Best Colombian Coffee: Comprehensive Buying Guide + Brand Reviews

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Alex DeCapri

Alex DeCapri is a specialty coffee roaster and curious coffee writer. He started sourcing his own green beans to roast and ship worldwide and later became the head roaster at OOP Café in Belo Horizonte. Now on a road trip from the U.S. to Brazil, Alex visits coffee farms and shares his firsthand experience from field visits.


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Are you ready to dive deep into some of the world’s favorite coffee?

Renowned for its rich flavors and irresistible aroma, this South American gem has long held a prestigious place in the hearts and cups of java enthusiasts.

In this guide, we embark on a tantalizing journey through the world of Colombian coffee, uncovering its captivating history, exploring its distinctive flavor profile, and equipping you with all the knowledge you need to find the best Colombian coffee brands that will elevate your brewing experience.

So grab your favorite mug and join us as we unravel the secrets behind Colombia’s finest coffee beans.

Key Takeaways

  • Colombia is the third largest producer and exporter of coffee, with virtually all of its coffee being Arabica beans.
  • Popular coffee varieties grown in Colombia include Caturra, Typica, Castillo, and Bourbon, each with its own distinct flavor profile and characteristics.
  • The history of Colombian coffee dates back to the 18th century, and it became a major export crop in the 19th century, contributing significantly to Colombia’s economy.
  • Colombian beans have a medium to full body with nuanced acidity and decent sweetness, offering a well-rounded and balanced flavor profile with notes of caramel, chocolate, citrus, and more.
  • Beans are graded based on size, shape, and density, with Excelso and Supremo being the highest grades.
  • Coffee tourism is thriving in Colombia, with many visitors traveling to learn about coffee cultivation, experience post-harvest processing, and stay on coffee farms.

What Makes Colombian Coffee Special?

Coffee from Colombia is renowned worldwide for its exceptional quality and unique characteristics, making it truly special.

The country’s ideal geographic conditions, including high altitudes, fertile volcanic soil, and diverse microclimates, provide the perfect environment for coffee cultivation.

Coffee farmers in Colombia meticulously handpick only the ripest coffee cherries, ensuring the selection of the highest quality beans. The coffee is often processed using traditional methods, such as the washed method, which gives the beans a very clean taste.

coffee-farm-in-manizales
Coffee farm in Manizales, Colombia

With a rich flavor profile, including notes of caramel, chocolate, citrus, and more, Colombian coffees offer a well-balanced and exquisite taste.

Additionally, the coffee industry in Colombia places a strong emphasis on strict quality control and sustainable farming practices.

Brief History of Colombian Coffee

The history of Colombian coffee dates back to the early 18th century when coffee was introduced to the region by Jesuit priests. However, it was not until the 19th century that coffee production began to flourish and shape the nation’s economy. The first coffee exports from Colombia took place in the 1830s, primarily driven by the demand from European markets.

The coffee industry experienced significant growth during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The construction of railroads and the development of transportation infrastructure facilitated the expansion of coffee cultivation to different regions within the country. As a result, coffee became a major export crop, contributing significantly to Colombia’s economic development.

In 1927, the National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia (FNC) was established to support coffee farmers, promote the industry, and regulate the production and marketing of Colombian coffee. The FNC played a crucial role in improving quality control, implementing sustainable farming practices, and supporting research and development efforts.

During the 20th century, Colombia faced various challenges, including political instability and armed conflicts. However, the coffee industry remained resilient and continued to thrive. Coffee grown in Colombia gained a reputation for its exceptional quality and became recognized as one of the finest coffees in the world.

In 1959, the iconic coffee marketing campaign “Juan Valdez” was launched, featuring a fictional coffee farmer representing the Colombian coffee industry. This campaign helped raise global awareness and appreciation for Colombian beans, solidifying its status as a premium coffee brand worldwide.

Juanvaldez

Flavor Profile of Colombian Coffee Beans

Colombian beans are celebrated for their exceptional flavor profile, offering a “clean” and well-rounded taste experience.

Colombian coffee generally has a medium-to-full body with subtle acidity and decent sweetness. The flavor notes range from caramel and chocolate to nuts and citrus. Expect a truly balanced cup of coffee when drinking a brew from Colombian beans.

Colombian Coffee Production

Colombia is the third largest producer and exporter of coffee. In 2020 alone, Colombia produced 14.3 million 60-kg bags of coffee beans and exported about 12.5 million bags. (Sources: [1], [2])

While Colombia exports most of its coffee, it’s quickly becoming a coffee-consuming country as its residents continue to place more value on drinking their high-quality coffee. This is especially true in the bigger cities of Bogotá and Medellín, where specialty coffee shops exist in abundance.

Coffee Varieties

Virtually all of the coffee grown in Colombia is Arabica. Many varieties are grown by farmers, including some of these popular types:

Caturra: Caturra is a widely cultivated variety in Colombia, known for its smooth and well-balanced flavor profile [3]. It often exhibits a medium body with mild acidity. The taste profile of Caturra coffee typically includes notes of chocolate, caramel, and nutty undertones, resulting in a pleasantly sweet and nutty cup. Caturra accounts for around 45% of coffee grown in Colombia.

Typica: Typica is a traditional coffee variety that originated in Ethiopia and is widely grown in Colombia. It is known for its complex flavor profile. Typica beans often produce a cup with a medium-to-full body and bright acidity. The flavor notes can range from citrus and floral undertones to a well-rounded sweetness with hints of spice.

Castillo: Castillo is a newer variety developed in Colombia to combat coffee leaf rust disease. It is a hybrid of Caturra and Timor, an Indonesian variety. Castillo coffee tends to have a full body and medium acidity. The flavor profile can feature a combination of chocolate, caramel, and fruity notes, with some variations leaning towards a more robust and earthy taste.

Bourbon: Bourbon is an heirloom variety that was introduced to Colombia from the island of Reunion (formerly Bourbon). Bourbon coffee offers a smooth and delicate flavor profile with a medium body and a bright, crisp acidity. It often exhibits notes of citrus, floral undertones, and a subtle sweetness.

Note: If you see a variety called “Pink Bourbon” in Colombia, it’s actually the varietal Orange Colombia. Many specialty coffee shops advertise this variety as “Pink Bourbon” because the name sounds more luxurious and brings in a higher price. (4)

Coffee Tourism in Colombia

One of the major reasons I spent a few months in Colombia meeting roasters and spending time at farms was due to the country’s fame as a “coffee country”. Coffee tourism is a major source of income for many farmers and is a booming market targeting foreigners. I shared my experience and more details of my visiting to Colombia in this post.

Many people from places that consume a lot of coffee but don’t produce any beans (North America, Europe) travel to Colombia specifically to learn about how coffee is grown, harvested, and processed. Even when you are in a major metropolitan city like Bogotá, there are many agencies offering coffee farm tours.

There are even Airbnbs and eco-huts where you can book a stay on a coffee farm, waking up in the fields surrounded by coffee cherries. The most famous example of this is La Palma y El Tucan, known worldwide for its high-quality specialty coffee. [5]

Washed Process

In Colombia, the washed process is much more commonly used than the natural or honey processes. Wet processing, also known as the “washed method”, involves removing the coffee cherry pulp from the seed and soaking/fermenting the beans in water tanks for an extended period of time to remove any residue stickiness. Once this sticky layer called the mucilage is removed, the beans are set out to dry on raised beds or on concrete patios.

A major reason for the subtle acidity and “clean” profile of Colombian coffee is due to this type of processing method. Natural or honey processes, for example, tend to produce much sweeter and fruitier coffees, which Colombian coffee is not known for.

Coffee Growing Regions in Colombia

A lot of this coffee tourism in Colombia is abundant in a place called the “Eje Cafetero”, or Coffee Triangle. This is a region in Colombia known for its significant coffee production. The Eje Cafetero is characterized by its picturesque landscapes, lush green mountains, and terraced coffee farms. It sits in the central part of the country within the departments of Caldas, Quindío, and Risaralda.

The altitude in the Eje Cafetero ranges from 3,900 to 6,500 feet above sea level, providing ideal conditions and microclimates for coffee cultivation. The volcanic soil is also rich in nutrients.

The Eje Cafetero is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site for its cultural and natural significance. It attracts visitors who want to explore the coffee plantations, learn about the coffee production process, and enjoy the region’s scenic beauty. Coffee tours, haciendas (coffee estates), and coffee-themed museums are popular attractions in this region. If you only have a week or so to visit Colombia, I highly recommend going there!

In addition to the Eje Cafetero, there are four other notable coffee growing regions:

Huila

Located in the southwestern part of Colombia, Huila is known for its high-quality coffee production. The region enjoys a mountainous terrain with altitudes ranging from 3,900 to 6,500 feet above sea level. The combination of rich volcanic soil, ample rainfall, and cool temperatures contributes to the development of a balanced and complex cup of coffee. Huila coffees often exhibit a medium body, bright acidity, and flavors that include citrus, chocolate, and caramel.

Antioquia

Antioquia is one of the largest coffee-producing regions in Colombia. It encompasses the central part of the country, including the famous coffee-growing area around Medellín. The altitude in Antioquia varies from 3,900 to 6,500 feet above sea level. The region’s diverse microclimates and volcanic soil create favorable conditions for coffee cultivation. Antioquia coffees tend to have a medium body, medium acidity, and flavor profiles that range from fruity and floral to nutty and chocolatey.

Tolima

Located in the Andean region of Colombia, Tolima is known for producing coffee with distinct flavor characteristics. The altitudes in Tolima range from 3,900 to 6,500 feet above sea level. The region’s climate, influenced by the Magdalena River, offers a balance of humidity and sunshine. This, coupled with volcanic soil, contributes to the development of coffee with a bright acidity, medium body, and flavor notes that can include floral, fruity, and caramel undertones.

Nariño

Nariño is a high-altitude coffee region located in the southwestern part of Colombia, near the border with Ecuador. The coffee farms in Nariño often reach altitudes of 5,900 to 7,500 feet above sea level, making it one of the highest coffee-growing regions in the country. The cool temperatures and volcanic soil produce coffee with vibrant acidity, a full body, and flavor profiles that can include citrus, red fruit, and floral notes.

Grading Scale for Colombian Beans

Colombia utilizes a coffee grading scale known as the “Colombian Coffee Grading Standard” to evaluate the quality of each coffee bean. This grading system is administered and regulated by the FNC to ensure consistency and maintain the reputation of coffee grown in Colombia.

The grading scale classifies green coffee beans based on their size, shape, and density. It consists of several categories, with each category representing a specific size range of beans. The larger the coffee bean, the higher its grade.

The highest grade of Colombian beans is known as “Excelso”. These beans are relatively large and exhibit a consistent size and shape. Excelso beans are considered premium quality and typically have a more uniform roast and flavor profile.

excelso

The next grade below Excelso is referred to as “Supremo”. Supremo beans are slightly smaller in size compared to Excelso beans but still meet the standards for high-quality coffee. They offer similar flavor characteristics and are widely sought after by coffee roasters.

Additionally, within each grade, the beans undergo a further classification based on the defect count. The defects may include broken or discolored beans, insect damage, or other imperfections. A lower defect count indicates higher quality.

Where to Buy – Best Colombian Coffee Brands to Try

Alright, now that you know all about Colombian coffee, you’re probably dying to try some. I know I could use a cup right about now!

Here are four of our favorite Colombian coffee brands with delicious roasted coffee beans available to order online.

Juan Valdez Ground Medium Roast Colombian Coffee

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Juan-valdez-coffee

This 10-ounce bag of organic ground coffee is perfect for those who don’t have a grinder at home, but still want to experience some of Colombia’s best coffee. With a balanced cup profile offering a medium body, medium acidity, and intense fragrance, this coffee will definitely please those who like a more “traditional” coffee taste.

This coffee is hand grown and handpicked by coffee farmers using sustainable techniques, this medium roasted coffee will go well with any style brewing method, from a Chemex to a French Press, or even espresso! This medium roast makes for a smooth breakfast coffee to start the day. With a name as historically iconic as Juan Valdez, this may very well be one of the best Colombian coffee brands out there.

Volcanica Colombian Supremo Medium Roast Coffee

Volcanica is one of our favorite Colombian coffee brands and continues to source delicious beans from around the world. They roast fresh before shipping, so you don’t ever have to worry that your coffee will arrive old and stale.

This bag boasts Fair Trade Certified coffee with notes of bittersweet chocolate, caramel, and hints of orange. Grown at around 5,900 feet above sea level in volcanic soil this Colombian Supremo from Bucaramanga is bound to satisfy your taste buds.

Volcanica offers this coffee in three sizes and as whole bean coffee or ground specifically for the brewing method that you use at home. This washed, medium roast coffee will give you those distinct flavors that are known to come from Colombia.

colombian-supremo-coffee

Don Pablo Colombian Supremo Coffee

If you like something a little darker than a medium roast, this dark-medium roast from Don Pablo is the coffee for you. Available as ground coffee or as whole bean coffee, Don Pablo’s focus is on producing a low-acidity coffee. Expect a rich sweetness, medium body, and notes of citrus and chocolate when you brew these beans.

This Florida-based company has been small-batch roasting specialty coffee for over 30 years and prides itself on ethical sourcing. When you drink this coffee, expect a delightful brew with minimal bitterness and acidity. The positive reviews on Amazon rank this as one of the best Colombian coffee brands available.

Fresh Roasted Coffee – Dark Colombian Supremo

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Another dark-medium roast that we love is this Colombian Supremo from Fresh Roasted Coffee LLC. These folks have been roasting small batches of artisanal beans since 2009, sourcing only the best green beans they can find. This bag is also available as whole beans or ground. Whether you get a light roast, medium roast, or dark roast from Fresh Roasted Coffee, you can expect very high-quality coffee beans.

Expect a bold body with notes of honey, cherry, and caramelized fruits when you brew this coffee. The dark and smoky flavors from the roast will pair well with an immersion-style brewing method like a French Press or AeroPress. This will also produce a wonderfully rich espresso with deep crema.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Colombia’s most popular coffee?

Colombia’s most popular coffee is Arabica coffee. It is widely grown and favored for its exceptional quality, diverse flavor profiles, and the country’s reputation as a top producer of premium Arabica beans. Within Arabica, the varieties of Caturra, Typica, Castillo, and Bourbon are widely planted.

What is Colombia coffee ranked in the world?

Colombia consistently ranks among the top coffee-producing countries in the world. It is typically recognized as one of the leading coffee producers globally, renowned for its high-quality Arabica coffee beans. It’s the third largest producer and exporter of coffee, behind Brazil and Vietnam.

Is Brazil or Colombia coffee better?

The preference for coffee is subjective, and both Brazil and Colombia offer excellent coffee. Colombian coffees are generally known for being on the acidic side, while Brazilian coffees are generally known for being sweeter with less acidity. They both have medium to full bodies and drink well as a medium roast.

Final Thoughts

Alright! Now you have everything you need to know in order to confidently buy the best Colombian coffee beans.

In this coffee guide, you learned the history of coffee in Colombia, where it grows, how it tastes, and the best Colombian coffee brands to try.

Now go get yourself some coffee beans from this country and treasure that perfect combination of subtle acidity, nice sweetness, and balanced chocolate and fruit notes.

Happy brewing!

References:

  • [1] Table 1: Crop year production by country – http://www.ico.org/prices/po-production.pdf
  • [2] EXPORTS OF ALL FORMS OF COFFEE BY EXPORTING COUNTRIES TO ALL DESTINATIONS JANUARY 2022 – http://www.ico.org/prices/m1-exports.pdf
  • [3] Caturra – World Coffee Research  – https://varieties.worldcoffeeresearch.org/varieties/caturra
  • [4] Colombia vs. Brazil: A Coffee Overview – https://alexdecapri.com/colombia-vs-brazil/
  • [5] Visit LA PALMA & EL TUCAN – https://lapalmayeltucan.com/visit-our-farm/
Photo of author

Alex DeCapri

Alex DeCapri is a specialty coffee roaster and curious coffee writer. During his time living in Brazil, he spent months learning directly from producers how to pick and process coffee the right way. One thing led to the next, and he started sourcing his own green beans to roast and ship worldwide and later became the head roaster at OOP Café in Belo Horizonte. Currently, Alex is traveling slowly from the United States to Brazil in his self-converted camper van, trying to visit as many coffee farms as possible along the way. If you see him on the road, be sure to say hi!