The Coffee Buyer’s Guide to Colombia

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CBGC Prologue

CBGC 0.02 Introduction

Colombia holds a particular importance in the specialty coffee industry. It produces huge volumes of coffee: about 14 percent of the world’s supply of arabica. That’s more arabica than the entire continent of Africa produces (ICO 2021). Most of the country’s coffee is cultivated on plots little more than a hectare (3 acres) in size (Garcia 2003), and it maintains an enviable reputation for quality and consistency.

Colombia led the world in establishing itself as a source of high-quality coffee long before the term ‘specialty coffee’ existed. This trend continues today; Café de Colombia became the first product from outside the European Union to be awarded a Protected Geographical Indication (WIPO 2013).

Colombia’s high elevations, wet climate, and fertile volcanic soil make it ideal for high-quality coffee cultivation, and the lack of a distinct dry season in coffee-growing regions means that the vast majority of coffee is produced using the fully washed process. These factors helped distinguish Colombian coffee from the low-quality naturals that were produced in Brazil for much of the twentieth century and established a price premium for ‘Colombian milds’ on the coffee market that persists to this day.

Colombia has coastline on both sides of the Isthmus of Panama

Colombia lies at the northern tip of South America. The country has both a Caribbean and a Pacific coast, separated by the Isthmus of Panama. The country is dominated by the Andes mountains, which run from Chile in the southwest up into Venezuela in the northeast. In Colombia, the Andes split into three distinct mountain ranges (cordilleras), divided by the Magdalena and Cauca river basins.

The Cauca river valley separates the western and central cordilleras of the Andes mountains

The cordilleras feature active volcanoes and glacial peaks reaching as high as 5,000 metres (16,404 ft.) — but Colombia’s highest mountains are in the far north of the country,