- The history of quality in Colombia dates back to the 1960s when the FNC created the character Juan Valdez to symbolise the country abroad.
- Standards for Fully Washed production, consolidated in Colombia's Geographical Indication, laid the ground for good post-harvesting practices in the early 2000s.
- Today, there is such a big mix of varieties and fermentations that Colombian coffee can't be generalised. Roast profiling depends on processing as much as on regionality.
A guide to roast Colombian coffee might as well be a book. New approaches to post-harvest mean lots are processed in so many different and unique ways that roast profiles have to be adjusted to reflect that diversity.
In this blog, we look back to Colombia’s history to explain how the country became an innovation driver and share the thoughts of two specialty roasters with a big focus on quality.
Dave Stanton founded specialty roastery Crankhouse Coffee in Exeter, UK, in 2014. Colombia is one of his favourite origins.
Joseph Fisher, 2019 Danish Vice-Roasting Champion, has been roasting at April Coffee Roasters in Copenhagen, Denmark, since 2017.
“In the past five years, Colombia has been one of the most innovative countries in coffee processing, and the flavour profiles being created through those methods are extraordinary.” - Dave Stanton.
Embracing Quality as a Competitive Advantage
If most coffee-producing countries have embraced quality in the last 30 years, no origin has managed to do so on the scale of Colombia.
Aware that competing in volume with Brazil was impossible, Colombia decided to differentiate their coffees.
Juan Valdez, the archetypical Colombian farmer, made his first appearance on American television in the 1960s.
In 1984, Café de Colombia became a logo. In 2005, the entire country was recognised as a Geographical Indication.
Juan Valdez remains a celebrity in Colombia and abroad, flying around the globe to represent the country at meetings and industry events (Photo: Laura Torres)
Though a country as vast as Colombia is too big to have a unique terroir or micro-climate, the FNC (Federación Nacional de Cafeteros de Colombia) used quality as a differentiation factor when applying for the GI.
The Fully Washed Effect
FNC’s GI application focuses on Fully Washed coffees in an attempt to differentiate Colombia’s product from the Naturals and Pulped Naturals produced in Brazil.
What’s interesting is that the quality requirements listed were based on good processing practices such as selective picking, post-harvest standards and dry milling standards.
Fully Washed standards created a baseline for quality production (Photo: Algrano)
A lot of the same criteria - such as moisture level and sorting beans according to colour, density and screen size - remain the norm in today’s specialty sector.
It’s no wonder that Colombia is a leading origin in experimentation. Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood talks about this in a blog titled “Why are more great coffees coming from Colombia?”.
“The focus around high-quality washed coffee by the FNC and exporters means that a strong base for quality production already exists,” he writes.
The Strength of Colombia’s Versatility
Today, specialty coffee production in Colombia has become incredibly diverse, reflecting the country’s varied landscape - which encompasses deserts, tropical beaches and snow-capped mountains - and the innovation driven by producers.
Supported by initiatives such as the TECNiCAFÉ innovation park, Colombia is a value chain leader in science and technology. The focus of researchers used to be on rust-resistant and high-yielding varieties. But now, post-harvest is front and centre.
Dave from Crankhouse at a farm visit in Colombia (Photo: Crankhouse)
“In the past five years, Colombia has been one of the most innovative countries in coffee processing, and the flavour profiles being created through those methods are extraordinary,” says Dave Stanton.
With nearly 20 coffee-producing regions, a wide mix of varieties, and new styles of fermentation, Colombian coffee can’t be generalised. There are many flavour profiles to explore and different lots will require different approaches to roasting.
Joseph Fisher believes “processing is one of the most important factors to consider when designing a profile for a coffee”.
This is because “it’s now very common for processing to be quite specific to each lot, as the steps were undertaken and length of each step can be tailored to the coffee”.
The Danish roasting vice-champion stresses that post-harvest affects roasting because they create variation in three key aspects of the green.
“These processes can greatly affect not only the density and moisture level of the coffee but also the consistency within the lot. All of these variables must be considered when designing the optimal roast profile.”
How processing affects moisture content and consistency of the lot must be assessed before profiling (Photo: April Coffee)
But the versatility of Colombian coffee is a strength. These coffees can be served in different ways, from limited edition filters to single-origin espresso or as blend components.
It also offers roasters the opportunity to diversify their orders without having to source from multiple partners for the sake of variety.
A Loose Regional Guide
You can find a general overview of the flavour profiles of different growing regions in Colombia on FNC’s map of coffee regions. These apply mainly to Fully Washed coffees and must be taken as a loose guide.
"In general, I find a lot of Colombian coffee to be sweet, with recognisable notes of caramel and brown sugar,” says Joseph.
“There can often be earthy notes reminiscent of green pepper or brown spice which, at April, we try to balance alongside caramel and fresh fruit notes whilst using a lighter roasting style.”
- Northern Colombia, including Santander, Magdalena and Cesar, are known for lower acidity and chocolatey coffees. Santander and the Sierra Nevada mountain range are exposed to solar radiation for longer than other regions, leading producers to cover their farms with shade trees, which helps to produce a sweeter cup.
- The Central North and Central South regions include Quindio, Tolima, Caldas, Risaralda, Valle del Cauca, and Cundinamarca. This is where the Coffee Axis or Triangle, the departments with the biggest production, are based. As most coffees come from here, this area is associated with “typical” Colombian flavours.
- In the South of Colombia are Cauca, Narino, and Huila. The higher altitude and lower temperatures result in high-quality coffees known for their acidity. Huila is the department with the largest output in Colombia. It also gained a Denomination of Origin status in 2013.
- Colombia’s Eastern regions, which include Arauca, Casanare, Meta, and Caquetá, have a similar climate to the North. Close to the Gulf of Mexico and with higher levels of rainfall and humidity, they are still relatively unknown in specialty.
“If we think about a Colombian Washed coffee of a high-yielding variety such as Castillo or Colombia, grown at a medium to high-altitude of around 1,500 masl, we would expect the profile to be a clean coffee with medium or even high acidity, with a medium body and some sweetness,” Dave explains.
Flavour depends as much on post-harvest as on varieties and regions (Photo: Algrano)
“But now, the flavour profile of a particular bean depends as much on variety and process as it does on the region, whether it’s grown in Nariño, Huila, or Cauca.”
Next time, Dave and Joseph dive deeper into roast profiling, going through bean density, freshness, delicate varieties and blending.
Want to browse the latest Colombian coffees on Algrano? Click below: