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Are you looking for a smooth, balanced cup of coffee to start your day? If so, you may want to sample 100% Colombian coffee brands. Colombia produces some of the finest coffee in the world.
This South American country is the third-largest coffee producer. Only Brazil and Vietnam produce more. It contributes around 10% of the world’s coffee production.
Unlike Brazil, almost all the coffee grown in Colombia is Arabica. While Arabica beans make the best coffee, the plants can be very fussy.
Luckily, Colombia has ideal growing conditions for these beans. The steep slopes offer rich volcanic-ash soil and abundant rainfall. The climate is tropical, but the high altitudes provide cooler temperatures.
What led to Colombia being a major coffee producer? Read on to learn some of the history and what makes this coffee so special. We also included a list of 10 different coffees to try.
Coffee from Colombia is more than just a product. It is a national identity.
For generations, families have tended the land. They passed along the knowledge of how to coax the best tasting coffee from the high slopes of the Andes.
This national identity has a face. His name is Juan Valdez, a fictional coffee farmer. The Colombian Coffee Growers Federation created this character in 1959.
TV commercials from the 70s and 80s showed Juan Valdez traveling through coffee plantations. He crossed the country’s steep mountain slopes with his trusty donkey. Today, you can still see the iconic figure on bags of 100% Colombian coffees.
So why is this South American coffee so good?
In part, it’s due to its geography. Colombia has a coastline on both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. But in the middle, the Andes mountains soar to over 16,000 feet.
A large area of the slopes is in the sweet spot for growing Arabica coffee. That’s between 1,800- and 6,300-feet elevation.
Temperature is important as well. The plants cannot tolerate frost. Colombia is tropical, so frost is not an issue.
At the same time, it can’t be too warm. Arabica plants will grow too fast in warmer temperatures and won’t have flavor.
At higher altitudes, temperatures drop. This causes the plants to grow slower, which allows the flavor to develop.
Another factor is the ruggedness of the terrain. On many farms, the steep slopes won’t allow mechanical harvesting.
Machine harvesting often strips the plant, harvesting both under- and over-ripe coffee cherries. Unripe cherries can give the coffee a grassy or astringent taste. Over-ripe berries can sour the whole batch.
By hand-picking, workers only harvest the ripest berries. They leave the green berries to mature. This time-consuming process is the best way to get a great tasting cup of Joe.
Colombia is unique among coffee growing countries. This is in part due to the Federación Nacional de Cafeteros (FNC). In English, that’s the Colombian Coffee Growers Federation.
This collective formed in 1927. A group of coffee growers banded to protect themselves and their product. This non-profit organization helps farmers and runs social programs.
To stabilize the cost of coffee, the FNC created the National Coffee Fund in the 1940s. This fund allows the FNC to guarantee a minimum purchase price for coffee. This way farmers can get a fair price even when international prices are low.
Growers have the choice of selling to the FNC or to fetch a higher price elsewhere. As a result, the FNC itself exports about 30% of Columbia’s coffee.
Currently, a main focus of the FNC is to combat the effects of climate change. Several environmental factors could threaten the coffee industry. This includes the increasing intensity of rain.
The FNC wants to make coffee growing a sustainable and thriving industry. Their research and support can help the rural growers prosper for generations to come.
In the 1990s, falling coffee prices hit Colombian growers hard. In response, the government helped farmers switch to growing specialty-grade coffees.
But the specialty market continued to evolve. Colombian growers needed to find new ways to compete.
Other countries like Brazil and Guatemala were producing single-estate coffees. Growers would process their coffee all the way through to the finished green coffee. These prestigious single-estate coffees were fetching the highest prices.
But this was not an option for Colombia’s small farms.
Around the turn of the 21st century, tourism sparked in Colombia. Coffee roasters and importers visited the best Colombian coffee plantations. NGOs, government agencies, and the specialty coffee industry itself helped rural farmers understand the benefits of upgrading their production.
This emphasis on high-margin specialty coffee helped more than the grower. It was good for the entire community.
Before 2000, many areas, especially in the South Zone, mainly grew coca, the plant used to make cocaine. As you can expect, violence accompanies the drug trade. In the early 2000s, to help curb the violence, the farmers and government worked together to replace the illegal crops with coffee plants.
You know you want an exceptional cup of coffee. You know that Colombia has ideal conditions to grow flavorful, enjoyable coffee beans. But how do you decide which bag to buy?
First, look for freshness. Unroasted beans stay fresh for long periods of time. Unfortunately, once you roast the beans, the quality declines rapidly.
Coffee can start to go stale a few weeks after roasting. That’s why high-end coffee producers often roast coffee to order.
While you can find cheap Colombian coffee brands at your local grocery store, we don’t recommend it. When you buy coffee at the grocery store, you have no idea how long it has been sitting around. You won’t find many of the coffees on this list at your local grocery store or mass marketer.
Another consideration is the roast. Roasting gives coffee it’s characteristic flavor. Choose your roast based on personal preference and on the brewing method you will use.
Once you decide on your preferred roast, you’ll still find a great number of brands to choose from. Here is a review of some of the best Colombian coffee to help you decide which one to choose.
Volcanica is a reliable brand that roasts your beans only after you buy it. That way, they can deliver the freshest coffee possible.
The Volcanica Coffee Colombian Peaberry comes in a medium roast. It’s grown between 5,500- and 6000-feet elevation. This gives the finished product chocolate-cherry, malt, and walnut tones.
But what is a peaberry? Basically, it’s a deformity of the coffee bean. Instead of two seeds growing inside the coffee cherry, only a single seed grows.
This abnormality is rare, making up only about 5% of the harvest. Many believe that these rounder beans are sweeter and pack more flavor. Because the peaberries must be handpicked out of the batch, they tend to carry a hefty price tag.
This Colombian Peaberry is Fair Trade certified. If you’re a fan of Peaberry coffee, this can be an affordable option for this rare product.
Volcanica Coffee’s Colombian Supremo is a single-estate coffee that comes from the Andeano Estate. It comes in a medium roast. It’s available as decaf, and you can also buy their unroasted beans.
This Colombian Supremo grows in the shade high in the Andes mountains. The brewed coffee is full-bodied and smooth with low acidity. It has sweet flavor notes with a fruity, floral aroma.
You can feel good about purchasing this product because it is Fair Trade, Rainforest Alliance, and Organic certified.
Monserrate is a small community located in the Huila region. The Monserrate coffee cooperative consists of 70 producers, each with their own micro-mill.
This coffee crop grows between 5,200- and 6,000-feet elevation. Irving Farm imports the beans and roasts them in their New York state location.
The brewed beverage carries sweet, citrusy notes along with a caramel and hazelnut flavor profile. You may also detect notes of vanilla. You can buy this coffee whole or pre-ground.
Don Pablo roasts its coffee in small batches. They have regional facilities across the U.S. That way they deliver the freshest roast coffee possible to the customer.
An American man and his Colombian wife founded the company in 1989. Don Pablo’s Colombian Supremo is a low-acid brew with no GMOs.
Don Pablo Colombian Supremo is a medium-dark roast available in regular or decaf. It carries the caramelized flavor of the darker roast. The brew has a medium body and sweet taste.
For those on a budget who still demand quality, this may be the perfect choice.
Unlike most coffees on this list, Joe Coffee specializes in lighter roast coffee. This highlights the original flavor of the bean.
Coffee from the Guarnizo family comes from the Cordillera Central branch of the Andes mountains. The family runs six coffee farms in the Huila region. The area produces two coffee harvests each year.
The variety used by the Guarnizo family is the Caturra coffee plant. Their coffee grows between 5,200- and 6,000-feet elevation. It has a tangerine flavor with caramel and toasted pecan notes.
Peet’s has been around for over 50 years. Many consider Peet’s to be the originator of specialty coffee in the U.S.
They hand roast each batch to bring out the best qualities of the bean. This can be an affordable option that still delivers excellent quality.
The beans for Peet’s single-origin Colombian come from the San Agustin area of the Huila region. Unlike many of the coffees on this list, the beans are dark roasted. This brings a bold flavor and full body.
The finished cup keeps the original fruity and floral notes of the coffee. If you make espresso at home, then this might be your best bet.
Greater Goods is a small-batch roaster located in Texas. They provide top-quality coffee, but also support local non-profits with each bag sold.
This bag of beans definitely stands out from the rest on this list. They grow at a slightly lower elevation than other coffees in this list, around 4,500 feet. It includes Catuai, Caturra, and Castillo varietals.
The beans for this coffee come from the Cauca region. The coffee is dark roasted, which makes it a great choice for espresso. Along with dark chocolate notes, this gives the brew a bold, smoky taste.
This bold, full-bodied coffee will wake up your taste buds and get your day started. You can buy it whole or ground.
Blackwelder Coffee is a small-batch coffee roaster in Southern California. Workers hand roast and hand package the products.
Their Colombian Supremo is a single-estate coffee. It comes from the Bucaramanga area in the Santander region of the North Central Zone.
With a medium-dark roast, this coffee produces a smooth cup of coffee with deep chocolate notes and a sweet aroma. You might also detect a nutty taste with hints of vanilla. It carries a balance between acidity and body and is great as a breakfast brew.
Koffee Kult is one of our favorite coffee roasters. They take care to bring the consumer excellent coffee, but they do much more. They demand that the growers work to protect the environment and pay all workers a fair wage.
Koffee Kult roasts their coffee in small batches in southern Florida. They take care to use organic, specialty coffee beans.
For their Huila coffee, they use a blend of beans from different farms in the Huila region. Varietals might include Caturra, Castillo, Colombia, and Typica varietals.
This medium roast delivers a bold body with a clean finish. You’ll likely detect chocolate and cinnamon notes
Java Planet is a small, family-run business out of Tampa, Florida. The company grew out of a love of coffee. Their Colombia Organic is a low-acid coffee.
They only choose 100% organic Arabica coffee beans. Java Planet also carries Fair Trade, Bird Friendly, and Rain Forest Alliance certification.
This single-origin coffee has a medium-dark roast without bitterness. It has chocolate and nutty tones while keeping a bright fruitiness.
You’ll find several different ways to classify coffee, such as by region, roast, cultivar, cupping notes, or grade. There is no single, international system.
The Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) developed its own standards for grading coffee. You’ve probably seen their designations on bags.
The SCA has five grades of coffee: Specialty, Premium, Exchange, Below Standard, and Off Grade. The more defects a batch of coffee has, the lower its grade. Almost all the coffees on this list are specialty grade.
Different countries also have their own systems for classifying coffee. For Colombian, you’ll see the designations Supremo and Excelso.
Supremo beans are large and very large, and many believe they are the most flavorful. Excelso is medium-sized beans.
Below are some other definitions to help understand Colombian coffees.
Perhaps the main way to group coffee from Colombia is by growing region. The four main zones are North, South, East, and Central. Central is sometimes further broken into North Central and South Central
The South Zone yields some of the top coffees available. Nariño, Cauca, and Huila regions are the best known. You’ll find single-estate coffees from these regions.
Many areas of Colombia can produce two coffee harvests per year. That is one reason why you can enjoy premium Colombian coffee beans year-round. Yet, parts of the North and South zones can only produce a single harvest annually.
The Caturra cultivar arrived in Colombia in the 1940s. It produces a higher yield per plant, and farmers can place them closer together. Roughly half of all coffee grown in Colombia today is Caturra.
The Colombia cultivar hit the market in 1982. A disease known as coffee rust was ravaging the coffee crops. This hybrid showed resistance to the disease.
As mentioned before, most coffee plantations in Colombia require planting, harvesting, and processing by hand. While this is time-consuming, it assures that only the best beans actually make it to the roaster.
Almost all coffee from Colombia is wet-processed. Water fermentation works to separate the skin and pulp from the bean. This method works well to enhance the bright flavor of the beans.
This video from Discovery highlights this wet-process method.
Coffee growers from other areas took an interest in this method. Scientists, too, became interested.
In a recent study, researchers looked at the bacteria and fungi at work. Now, you have scientific reasons for what the Colombian growers intuitively knew.
Ideally, the beans dry in the sun. Farmers usually place the beans on large trays. They can then move the trays under cover when it rains.
The U.S. imports more coffee from Colombia than from any other country. In 2019, the U.S. imported more than $1.14 billion worth of coffee from this South American country.
Colombia continues to improve its coffee industry. Between 2010 and 2019, renovation on almost 3,300 square miles of coffee plantations dramatically increased output. And this trend keeps growing.
The Colombian government committed to making the coffee industry sustainable. Their Plan 2030 includes strategies to renovate plantations. It also includes ways to boost income for farmers.
So, now you’re at home with a bag of 100% Colombian coffee. What’s the best way to brew it? That depends in part on the roast.
You’ll commonly find that Colombian coffee brands offer a medium roast. This is adaptable to a variety of brewing methods. You’ll get a balanced cup whether you fine-grind for a pour-over or do a coarse grind for a French Press.
Coffee that is a dark roast does well as an espresso. The mild flavor of the Colombian beans allows a dark, strong brew without bitterness. It also takes milk well for cappuccinos and lattes.
No matter how you brew your beverage, be sure to use fresh grinds. While you can buy pre-ground beans, you’ll have the best results if you grind it yourself right before brewing.
Starting with 100% Colombian coffee beans is a good step towards a great cup of coffee. But it still comes down to: which brand should I try?
No one bag of beans is going to suit every person all the time. But we do have some clear favorites.
Our top overall recommendation is Volcanica Coffee’s Colombian Supremo. It’s more than simply a high-quality coffee. The company helps Colombian farmers and communities. Koffee Kult Huila Coffee is a close second.
But let’s say you want premium Colombian beans at an affordable price. You might try Peet’s Single-Origin Colombia. For convenience, this coffee is also available as a pre-packaged K-cup for your Keurig machine.
In the end, you can’t go wrong when you choose a 100% Colombian. You won’t be merely drinking coffee. You’ll be partaking in part of the cultural identity of a nation.