Colombian coffee is famous throughout the world, but the truth is that until recently, local coffee had little to do with the dark and rich espresso that you might expect when visiting. Things have changed however, and a number of coffee chains, most notably Juan Valdez, are changing the culture.
“Tinto”, black basically, is what you're served in the majority of place here. Below is a video that shows the traditional preparation of one:
This is essentially a watery and fairly tasteless coffee that especially, in the country, is served in "agua panela", which is water boiled with raw cane sugar. The first time I had it it came as a bit of a shock but you get used to it.
Upscale restaurants, hotels and the new coffee chains serve decent coffee but it still happens that I'm a bit surprised at how bad the stuff can be. Would I be any help if I lied to you, the reader?
History of Coffee
Interestingly, coffee does not originate in Colombia but rather, in Ethiopa, and was transported and cultivated in green houses in Europe during the 17th Century, particularly Holland, before later being imported to South America and Colombia.
The Coffee Region (Coffee Triangle)
The Arabica bean comes in several varieties and is grown throughout the country, however, the main region for the crop remains the Zona Cafetera that is one of the more beautiful parts of the country consisting of 3 departments, Caldas, Risaralda and Quindio located a few hours drive to the South of Medellin. The entire region is not that large however and much of what used to be coffee plantations are now plantain farms instead, because of the complex, labor intensive and delicate needs of the Arabica bean.
The altitude and latitude of the region, the Andes mountains and proximity to the equator, in addition to the fertile soil and lush climate in general, are the reason the quality of Colombian coffee is so high.
The Arabica bean comes in different types such as the well known Typica but also lesser known beans such as the Carturra, Maragogipe, Colombia, Comun and Bourbon. The trees are picked according to when the beans are ripe and should be about shoulder height for two reasons, firstly, it's easier to pick them from a physical standpoint and secondarily, because if the trees are too tall, they cast shadow onto the neighboring trees and beans lower down on the crop.
Having visited the coffee region, it's interesting to see a lot of framers experimenting with taller trees in the hopes of making more beans and money obviously, when it's fairly clear that the lower beans are not ripening as they should.
The Coffee Process
The work is gruesome and the pickers carry huge loads of coffee on the steep mountains that later goes through a long and complex washing and drying process in preparation for shipment overseas where the beans are roasted.
Colombian coffee is not known for its roasting processes but rather, the bean itself.