Colombia – Rio Magdalena
The sheer size and complexity of Colombia’s coffee industry makes it one of the most exciting and undiscovered origins in the world today. Through our partners Falcon Speciality Coffees we are working to uncover some of the great individual coffee flavours that Colombian farmers have to offer. And our Rio Magdalena, grown by Blanca Alicia Beltran is one of those delicious discoveries…
Coffee production in Colombia is very much dominated by small-holder farmers that band together into Cooperatives and growers associations. This means the vast majority of coffee in Colombia comes in big lots that contains coffee from many growers. The majority of the coffee is processed on the farm by the producers. Depending on the mind set and skill of the individual farmers it is possible to find great coffee being mixed with average coffee. Variance in humidity level and bean density between producer’s batches are also common and can impact the overall quality of the lot. While many Cooperative lots are of extremely high quality it has been the mission of the specialty industry to isolate and separate the coffee from the very best producers.
In Colombia the potential for this is unfathomably large. Though many producing areas extremely remote, making them difficult to work with we’re sure you’ll agree that effort is well worthwhile.
Coffee Growing in Colombia:
Colombia is the third largest coffee-producing country in the world and, until the arrival of Vietnam on the coffee scene (whose outputs are mainly Robusta), Colombia was second only to Brazil.
Coffee first began to be cultivated commercially in Colombia in the mid-1830s and throughout the twentieth century was the country’s main export crop. A mountainous topography and many tropical micro-climates contribute greatly to Colombia’s reputation for ideal growing conditions, which – in turn – have helped Colombia establish itself as a recognisable ‘brand’ around the world.
The importance of coffee to the country’s economy can’t be overstated. Colombia has around 875,000 hectares planted with coffee across 590 municipalities and 14 coffee-growing regions. On average, 75 percent of the country’s production is exported worldwide, with the crop generating some 10-16 per cent of the agricultural GDP. The majority of this production surprisingly comes from small farms: 60 percent of Colombian coffee farmers cultivate less than one hectare of coffee while only .5 percent have more than 20 hectares.
Traditionally, the majority of coffees from Colombia have been processed using the fully washed method. However, Centre for Coffee Research (Cenicafé) has developed an ecological system that uses very little water, reduces contamination of local water sources by 90 percent and reduces water consumption by 95 percent. This dry pulping method has proven reliable not just in preserving the eco-system but also in guaranteeing a consistent cup quality and is increasingly used across the country.
The drying process in much of Colombia is unique – small-holder farmers spread the parchment across the flat roofs (or ‘elvas’) of their houses to dry in the sun. Polytunnels and parabolic beds are also used in farms with high altitude and cold weather conditions. Parabolic beds – which are constructed a bit like ‘hoop house’ greenhouses, with airflow ensured through openings in both ends – both protect the parchment from rain and mist as it is dried and prevent condensation from dripping back on the drying beans.
The diversity of coffee and profiles found across Colombia is enormous and coffee is harvested practically year-round depending on the region. The main harvest takes place from October to February with November and December being the peak months. There is also a second fly (or ‘mitaca’) crop several months later, again varying by region and micro climate.
The department of Huila in particular, is renowned for the quality of its coffee and is quickly becoming the largest coffee producing region in Colombia.
The Castillo cultivar was developed and promoted by CENICAFE (the Colombian National Coffee Research Centre) throughout 2005 to replace existing heirloom varieties. They have since developed 6 regional variations of Castillo, in order to maximise quailty and yield potential for local agroecological conditions. Castillo is resistant to leaf rust and though cup quality has been questioned in the past in relation to Caturra, average yields are generally higher.
Caturra is a cultivar from Brazil and is a mutation of Bourbon which is a much higher yielding tree. The Caturra tree will not reach the same height as the Bourbon, making it easier to manage and typical characteristics associated with this varietal are bright acidity and medium body.