Colombia

Colombia is a diverse group of growing regions spread from North to South along the three "cordilleras," the mountain ranges that are the Northern extensions of the Andes. Colombian coffees can be outstanding. Most coffee, especially from the Southern growing areas of Huila, Cauca, Narino and Tolima, comes from small family farms, and when the picking and processing are done well they can be exceptional: Silky body, cane sugar sweetness, floral hints and traces of tropical fruits are found in the best Colombia coffees.

We work primarily in the areas of Narino, Huila and Cauca and make many visits each year to visit farms and cup coffees, but most of the work happens in Oakland at our lab, where we receive hundreds of samples to cup. We grade these either as clean and sweet coffees that are good enough for our micro-blends (either by farmer group or small regions), or as single-farmer micro-lots. Each of these micro-lot samples represents a single farmer's work over the period of a week or two and represents a lot of 1/2 to 5 bags of parchment coffee. The main image on our Colombia page is Walter Penna, one of the farmers that has coffee designated as micro-lot quality, from Pedregal, Huila. He is next to a pile of parchment coffee, the green bean still intact in the shell, and inside a parabolic drying cover to protect the coffee from rain, as well as provide gentle diffused light and heat for even drying.

It's important to make a distinction between the way we work in a country like Colombia, and the majority of Colombian coffee imported into this country that ends up at a roastery, a cafe, or in coffee bins at a market.
Colombian coffee has been highly marketed in the US for many decades by the FNC, the Federacion Nacional de Cafe. They have been successful at equating the name Colombian Coffee with "good" coffee. This is half-true. Colombian coffee is bulked into container lots that lack clean cup character and distinctive flavor attributes. This is the case with all origins in fact: There are stellar Ethiopian coffees but that does not mean Ethiopia coffee necessarily means good coffee. The fact that coffee is now marketed by origin country, sub-region, farm, farmer name, or which side of the tree they picked does not guarantee good quality. Also, indiscriminate mixing of good and bad lots, well-processed clean coffees with over-fermented batches, or ones that might have been re-wet by rain showers when drying, results in the lowest common denominator for the entire shipment of coffee.

Is there good Colombian coffee? Absolutely, but not from Supermarket bulk bins and the like. Good Colombian is rarely sold simply as Supremo or Excelso, a name that designates the size of the beans only and means nothing about the quality of taste. Grading by screen size doesn't make sense because a larger bean does not mean better cup quality. In fact, the presence of diverse bean sizes can result in better cup quality, but not necessarily. Since we rate everything by cup quality and all coffees are judged "blind," bean size is irrelevant and doesn't enter into how we select coffees.

Among the generic pooled lots are regional coffees branded only by the Department (State) they come from, Huila, Medellin, Antioquia, Cauca, or very general sub-region distinctions like San Augustin or Pitalito. These lots can be okay, but recent samples have showed a tendency towards the use of non-traditional varietals like Variedad Colombian or the newer Castillo cultivar, both catimor types that offer disease-resistance at the expense of taste quality. There are still older types of "aqua-pulp" processing in use in Colombia from volume-oriented mills, and these tend to have a fruity taste on arrival, while they fade into a cup with paper-cardboard taint in a few months.

Many areas of Colombia have two crops: a main harvest and the "mitaca," where the coffee shrub will be producing flowers for the next semi-annual harvest while it is being harvested with red ripe coffee cherry. It poses problems both for the plant and its limited amount of energy, as well as a physical risk of damaging the flower buds while picking the ripe fruit. More significant is the presence of coffee rust fungus (roya), as well as the coffee berry borer insect (CBB, or broca). With climate change, these problems are spreading to coffee regions within Colombia that were never at risk previously. And in areas where they were formerly present only at lower altitudes, for example the valleys in Huila at 1200 meters, these blights are now found on the slopes overlooking these areas, at 1600 and 1700 meters. This is severely affecting the volume of coffee a tree can produce, and the incomes of the farming families.

Colombia Familia Guerra - La Gallineta
$6.50
$12.35
$28.28
$53.95
$103.10
Clumps of unripe Caturra - Colombia
Arrival dateMarch 2014 Arrival
Appearance.2 d/300g; 15+ screen
GradeExcelso
ProcessingWet Process (Washed)
RegionAntioquia Departemento
Varietal(s)Caturra
Intensity/Prime attributeMedium Intensity/Juicy fruits, developed sugars, layered cocoa
RoastCity to Full City is great for brewed coffee; Full City and beyond works well as SO espresso.
The Guerra family are 3rd generation coffee farmers in the Antioquia Departemento in the central region of Colombia. Their farm, "Las Mercedes", is on the large side (around 150 hectares for coffee alone), and is split into several plots, which are even then broken down into separate lots within the plot. It gets a little confusing, but for instance, La Gallineta (this coffee) is from the plateau of Plot #10. There are many plots and lots, and needless to say, it can be quite a chore to keep track of all this separation. So they're enlisted the help of a local cooperative to make sure lots are separated (as well as with exporting), and then tagged so they can be traced back to that particular part of the farm. This is quite a system, and of course affords the buyer an opportunity to taste the different levels of quality coming out of the various farm sectors. La Gallineta is comprised entirely of Caturra. It's fully washed, fermented for 15 hours, and then sun-dried. We picked up another lot from a different part of the farm as well, and they're cup profiles are quite divergent. We'll have some up a little later in the Spring.
This coffee has a structured sweetness in the cup that is alluded to throughout the aromatic profile. There's a smell of butter cookies in the ground coffee, with a culmination of butter and unrefined sugar. This sweetness is found in both light and darker roasts, along with dried fruits like apple and plum. The wet aroma also has a sort of cookie smell to it, most like butterscotch brownie. Breaking the crust reveals notes of dried stone fruits, and maple candy. This coffee is truly candy sweet, and the cup boasts heaping doses of buttery caramel and honey. Light roasts have a refreshing flavor of apple juice, golden plum replete with the tart skin, and also vibrant, malic acidity. Flavors of cocoa also come about and are especially present in the already sweet finish. Even at Full City, this coffee's sweetness is like fruit nectar - thick and syrupy, and with caramel sugar and malt chocolate. This is a full bodied cup of coffee, and at Full City and beyond, this makes a fantastic SO espresso - viscous, chocolatey, and with a apple juice-like brightess.
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Colombia Familia Guerra - La Isla
$6.70
$12.73
Final flowers just above a clump of coffee cherry; Colombia
Arrival dateMarch 2014 Arrival
Appearance.2 d/300g; 15+ screen
GradeExcelso
ProcessingWet Process (Washed)
RegionAntioquia Departamento
Varietal(s)Caturra
Intensity/Prime attributeMedium to Bold Intensity/Fruit forward, structured sweetness, refreshing acidity
RoastCity to Full City, this one's versatile in the roaster.
The Guerra family are 3rd generation coffee farmers in the Antioquia Departemento in the central region of Colombia. Their farm, "Las Mercedes", is on the large side (around 150 hectares for coffee alone), and is split into several plots, which are even then broken down into separate lots within the plot. Sound confusing? Well, for instance, one of the coffees we picked up from them this year came from a plateau within one particular lot#. La Isla is from another part of the farm, and the small area is perched at about 1700 meters, and planted entirely in Caturra. The Guerra family is working with a local cooperative to help them with ensuring that lots are not only kept separate through the processing stages, but also properly identified in order to retain provenance within the rather large farm. It's a big job, but in the end gives the buyer an opportunity to taste the different levels of quality coming out of the various farm sectors.
Wow, the dry grounds really set the tone for what has turned out to be one of the more exciting Colombia coffees we brought in this year. Light roasts have a big scent of honey and florals, with sweet fruit notes like raspberry, white grape, and Valencia oranges. The wet aromatics are so sweet and bold, with floral honey and allusions to ripening stone fruit. There's a real retronasal response to be experienced here, you can nearly taste honey, butterscotch, and tropical fruit candies when breaking through the crust. The cup is very fruit-forward, with notes of Comice pear, honey tangerine, white grape juice, and plum jam. There's a structured sugar sweetness too, like simple syrup. City to City+ roasts are very complex, and with acidity that lies somewhere between pear and apple juice. Dark roasts harness more roast flavors and develop a cocoa powder, chocolate note, but still remain very complex and fruited. Body is also definitely bolstered with roast, and Full City roasts as espresso are extremely creamy, with thick sweetness, and with a tart cranberry-like acidic 'pop' (and this was a pretty fast pull!). Great dual-use Colombia.
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Colombia Narino Buesaco
$6.10
$11.59
$26.54
$50.63
$96.94
Coffee cherry selection in Narino
Arrival dateDecember 2013 Arrival
Appearance.2 d/300gr, 15+ screen
GradeSHB EP Prep
ProcessingWet Process (Washed)
RegionBuesaco, Narino
Varietal(s)Bourbon, Caturra
Intensity/Prime attributeMild Intensity/Complex sugar sweetness, fruit pectin, malic
RoastCity+ through Full City+ works well

The small town of Buesaco is on the Pacific Coast side of Colombia in the greater Departament of Narino. This is a very unique part of Colombia in that coffee can be grown at extremely high altitudes due to the climate that is a result of being in close proximity to the Equator. This particular lot is made up from a few small-holders in the area, all producing coffee on less than 2 hectares each. Production involves hand-crank depulpers, and the coffee is fermented and washed onsite, and then laid out on covered drying beds. A simple method producing very solid results.

This coffee from Buesaco has an interesting scent to it, lightly fruited and sweet, and with a uniquely sweet smell of fresh bread right out of the grinder. There's an inciting smell of fresh pumpernickel, like dark sugars and caraway seed. It combines well with notes of caramel sauce and with plum fruit and concord grape. Hot water brings on a smell of Pecan pie, deeply sweet like it's saturated with brown sugar and butter. There's a maltiness in darker roasts, that is like sugar in the raw. The cup is smooth, sweet, and with a touch of malic tartness in the acidity. There is a lactic quality too that reminds me of fresh cream caramel, which plays off flavors of apple juice nicely. At Full City roasts have a juiciness to them with a slight tart note, like cranberry grape juice. The mouthfeel is silky and with a finishing flavor of sweet cocoa. City+ is about as light as I'd take this coffee with Full City roasts really developing potential sweetness.

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