Take a Tour Through the Coffee-Producing Regions of Colombia
Few places are known for their coffee like Colombia, the land of Juan Valdez. Colombia is a large country full of diverse landscapes, from rainforests to mountain peaks, two coasts, and everything in between. And as the soil changes, so do much of the climate, harvest time, and more. Because of this, not all Colombian beans are the same.
There are approximately 915,000 hectares of coffee farms located across 5 main zones in Colombia. Within these regions, the most commonly cultivated varieties of coffee are Caturra, Maragogipe, Tabi, Typica, Bourbon, Castillo, and Colombia.
The country is located in an excellent area for coffee production: it is close to the equator, and its mountains can reach more than 2,000 meters above sea level. The mountains of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, for example, are one of the highest coastal mountain ranges in the world. Colombia is also fortunate to be in the Andes Mountains. Water sources from here flow into the country’s drainage basins, including the large ones in the departments of Cauca, Magdalena, and Nariño. This creates a better environment for growing coffee; it is no coincidence that Cauca and Nariño are well-known coffee-growing regions.
Major differences in flavor profiles come from the different varieties, production, and preparation styles. Colombia has a more homogeneous production than other countries. They only produce Arabica coffee, they use the same washing process all over, and a large amount of the coffee is shade-grown. Even though there are 19 producing subregions, you will still find diversity in flavor profiles, climates, and harvesting seasons. In general, Colombian Arabica is known for its pronounced aroma, acidity, medium-high consistency, and cleanliness. The beans from here are often described as well-balanced or mild.
High altitude coffees tend to be the most sought-after Colombian cultivars. When well maintained, cooler temperatures allow the beans to ripen more slowly, leading to more acidic, aromatic, and flavorful beverages. They also imply a lower risk of pest infestation. Pests can reduce yields and damage both trees and beans. As a consequence, they affect the flavor of the final cup and the way heat is transferred during roasting. If too many beans are damaged by pests, the coffee will not be considered a specialty coffee.
The main representatives of the coffee industry in northern Colombia are Santander, Norte de Santander, La Guajira, Magdalena, and Cesar. An approximate 63,000 producers grow coffee on 130,000 hectares of land. This region has one dry season, from December to March, and one wet season, from April to November. Coffee plantations bloom in March, as the rainy season approaches, and it is harvested in October or November when it ends.
In addition, according to the Colombian Coffee Growers Federation, the northern region has similar conditions to Central America: lower latitudes and higher temperatures. The crops in this region, especially in the Sierra Nevada and Santanderes, are more exposed to solar radiation. Therefore, coffee growers tend to use more shade. The coffee produced in these regions has less acidity and a thicker consistency.
The north-central and south-central zones of Colombia contain the regions of southern Antioquia, Boyacá, Caldas, Chocó, Risaralda, Quindío, and northern Valle del Cauca, Cundinamarca, and northern Tolima. Antioquia is the second largest producing area in Colombia followed by Tolima, which makes these two areas a large and well-known coffee region. More than 260,000 producers grow coffee on 490,000 hectares. However, most of these are located in the north-central region. The south-central zone is home to only 28,000 producers.
Both of them have two dry seasons and two wet seasons each year. The dry season runs from December to February and June to September, while the wet season runs from March to May and September to November. This also means there are two harvesting seasons.
In the north-central area, the main harvest season is from October to December, at the end of the second wet season. However, there is a second harvest during May and June, when the first wet season ends. The south-central zone has similar harvest periods: May to June and October to November. However, it does not have a main and secondary harvest. Both periods are equally as important.
Southern Colombia is closer to the equator and coffee is grown at higher altitudes. This makes it a region characterized by quality: its coffee is known for its higher acidity and distinctive cup profiles. Within the Southern Zone, 210,000 producers grow coffee on 280,000 hectares of land.
Nariño, Cauca, and Huila form the new ‘Colombian coffee triangle’. Not only are Nariño and Huila large producers, but they are also common coffee regions within the specialty industry. In fact, Huila received the Denomination of Origin in 2013. The fruity and caramel notes, bittersweetness, and intense aromas that characterize its coffee led to this official recognition.
As in the northern zone, there is only one wet and one dry season. The dry season lasts from June to September, followed by the appearance of coffee flowers. The rainy season falls in October and can last until May, but the harvest season generally begins in April and continues until June.
The last coffee-producing zone in Colombia includes the regions of Arauca, Casanare, Meta, and Caqueta, where only 5,000 producers grow coffee on 10,000 hectares of land. In terms of climate, the east is similar to the north, however, there is more rain and humidity.
The east suffered conflicts in the past, which gives it a higher priority in terms of support. The Colombian Coffee Growers Federation is investing in helping the region grow varieties that are more suitable for their territory. They are also focused on helping farmers increase the size of their farms.
Colombia’s immense coffee industry offers a variety of distinctive and freshly harvested coffee. Despite where it is grown, Colombian coffee will always be in demand. Understanding the differences between coffee-producing regions will help you find the coffee that accommodates your taste best.
If you want to get a taste of premium coffee, try El Dorado!
- What are the best places for coffee tasting?
Directly at coffee farms. Coffee farms tend to be open for business and offer a tasting of their own brand of specialty coffee. We recommend buying their products and supporting local growers.
- Which coffee region is the most tourist-friendly?
The north-central and south-central zones are probably the most touristic. This means it is more common to find guided visits through coffee farms. However, Colombia is overall a very welcoming country for foreigners.
- Can I visit coffee-producing farms?
Some of them. When visiting a coffee region, make sure to research previously which coffee farms are better for tourist visits. This is because some farms have specific tours for outside visitors.
Learnabout the health benefits of coffee here