focusing production on preserving the qualities of individual farms rather than collectively grouping coffees through a co-op, coincides with the rise in small roasters across the US, Europe, Australia, and Asia.

These small roasters can now rediscover Colombian coffee through direct engagement with producers. Many farms producing specialty Colombian coffee also offer accommodations and education to teach other coffee professionals about the nuances of Colombia’s land, people, and agriculture through hands on experience. Some notable examples exist in each of Colombia’s producing regions.

In Zipacón, Cundinamarca, outside of Bogotá, husband and wife team Felipe Sardi and Elisa de Sandoval, founded La Palma y El Tucan, an estate and mill growing and processing exotic varietals and working with neighboring farmers to provide technical assistance and market access. Their respective backgrounds in business administration and marketing combined with a team of other professionals has allowed them to transform coffee production into a viable business that includes hospitality, research, and training.

In Manizales, Caldas, Café Tio Conejo’s founder Ivanov Castellanos left a career as a veterinarian to integrate the supply chain and directly export coffee grown on his family’s own farms, also including unique varietals like Bourbon and Geisha. In Risaralda, Caldas, Direct Origin Trading was founded by economist Karl Weinholdt and sources lots from producers across the country, air freighting them directly to roasters. In Aponte de Buesaco, Nariño, the Inga tribal community has partnered with family-owned exporter La Meseta and importer Ally Coffee to produce honey processed lots that conserve water and yield unprecedented flavor profiles. In Caloto de Paicol, Huila, Chalo Fernandez has partnered with Trebilcock Coffee in Ontario, Canada to improve milling processes by tailoring equipment to meet precise harvest needs. The cooperative De Los Andes in Jardin, Antioquia is isolating individual microlots from select members and exporting roasted coffee directly to international consumers.

Colombians themselves are rediscovering Colombian coffee by leaving careers in other fields to return to the mountains of their homelands and cultivate new coffees using new technologies and techniques. New processing methods offer new added value, such as lactic-processed at La Palma y El Tucan and controlled fermentations at Pergamino’s processing facilities in Santa Barbara, Medellin, one of Colombia’s pioneers in small lot, differentiated production and direct export.

Colombia coffee offerings are evolving to respond to changing consumer tastes and the one refrain Colombian growers share again and again is the invitation for everyone to come and experience Colombian coffee for themselves.

-Rachel Northrop is a contributor for the Specialty Coffee Magazine and the writer of When Coffee Speaks.
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Photo Credit: Landon Yost
RACHEL NORTHROP is a contributor for Specialty Coffee Magazine. Her articles focus on agriculture, environmental and economic sustainability at origin, emerging US roasters and retailers, and the personal narratives of people involved at all points along the supply chain. She began researching coffee production in 2012 for the book When Coffee Speaks: Stories from and of Latin American Coffeepeople. She works as the Northeast US & Canada rep for Ally Coffee’s specialty division. Read more at whencoffeespeaks.com.

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