A Short Guide To Colombian Coffee Beans

Peter Lancashire
April 7, 2021
coffee beans from colombia

Renowned for its flavour diversity and high quality, Colombian coffee is a favourite of millions of coffee drinkers around the world. Produced by hundreds of smallholder farms, the country has developed into the third-largest coffee producer in the world, behind only Brazil and Vietnam.

While coffee from Colombia is often characterised as mild, well-balanced, and with a medium to high acidity, this can change from region to region. A range of varietals, microclimates, and farming techniques makes it difficult to pin down, with cupping notes varying from ripe and fruity, to chocolatey and nutty.

To unlock the full potential of Colombian coffee beans, it’s the responsibility of roasters to ensure everything from the charge temperature to the rate of rise is controlled. However, it’s also important to factor in the demands of consumers.

I spoke with three-time South Africa National Barista Champion and MTPak Coffee Ambassador Ishan Natalie to find out more.

See also: A Pocket-Sized Guide To Roasting Ethiopian Coffee

colombian coffee growing

Where Is Colombian Coffee Grown?

In Colombia, more than 900,000 hectares of farmland across 22 regions are used for growing coffee. The highlands of the Sierra Nevada and el triángulo del café (The Coffee Triangle) are where the majority of all Colombian coffee is grown. The four departments in the latter region are Caldas, Quindío, Risaralda, and Tolima, and they’re known for producing some of the best coffee in the world.

Each coffee-growing region in Colombia offers its own set of distinct characteristics due to factors such as altitude, terroir, and farming techniques. For example, shade-grown coffee from the north of the country tends to have less acidity and higher body than the high-altitude coffee of the south.

Because of the high elevation at which Colombian coffee beans are grown, they tend also to be denser and contain lower levels of caffeine than other origins. Some of the highest altitudes are close to 2,000 metres above sea level (masl). Combined with wet processing typical of these coffees, this tends to produce bright and complex flavours in the cup.

The most common varietals of bean found in Colombia are typica, bourbon, tabi, caturra, maragogype, and castillo.

brewing coffee

What Are The Typical Flavour Profiles Of Colombian Coffee?

When we think of Colombian coffee, a number of different flavour notes may come to mind: nutty, chocolatey, caramel, fruity. However, the impressive variance in growing regions can make it difficult to pin down. One cup of labelled “Colombian” can often taste significantly different from the next.

Ishan Natalie is Beverage & Operations Resource Lead at Starbucks South Africa. Over the last few years, he’s been involved in establishing the coffee chain in the South African market, contributing two decades’ of coffee sector experience to help make it a success. During this time, he’s also worked closely with roasters in everything from sourcing to cupping. 

He tells me that the flavour complexity of Colombian coffee makes it a great coffee to start out with when learning to roast.

“With so many potential flavours coming from Colombian coffee beans, there’s lots of room for roasters to experiment,” he says. “It’s such a versatile coffee to roast to every profile due to its variety of flavour attributes. You can choose to highlight different flavours depending on where the beans have been grown, which is really exciting.”

colombian coffee beans

What’s The Best Roast Profile For Colombian Coffee?

Whether dark, light or medium, roast profiles have a significant impact on the flavour and characteristics of coffee. Defined as a set of parameters used to determine how a coffee is roasted, roast profiles are largely dependent on a roaster’s control of their equipment and the data they capture from it.

However, to achieve a desired roast profile, roasters must also take into account a number of different factors concerning the coffee itself, from density and processing, to variety and hardness.

For example, Colombian beans tend to be fairly dense due to the high altitudes at which they’re grown. Therefore, to achieve the same roast profile as beans with lower density, a higher charge temperature may be required. According to roasting expert Scott Rao, this is because, for a given bean size, it requires more energy to penetrate the core of denser beans.

For Ishan, whether a roaster opts for light or dark largely depends on the characteristics they want to highlight in their coffee and the demands of their customers.

“Colombian coffee can often offer bold, caramel-sweetness and nuttiness when it’s roasted darker, such as for an espresso roast or as a base for a blend,” he explains. “On the other hand, when roasted light to medium, it’s more likely to bring out the floral and citrus qualities. Those florals and citrus, along with ample sweetness, make for a great filter coffee.”

According to Little Coffee Place, when trying out beans of a specific origin, a lighter roast is a good option for roasters who want to showcase the distinct flavour notes of the coffee. This is because when coffee is roasted long after the “first crack”, it can start to lose some of its unique characteristics and take on a slightly more “generic” flavour.

With that in mind, Ishan tells me that a medium roast probably suits Colombian beans better than any other style of roasting. For him, it strikes a good balance between sweetness, acidity, and flavour notes.

“We don’t tend to see much dark, nor very light roasted Colombian coffees in the industry,” he says. “There are definitely a lot more medium profiles.” 

sustainable packaging

Colombian coffee is renowned for being high quality and full of flavour thanks to its envious growing conditions and unique farming practices. For specialty roasters, the diversity of Colombian coffee offers lots of room for creativity and experimentation.

At MTPak Coffee, we offer a range of sustainable coffee packaging that will protect your coffee and preserve all its distinct characteristics. Whether roasting for filter or espresso, our recyclable, biodegradable, and compostable pouches can be fully customised to showcase the origin and flavour notes of your coffee.

For more information on our sustainable coffee packaging, contact our team here.

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