A great cup of coffee begins with great green coffee – grown well, harvested properly and processed with care. At Lincoln & York, we source our green arabica and robusta coffees from over 40 origins across the globe and regularly make trips to source.
One of our favourite destinations, and one of the world’s greatest coffee producers, is Colombia.
We were lucky enough to visit this region again this year (April 2019), allowing us to further appreciate each aspect of this incredible region, its people and its coffee operation.
Colombia’s Coffee History
The history of coffee can sometimes be undetermined but one thing is for certain - Colombian coffee has always been, and still is, regarded as some of the highest quality coffee in the world.
Today, Colombia is ranked third in the world for coffee production, producing around 14 million bags of coffee each year. Only Brazil and Vietnam can boast bigger numbers.
Although Colombia has been shipping coffee internationally since at least the early 1800s, evidence suggests coffee has been produced here since the 17th century.
Colombia’s Coffee Climate
Geographically, Colombia is situated perfectly for growing coffee. Bisected by the Andes Mountains, a lot of the region’s coffee plantations are of high altitude and flush with rich soil. It’s within these areas where it remains frost free and captures at least 80 inches of rain each year, to create an ideal coffee growing climate.
The cooler mountainous temperatures can cause coffee cherries to ripen slightly slower, creating a more acidic, aromatic and flavourful yield. Cooler temperatures decrease the risk of pest infestations too. In the world of specialty coffee, this sort of coffee production is highly sought after and part of the reason why Colombia’s coffee is internationally renowned.
Due to the country’s coffee history, and as producers of Arabica coffee only, there are high expectations of Colombian coffee.
Initially, expectations are met with a distinct and enticing aroma. Add to this a rich, yet mild, medium-high body flavour and a well-balanced, clean coffee flavour is prominent.
When we can, we like to visit the source to better understand the operation. This way, we can educate ourselves about any issues the farmer’s are faced with, as well as working together to improve production and sustainability. Our latest visit was truly beneficial.
With 19 producing regions in Colombia, there is great diversity in flavour profiles, especially as each region has its own unique methods of harvesting, drying and processing.
Considering we buy over 1,000 tonnes of Colombian coffee annually, the region, it’s farmers and their methods have become integral to our own operation.
To generate these sorts of quantities, we’re fortunate that many regions we work with can sustain two harvests a year. This helps sustain consistently fresh tasting coffee all year round. But to achieve this, an incredible amount of research, reflection and application is required.
Here are some of the highlights from our latest trip:
New Coffee Technologies & Methodologies
Introducing new technologies to the region and its farmers help to improve productivity, reduce waste as well as a more quality product.
Data Recording & Monitoring
With the latest and smartest technologies, it’s easier for the farmer’s to capture, understand and analyse data to make strategic decisions. Collating real-time data for aspects like temperature and humidity can help influence may factors throughout the coffee producing process,
Allowing each region to continue to learn and grow.
This is Jose. He’s measuring the temperature and humidity ahead of picking the cherries, in order to understand how best to process and ferment the coffee. If the temperature is warm, the farmer may choose to ferment for 36 hours. Whereas, if the temperature drops to cool, fermentation tends to be adjusted to around 72 hours.
Here you can see a Brix Meter in action. It’s used to measure various aspects of the coffee cherries such as the sugar levels (sweetness) or PH levels for acidity. The readings help determine to farmers that their coffee cherries are right for fermentation or picking. This removes the risk of farmers picking their crop outside of the optimum conditions.
Investment in infrastructure, be it at the beginning or end of the coffee production process, has helped to strengthen older methods as well as derive new ones. Investing in new infrastructures helps make the operation more efficient, helping to save both time and money.
Additional areas, such as these coffee washing stations have been constructed to enhance performance.
Dedicated areas are now being introduced to assist with the coffee growing process. This is an example of how baby coffee trees mature in the nursery before they get planted in the fields. Much like how a mother protects her offspring before allowing them into the wild, in order to give them the best chance of survival.
There are many different coffee drying techniques but with extra resource and finance, farmers are now finding reliable methods to get the coffee below a 15% moisture level before shipping.
Jose has created a dedicated ‘experiment’ patch where he can trial all kinds of ideas. One of the most interesting is the concept of shade grown coffee which is inclusive of the region’s biodiversity, making coffee production more eco-friendly.
Thank you, Colombia.
Although Colombia’s coffee regions cover an area of nearly 350,000 hectares, the region offers so much more than that.
The scenic landscapes never fail to astonish us. Not only is perfectly picturesque for the purpose of a postcard, it is a home to a whole host of animal and plant life.
Amongst this there are a number of cultural and educational attractions which makes visiting even more appealing. For instance, cycling tours around the coffee triangle have become increasingly popular. Local rider, Egan Bernal, drew the plaudits at the Tour De Suisse Bike Race, this year - Congratulations!
Finally, according to the Colombian Coffee Growers Federation, coffee supports the well-being of over 500,000 families. This makes us extremely proud to be a part of.
So, thanks, once again, to all our friends over in Colombia who make us feel welcome and valued upon every single visit. See you soon.