Whether it be espresso or filter, the likelihood of your beverage originating from Colombia may be higher than you think. As well as being known to be home to awe-inspiring mountains, rainforests and rivers, Colombia boasts a vast number of independent coffee farms. From its legendary origin over 300 years ago, Colombian coffee farming has revived this already beautiful country. As one of the country's largest exports, coffee has ultimately been a saviour through the political crisis. Colombian coffee may be distinctive in origin and grown through adversity, but it ultimately provides the perfect brew.
A legendary coffee origin
According to legend, the history of Colombian coffee began in the 1700s, when coffee seeds from Guyana were supposedly introduced to the country by Jesuit priests. This origin is scarcely known by the vast number of Colombian coffee lovers that enjoy the country’s 11.5 million bags of coffee, the annual average coffee production. From its introduction to the country on a minute scale, the high-quality beans are now produced on over 500,000 farms by producers with hundreds of years of expertise.
International interest in Colombian coffee took stead in 1835 when commercial production began, with the United States receiving 2,560 green coffee bags, exported from Colombian farms. By 1860, coffee came into regard as the dominant crop exported from Colombia, particularly to the United States, Colombia’s largest partner with a long-term trade alliance. Tariffs on coffee exports had become the main source of government revenues. Over the next 100 years, international coffee exportation surged, as demand for Colombian beans grew with love for the coffee intensifying.
The National Federation of Coffee Growers (FNC), has worked since the late 1950’s to bring Colombia’s coffee sector to the forefront of global attention. The marketing campaign has evidently succeeded, as Colombia is now labelled the fourth largest arabica coffee producer in the world today, after Brazil, Vietnam and Indonesia.
From its legendary origins in the 1700s to today, Colombia still produces exquisite coffee, but now to a much larger and highly recognised scale, with the 500,000 farms producing beans that are exported internationally to the whole world. In 2007, the European Union granted Colombian coffee a protected designation of origin status and in 2011 UNESCO declared the “Coffee Cultural Landscape” of Colombia, a World Heritage site.
Beautiful country, beautiful coffee
Not only does Colombia boast a superior quality coffee, it also boasts one of the most diverse landscapes in the world, with its distinctive geographical formations contributing towards the growth of the highest quality beans. The individual variations in the landscape and atmospheric conditions mean Colombia is famous for its unique tasting brews, no matter where in the country the beans are grown.
Situated on the Northern coast of South America, Colombia experienced a predominantly subtropical climate, but with consistent lower temperatures in areas of higher altitude. The Amazon region generally remains warm and wet all year round, and other areas experience rainy seasons, optimal conditions for growing coffee beans. Weather conditions like these certainly make for the best quality coffee and with landscapes like no other, Colombia produces a coffee like no other.
When the large majority of the Western population consider Colombia, what they envision are the vast altitudes and rolling peaks of the Andes; an abundance of species populating the rainforest surrounding the stunning waters of the Amazon river. What the landscape helps to create is something even more beautiful; Colombian coffee.
The Andes sustain ideal growing conditions, with the warm weather of the Paisa region. Coffee grown here thrives in the moist, temperate foothills of the Andes, where the combination of high altitude and moist climate makes for an especially mild cup. The bulk of Colombia’s coffee is grown here, leading to this area being assigned the title: the Coffee-Growers Axis. Also aptly referred to as the Coffee Triangle, consisting of Pereira, Manizales and Armenia, this region (as stated by Conservation International) is the “richest and most diverse region on earth,” which in turn provides a rich and diverse bean with a beautiful taste.
Cocaine and coffee: a political crisis
Over the past 70 years, Colombia has experienced its fair amount of political crisis which has, in turn, dramatically impacted its coffee production and international exportation. From the civil war during the 1940s and 50s to the global coffee crisis of the 1990s, coffee farmers have been put under severe pressure to produce a high quality, high volume yield.
Colombia is not only well known for its coffee, it is also well known for exporting another influential product - cocaine. Controlling nearly 90% of the global market, Colombia is the world’s largest cocaine producer. This caused a notable political situation for independent coffee producers during the 1970s and 80s, particularly when the Medellin Cartel became the principal mafia.
Political unrest and violence became a day-to-day occurrence for the Colombian people, with much of the landscape coming under strong attack by the drug war, with the Cartel burning farms and destroying crops. Coffee production dropped dramatically, with the quality of the beans taking a hit. Colombia was becoming uncomfortably famous for its cocaine exportation and civil war; coffee was no longer its focal point.
The Colombian people were at the heart of the suffering as 177,307 civilians were killed during the conflict. The loss of such a great number of farmers had a severe impact on coffee production as crops weren’t maintained; production and exportation figures plummeted; Colombia was no longer a great coffee country of the world.
By the mid-1990s, when Pablo Escobar had been killed, the Colombian coffee farmers had to quickly recover from the drug war and put Colombia back on the coffee map. It has been claimed that Colombian coffee now is not that same as it once was before the Cartel drug war as the impact on the landscape and the people had a knock-on effect on the taste of the coffee.
Colombia was again hit during the 1990s during the global coffee crisis. Coffee production across the country fell 44% as farmers could no longer afford to harvest and process their crops. Once again, Colombian coffee had suffered and the farmers had to boost production and quality to the standards that make Colombia the fourth largest arabica coffee producer in the world.
Colombia is world-renowned for its coffee and has maintained its distinct high quality throughout political unrest and war. We strive to source beans of the finest standard that produce a beautifully unique brew. The outstanding Colombian landscape and long-standing expertise continue to provide us with the best coffee and so we continue to provide them with fundamental support.
Written by Katie Humphrey