What everybody ought to know about the Colombian Coffee

During 30 years Juan Velez CEO of Clearpath Coffee has been working in the Colombian coffee industry, helping hundreds of growers at their farms and consulting with over 20 different international companies to help them establish their business in Colombia. This experience has taught us how important is to understand the coffee origin and its people when doing business.

 Many of the facts that follow will seem obvious. Yet day after day we see business people making mistakes that could be easily avoided if these basic points where observed.  Here is a summary of the main 12 points to keep in mind.  

1.       Colombian Coffee is 100% Washed Arabica. All coffee plantations in Colombia are of Arabica plants. And the coffee grower’s federation in its attempt to secure the quality of all the Colombian coffee has determined that only washed coffee can be exported.

2.       Café de Colombia is a Protected Geographical indication. The formal recognition of Café de Colombia as a Protected Geographical Indication under the EU system became official in September 2007. And it was the first time that a non-EU origin product was recognized.

3.       Why the origin matters. Since 1960 Colombia has been campaigning to encourage pruduction of high quality coffee beans and established the labels 100% Café de Colombia and Juan Valdez. These effors led to worldwide recognition of Colombia as the origin of the finest coffee beans.

4.       100% Handpicked.  In Colombia coffee is a high altitude crop (1000 to 1600 masl on average), frequently grown on very steep slopes and farming plots barely average 1.6 hectares each, which makes it a predominantly a small scale artisanal family business. Handpicking guarantees the selection of ripe beans, a characteristic that plays an important role in the quality of the final product.

5.       Strictly high grown coffee classification is not used in Colombia. Due to the latitude variation and the existence of 86 differentiated microclimates between production areas in the south and north of Colombia, the strictly high grown coffee description is not enough and other parameters as temperature and growing location must be observed.

6.       Fresh coffee all year round. Colombia grows coffee all year round depending upon regionality and essentially we can supply freshly harvested coffee at any time of the year. Still the main harvest is from October to March, with a mitaca fly crop from April to June. The months where the largest volume of coffee is available are December, January, February, May and June.  

7.       Climatic diversity. The latitudes where coffee is grown vary from 1° North to 11° North. This range of 10 degrees represent the same distance as from San Jose in Costa Rica to the coffee growing areas of southern Mexico. Therefore Colombian diversity in coffees is comparable to the range of diversity in all Central American countries put together.

8.       Production zones. Colombian coffee territory has been divided in 3 main areas that share climatic and ecological conditions, here is a brief description of them:  

I. Southern  Region: (0° 58’ 56’’ - 2° 46’ 56’’ Latitude North) most of the coffee farms are at 1500 and 1700 masl. Includes Nariño, Huila, south of Tolima  and Cauca. Its main harvest time is during the first half of the year.  Some characteristics of coffee from this area are: Increased acidity, medium body, smooth flavor with citric and sweet notes.

II. Central Region:  (4° 34’ 56’’ - 6° 22’ 56’’ Latitude North) most of the coffee farms are at 1500 and 1600 masl. This is a broad area known as Eje Cafetero (Caldas, Quindío, Risaralda, Norte del Valle, Antioquia, Cundinamarca and Norte del Tolima).

Presence of constant rainfalls allows the harvest of coffee all year round. The main harvest is between September and December. And between April and June a secondary one called mitaca.  Coffee from this area is balanced with fruity and herbal notes.

III. Northern Region: (9° 58’ 56’’ - 11° 16’ 00’’ Latitude North) most of the coffee farms are between 1100 and 1200 masl. Includes the departments of Magdalena, Casanare, Cesar, Norte de Santander and Santander. Main crop is during the second half of the year.

Shade grown coffee is common in this area. Some of its flavor characteristics are: Medium acidity, Nutty and chocolaty notes, Good body

9. Colombian coffee grading and classification. Only high quality coffee is allowed to be exported and the FNC has strict control over every shipment. The commercial grades are:

I.  Supremo 18: characterized by large grains, flat and smooth which are properly selected over the screen 18, with 10% flexibility under this mesh, but retained by the # 17 screen.

II. Supremo 17/18: Large, even and flat grains retained above the screen # 17/18 with a 5% flexibility under this mesh but retained by screen #14.

III.  Excelso EP 10% and 5%:  Flat beans, of sizes between large, medium and small which are retained above the screen # 15 with a flexibility of 10% or 5% of the beans that are collected on screen # 14/12

IV. U.Q.G: "Usual Good Quality": max 1.5% under screen 14 but over screen 12

V. Specialty: If you want the best Colombian coffee, size doesn’t matter. For specialty Colombian, it makes little economic sense to ask only for big beans. At Clearpath Coffee we source beans with different certifications and cupping results above 80-85 points.

10.  Price calculation.  Colombian coffee price is based on the daily NY coffee exchange settlement price, which reflects supply and demand balance of the washed Arabica coffees. To this basic price a premium is added; this premium is the additional price that the market recognizes for the superior quality and differentiation attributes present in Colombian coffee. Specialty coffees also use the NY price and add a premium that varies from +75 to +150 cts/lb, depending on cupping results.

11.   Internal logistics. There are 4 maritime ports actively used to ship coffee. Buenaventura is the most frequently used and the only one on the Pacific Ocean. Handling about 58% of the coffee export volume, this port is used by most central and southern region producers. The second one is Cartagena with 21% of export volume, followed by Santa Marta 18% and Barranquilla 2%.

12.   Coffee growers federation. FNC Federacion Nacional de Cafeteros is the official body that regulates the entire coffee industry in Colombia. They set a daily price reference and guarantee the purchases to all the growers, give agricultural advice, do research and perform quality control in the ports on every single bag that leaves the country, including the coffee exported by private shippers. It is also the owner of Café de Colombia and Juan Valdez trademarks among several others.

At Clearpath coffee we are specialists in specialty Colombian coffee and over 30 years developed a network of growers and partners that allow us to facilitate doing business in Colombia for small and medium coffee buyers. If you would like to know more about what we can offer please write to info@clearpathcoffee.com