Next time you stop at your local coffee shop, take a close look at the brew you’re buying. More than likely it originated in Colombia, producer of 12 percent of the world’s coffee, making it the third largest coffee provider in the world (behind Brazil and Vietnam) and the number one producer of Arabica coffee—which is widely considered the highest quality bean for your cup ‘o joe. Colombian coffee beans make their way around the world, to the United States, Germany, France, Japan, and Italy.
A visit to a local coffee plantation in the country’s fertile valleys will give a traveler much insight into this important cultural and economic commodity, making one appreciate that fresh cup all the more. The region of the country that grows the most coffee has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2011. This “coffee growing axis” produces most of the country’s beans, as does the country’s rural Paisa area, including the Caldas, Quindio, and Risaralda regions.
Coffee aficionados appreciate the beans from the growing axis for their heavy body, rich flavor, and fine acidity, though this varies by growing region. Farther afield, in Bogota or Bucaramanga, beans are a bit milder and less acidic.
Colombia’s coffee producers are represented by the National Federation of Coffee Growers (FNC), and there are 38 cooperatives that are separate from this industry association; 19 of these are certified fair trade. The majority of Colombian coffee is grown in the shade; at present, there are a couple of devastation environmental problems facing the industry, including deforestation and soil and water contamination from pesticides. Farmers are working toward sustainable practices that will address these issues, therefore protecting vital species that exist nowhere else in the world.
Smaller producers in the country have been hit hard by the global coffee crisis, sending family famers into poverty and debt in the early 21th century. Lately, however, the rise in global coffee prices has seen an uptick in the country’s economy overall, which is promising for small farms. And, if the country can parlay its rich biodiversity to secure a place in the market for its shade-grown coffee—while also conserving its growing environment—the industry should continue to improve for those producer families that were hit so hard in recent decades.
Coffee roasters in the US will often speak to the incredible range of Colombian coffee, meaning there are many flavors one can try, taste, and go back to or not—making it one of the most exciting and enticing cups of coffee you’ll find in your favorite local shop.