A Brief History of Colombian Coffee

Colombia is, by far, the most recognizable of all coffee producing origins.
Though no one has pinpointed exactly how coffee first made its way to Colombia, its first known appearance was documented in 1730 by a Jesuit priest by the name of Jose Gumilla. And while the coffee plant had been known of through the better part part of the 18th Century, the first coffee crop was not harvested until 1808.

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Much of the crop’s propagation throughout the country can be attributed to the Catholic priest Francisco Romero who, after being confessed to, would instruct his confessors to pay penance by cultivating coffee crops. This process, while dubious at best, was responsible for founding a multitude of farms and  introducing coffee to different regions across the country.

Throughout the 19th Century, the coffee industry in Colombia remained fragmented and largely independent, with farmers trading their crops directly to exporters and wholesale buyers to seek out the high price points that the international coffee market had to offer. But as commoditized coffee spread throughout South/Central America throughout the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, the international supply increased, and Colombian farmer’s returns dropped notably.

To combat the drop in coffee’s export price and provide stability to the Colombian coffee market, the National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia (NFCGC) was formed in 1927.

Colombian Coffee Economy

The NFCGC was formed as a non-profit business association that enables Colombian coffee farmers to utilize better methods of production and to provide them with a stable price point for their harvests in an oftentimes unstable market. In its current form, the NFCGC sets a market-standard price point for different grades of coffee every year and will purchase beans from any and all Colombian producers at its set price. This process ensures that farmers across the country will always have buyers for their crops, and a predictable price to organize their business round.

The NFCGC also played an integral role in vaulting Colombia to the forefront of the international coffee scene; With its ad campaign featuring Juan Valdez, a fictional Colombian coffee farmer, the NFCGC was able to distinguish “Colombian” coffee as a product distinct from the blends that most North American and European were accustomed to. This distinction is what sparked the international shift towards “single origin” coffees in the 1980’s and 1990’s and is the reason why Colombian coffee has more international brand-value than any other coffee-producing nation.

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There are an estimated 600,000 individuals working in the Colombian coffee industry to produce, on average, 810,000 tons of coffee a year, making it the third largest coffee producing country in the world after Brazil and Vietnam.

Colombian Coffee

Another source of Colombia’s international appeal is the huge variety of coffee profiles that are sourced from the region. The country’s geography varies wildly as it stretches far enough north to border the Caribbean, and far enough south to touch the Andes Mountain range. These geographical differences result in a diverse set of climates, all of which provide unique environments and altitudes for coffee to grow in.

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To the nation’s north lie the Santa Marta and Santander regions, whose high temperatures and low altitudes grow and mature coffee cherries exceptionally quickly, bringing a full bodied, mellow, and low-acid profile to the cup. In Central Colombia, the regions Antioquia, Caldas, and Quindio, offer coffees often characterized as “Breakfast Blends” with sweet, nutty profiles and a rich, chocolate finish. And to the south reside Narina, Cauca, and Huila where coffee is grown in mountainous soil at high altitudes. This climate delays the maturation of the coffee, giving it a complex acidity, a fruity flavor profile, and a light, floral finish.