Best Colombian Coffee – Review and Buyer’s Guide

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best colombian coffee

Coffee has an important place in Colombia. It is their biggest national export and accounts for almost half of the nation’s agricultural employment.

But what is the best Colombian coffee? We put together a list of great performers fit for various purposes. For a quick route to high-quality coffee, check out our absolute favorite Colombian coffee and get a bag of the Mejor Colombia from Panther Coffee.

At A Glance

Best Overall
  • Pros:
    • Medium Roast
    • Cauca, Colombia
    • Cherry, citrus & milk chocolate notes
Best Premium
  • Pros:
    • Light Roast
    • Huila, Colombia
    • Flowers, fruits & apple jack notes
Best Decaf
  • Pros:
    • Medium Roast
    • Huila, Colombia
    • Vanilla, ripe fruit & brown sugar notes
Best Dark Roast
  • Pros:
    • Dark Roast
    • Various origins, Colombia
    • Dark chocolate, nuts & berry notes
Best Overall
Pros:
  • Medium Roast
  • Cauca, Colombia
  • Cherry, citrus & milk chocolate notes
Best Premium
Pros:
  • Light Roast
  • Huila, Colombia
  • Flowers, fruits & apple jack notes
Best Decaf
Pros:
  • Medium Roast
  • Huila, Colombia
  • Vanilla, ripe fruit & brown sugar notes
Best Dark Roast
Pros:
  • Dark Roast
  • Various origins, Colombia
  • Dark chocolate, nuts & berry notes
Lasso Brag

The Best Colombian Coffee — A Closer Look at Our Favorites

Best Overall
Panther Coffee - Mejor Colombia
Roast: Medium
Origin: Cauca, Colombia
Flavor Profile: Montmorency cherry / Citrus / Milk chocolate
Variety: Castillo
Check on Trade Coffee

Panther Coffee’s offering is a real tour de force for Colombian coffee. Unusually fruity for a Castillo, this coffee is packed with sweet and juicy cherry and citrus fruit.

This might be thanks to its altitude in the Andes region, where cherries are allowed to ripen very slowly at a cooler temperature. These beans are grown by various smallholder farmers in the southwestern Cauca region.

To get the best out of this exquisite Colombian coffee brand, we recommend brewing it in a V60. To capitalize on its natural sweet aroma, you could try grinding just a little finer than usual to slow down the brew time and allow the sugars to develop. Be aware not to go too fine, though, as you don’t want too many bitters creeping in to mask the fruity complexities.


Best Premium
Volcanica Coffee - Colombian Geisha
Roast: Light
Origin: Huila, Colombia
Flavor Profile: Flowers / Tropical Fruits / Apple Jacks
Variety: Geisha
Check on Volcanica Coffee

This Geisha from Volcanica is one of our favorite coffee beans of all time. Sweetness is abundant, especially when brewed in a pour-over.

The tropical fruits are reminiscent of almost jammy papayas and over-ripe mangoes, offset by tart floral notes comparable to hibiscus tea. This all plays out against a biscuit backdrop evocative of apple crumble. 

Geisha is one of the most sought-after varieties and is almost synonymous with high quality. It was first grown in Colombia as part of a ten-year initiative to improve the diversity of high-quality botanical varieties in Colombian coffee. By now, it has become well-known and established in the coffee scene.

Its neighbor, the Panamanian Geisha, has been one of the single favorite coffees globally. Similarly, the Colombian Geisha has small availability, and each year it sells out, it gets a bit more exposure. An equally good coffee, available in similarly limited releases, this is well worth the money if your budget can stretch this far.


Best Decaf
Cuvée Coffee - Jackalope Decaf
Roast: Medium
Origin: Huila, Colombia
Flavor Profile: Sweet Vanilla / Ripe Fruit / Brown Sugar
Variety: Caturra, Colombia
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The jackalope is a hybrid creature from Southern American folklore. Cuvée named their Jackalope Decaf after this unlikely splice of jackrabbit and antelope. This is owed to the similar likelihood of finding excellent quality and decaffeinated coffee in the same bag. However, modern methods for decaffeination are far more sympathetic than those of years gone by.

This Colombian coffee bean has its caffeine removed at the green bean stage by natural spring water decaffeination and is a far cry from its murky decaf ancestors. A veritable parade of sweet ripe fruits is on offer here. The deeper chocolate and brown sugar notes you might expect from a lower-altitude Colombian are also present here.

Care must be taken not to over-extract this coffee, as it does run a little close to too bitter for some palates. We found it was best ground a little coarser than you might typically go for and brewed in a pour-over. AeroPress with a short brew time works well here too.


Best Dark Roast
Counter Culture Coffee - Gradient Blend
Roast: Dark
Origin: Various, Colombia
Flavor Profile: Dark Chocolate / Roasted Nuts / Berry
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This is a very classic example of more developed Colombian coffee. The darker roast undertaken by Counter Culture really brings the roasting tones to the fore, highlighting the chocolates and roasted nuts. A nice foil to these is provided in the red berry sweetness you will find in this bean when brewed sympathetically. 

Sourced from a variety of Colombian fincas in different regions depending on the season, this coffee is blended to achieve a consistent year-round flavor profile. 

Of all the coffees we’ve featured here, this makes the best espresso. Full-bodied and intoxicatingly rich, it carries very nicely through shorter milk-based drinks, too. It pairs particularly nicely with oat milk for something like a flat white or cortado.


The History of Coffee in Colombia

The history of coffee in Latin America is linked inextricably with the history of colonial Europe. Coffee first made its way to the region via the colonial plantations of the Caribbean, where European plantation owners could benefit from tropical climates and slave labor.

The Dutch established plantations in Surinam (then Dutch Guiana), from where coffee likely began to spread across South and Central America. 

One particularly captivating story from the 18th century about the early spread of coffee in Latin America is that of Francisco de Melo Palheta. A Brazilian colonial, he smuggled coffee seedlings from the Dutch empire under the pretense of settling a border dispute between French and Dutch Guiana. 

Although there are a lot of stories about the origin of coffee in Colombia, it was certainly an established crop by the mid-eighteenth century. By 1835 it was being exported worldwide, and Colombia had established its own coffee trade.

In 1927 the Federación Nacional De Cafeteros (FNC) was set up and remains an important governing body for Colombian coffee today. They were responsible for the ubiquitous character of Juan Valdez. He has been the fictional spokesman for Colombian coffee since 1959.

Colombian Coffee Today

Today, the Colombian coffee industry is one of the most essential parts of the Colombian economy. It is one of the first things most people think of around the world when they think of Colombia, and it is an entrenched part of life in the country.

Colombian Coffee Culture

The climate, landscape, and generations of expertise make Colombia one of the finest producers of arabica beans in the world. But, interestingly, most of the better grades of beans are for export. Specialty-grade arabica is only a tiny part of the domestic coffee culture in Colombia.

Life in Colombia is saturated with coffee. No matter how it is prepared, it is usually referred to as “tinto” — literally inky water. This is kind of like their equivalent of a “cup of Joe”.

With such an important role in the country’s identity, it is no surprise that café culture forms a big part of Colombian social life. More than just a morning caffeine hit to fuel a busy day (as is often the case in North America), coffee is an important social drink in Colombia.

Interestingly, peak times for coffee shops in the country tend to be between 3 pm and 7pm, as Colombians are not put off by the nocturnal consumption of a little coffee.

Colombian Coffee Production

Coffee regions of Colombia, https://ictcoffee.com/

Producing an annual average of around 11.5 million bags of coffee, Colombia is the third-largest global producer of coffee behind Brazil and Vietnam. [1] In terms of Arabica specifically, it is the biggest exporter.

Coffee in Colombia is predominantly a cottage industry. It’s dominated by smallholder farming families, who produce around 95% of the nation’s coffee.

The bulk of the coffee growing area, colloquially known as the “eje cafetero”, also known as the coffee triangle, lies in the rural Paisa region of North-West Colombia. The plantations and smallholdings are scattered across the slopes of the Andes mountains that form the spine of Colombia. It is primarily this altitude that allows coffee to flourish. 

Although there are areas right across the region producing great quality coffee, the most sought-after beans come from the southern section where the mountains are highest. In particular, coffees from Tolima, Cauca, and Nariño are highly prized and often score over 90 points in cupping by Q graders.

While deserving of its reputation, a lot of Colombian coffee’s success can be linked to the FNC. They have run several highly successful marketing campaigns throughout the latter part of the 20th century. Notably, they included the establishment of the “100% Colombian Coffee” mark in 1961, which put the focus on origin long before third-wave coffee. 

What To Consider When Buying Colombian Coffee?

As with any single-origin coffee, there are many factors to consider when choosing your best Colombian coffee. Below is a brief discussion to give you an idea of what to look out for.

Roast Degree

Historically a lot of Colombian coffee has been roasted fairly dark, as this was the prevailing preference in its main export market of North America. Increasingly though, and particularly if you buy your coffee from a specialty roaster like those featured here, you may find it roasted to a far less developed degree.

Depending on your preference in terms of flavor, expectations of body and mouthfeel, and your usual brew method, the roast degree will have significant implications.

As a rough guide, if you are going for a V60 and want to taste as much of the origin’s intrinsic character as possible, a light roast will be your brightest and best friend. On the other hand, for a rich and full espresso shot, you may prefer a more developed roast.

While you should always avoid the darkest roasts — ones where you can see the oils shining out of the beans — you need not be afraid to experiment with darker roasts of specialty-grade coffee. They can play an important role in developing the roast tones of a coffee and are no longer just a mask for bad-quality green coffee.

Variety

Although there is more recent experimentation with growing robusta in Colombia, traditionally, it has made up a tiny part of the coffee industry. There is a heavy focus on quality arabica beans. The main varieties grown are Caturra (around 45% of Colombian coffee) and Typica (which makes up another 25%). 

Colombia also has its own cultivar of arabica called, unsurprisingly, “Colombia”. This variety was developed to combat the spread of coffee leaf rust, a pervasive threat to Colombia’s coffee plants. 

In addition to these, other varieties are widely grown, including Courbon, Maragogipe, and recent disease-resistant varieties like Cenicafe 1, Castillo, and Tabi. Also noteworthy is the presence of the high-prestige variety Geisha, which flourishes in many Colombian micro-climates.

Flavor Profile

The typically expected flavor profile of Colombian coffee is one dominated by milk chocolate and citric acidity. Of course, the roast degree will affect this. In lighter roasts with more of the origin present in the flavor profile, it is primarily the variety and region that affect tasting notes.

As a rough guide, the northernmost coffees grown at lower altitudes tend to have more of the bold chocolate notes and a heavier body. This situation is reversed as you go further south to higher altitude coffees prized for their fruity acidity.

With regard to the effect of variety, Caturra tends to produce medium to light-bodied coffees that are heavy in bright citric overtones. On the other hand, Typica can have a sweeter character with milder fruit notes. Most of the coffee cultivars grown in Colombia are descendants of these two varietals and tend to run true to their parent strain’s qualities.

Roaster

Another important thing to look out for is a roaster with a reputation for good quality that cares about their product. The best beans in the world can be turned into a truly awful cup if they are not treated with the respect that they deserve. 

All of the roasters we have featured here have excellent reputations not only for quality products but also for ethical sourcing. This is also an important consideration.

A good roaster will naturally know their business with regards to getting the best out of a high-grade bean. They should also ensure they limit and mitigate their environmental impact and do their part to protect the livelihoods and working conditions of the communities they trade with.

A Short Guide to Brewing Colombian Coffee

Much like any coffee, you can brew Colombian coffee however you like. If you want to immerse yourself in the traditional Colombian experience, you might want to try brewing in a colador, a kind of Colombian cloth-filtered pour-over. Alternatively, you could try the traditional Colombian immersion method of brewing in an olleta.

Really though, a Colombian cup of coffee will be best enjoyed prepared as you like it. Tailor your choice of beans to your favorite brew method and as always, be sure to get your grind size dialed in just right for your brewer.

Our Verdict

Ultimately, in your quest for the best Colombian coffee, you will need to keep a firm eye on what you are expecting out of your coffee.

As a coffee-lover, you will not regret opting for this medium-roast Mejor Colombia. It’s roasted to perfection by Panther Coffee to reveal a beautifully fruity mandarin and nectarine elegance. With optional Andean folk music.

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Author
Aidan is a former barista and coffee industry professional, turned writer and passionate home brewer. He never travels anywhere without his emergency coffee kit (hand grinder, scales, and v60).

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