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. They are the biggest producer of Arabica of any nation in the world and have a well-deserved reputation for quality internationally. 

But what is the best Colombian coffee? This is a very personal thing; everybody will like something different. It is far more useful to identify what you want in a coffee and match it to something that performs well in those areas. 

We’ve put together a list of great performers, fit for various purposes. Everybody should be able to find something they will like amongst our featured coffees here. For a quick route to high-quality coffee, you could dive right in on our recommendation for our absolute favorite Colombian coffee and get a bag of the Israel Salazar from Panther Coffee.

We can’t imagine anybody that loves a good cup of coffee regretting that choice. If you want a simple answer to the best Colombian coffee, this is it. Alternatively, read on for more detail about our favorites and information about coffee in Colombia.

The Best Colombian Coffee — A Closer Look at Our Favorites

We have aimed to include something for all tastes in the types of coffee we have featured here. No matter how you like to brew, you should find something you’ll love here. Stick with us to learn more about our favorite Colombian coffees and tips on choosing your own best Colombian coffee.

Panther Coffee – Israel Salazar – Best All Round

At A Glance

Roast Profile: Light/Medium Roast

Origin: San Isidro, Sotará, Cauca, Colombia

Flavor Profile: Nectarine / Mandarin

Processing Method: Washed Process

Variety: Castillo

Panther Coffee’s offering here, grown by Israel Salazar, is a real tour de force for Colombian coffee. Unusually fruity for a Castillo, this coffee is packed with sweet and juicy nectarines and citrus fruit. This might be thanks to its exceptionally high altitude where cherries are allowed to ripen very slowly at a cooler temperature.

Not to be confused with the coffee grown at San Isidro in Huila by the Grupo Asociativo San Isidro, this San Isidro is further south, and notably further up the Andes, in Cauca. Israel’s Finca Loma El Marcelo is a relatively small 7-hectare coffee farm high in the mountains, where it benefits from natural spring water used in the processing.

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.


Tandem Coffee Roasters – La Piramide – Best Light Roast

At A Glance

Roast Profile: Light Roast

Origin: Inzá, Cauca, Colombia

Flavor Profile: Sweet Citrus / Delicate

Processing Method: Washed Process

Variety: Caturra, Typica

La Piramide from Tandem Coffee Roasters is a typical example of a very light roasted Colombian, exceptional only for its noteworthy quality. It says “delicate” on the bag — and they really mean it. This is a very subtle coffee with a soft sweetness reminiscent of ripe clementines or even candied lemons. 

A lot of the clarity in this cup is likely thanks to the washed process. It can be paired very effectively with light roasts to highlight the acidic brightness over its softer and deeper fruit tones. This is accomplished to good effect here, where the roast is just developed enough to lose any traces of vegetal, grassy flavors.

This part of Cauca has only recently been free of the impact of conflict between government forces and FARC rebels, so we are lucky to have access to La Piramide.

One of the roaster’s recommendations that we’d really support with this coffee is trying it iced. We found the best method for this was a Japanese-style drip directly onto ice. It really lets the citric notes sit at the forefront. If you prefer a hot cup of coffee, this is another fantastic candidate for a V60 or similar.


Onyx – Colombia Aponte Village – Best More Developed Roast

At A Glance

Roast Profile: Medium Roast

Origin: Aponte, Nariño, Colombia

Flavor Profile: Cherry / Floral Honey / Chocolate Malt / Papaya

Processing Method: Pulped Natural / Honey Process

Variety: Caturra, Bourbon, Castillo

One of the more developed roasts we sampled, this coffee is dark enough to really pick up on the malty and chocolatey notes and a subtle toasted hazelnut background. This doesn’t mean this coffee is short of fruit in this instance, however. For a reasonably dark roast, these beans from Onyx have an incredibly fruity note.

The almost tropical fruit aspect of its flavor profile is likely thanks to its honey processing, where the beans are allowed to sit in their mucilage to develop a real fruit sweetness. The Aponte village in the Nariño district is also the highest altitude of any of the growing regions featured here. This, in turn, likely contributes to the fruit’s strength despite its roast degree.

Onyx recommends brewing this in a flat-bottomed pour-over device like a Kalita Wave, undoubtedly a good choice. We preferred this prepared in an AeroPress; it highlighted some of the deeper flavor notes a little better. Whichever way you go, remember to aim for a slightly shorter brew time to keep from over-developing the bitters.


Volcanica Coffee – Colombian Geisha – Best Premium Coffee

At A Glance

Roast Profile: Light Roast

Origin: Huila, Colombia

Flavor Profile: Flowers / Tropical Fruits / Apple Jacks

Processing Method: Washed Process

Variety: Geisha

This Geisha from Volcanica is one of our favorite coffee beans of all time. Featured in our best coffee beans for pour over article, sweetness is abundant in this coffee. 

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 quite well established, and its reputation is in the ascendancy as familiarity grows.

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.


Cuvée Coffee – Jackalope Decaf – Best Decaf

At A Glance

Roast Profile: Medium Roast

Origin: Huila, Colombia

Flavor Profile: Sweet Vanilla / Ripe Fruit / Brown Sugar

Processing Method: Washed Process

Variety: Caturra, Colombia

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. This leaves a lot more of the other compounds responsible for flavor in place than the more traditional and much harsher ethyl acetate or methylene chloride baths they used to be treated to.

Cuvée’s Jackalope 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.


Temple Coffee Roasters – Geiner Vasquez

At A Glance

Roast Profile: Medium Roast

Origin: Huila, Colombia

Flavor Profile: Citrus / Apricot / Walnut

Processing Method: Washed Process

Variety: Colombia, Castillo

The partnership between Temple and Geiner Vasquez resulted in this coffee for which we should all be deeply grateful. Nutty and sharp, almost lemony, with a hint of stone fruit sweetness. This is everything you would want to taste in one of the best examples of “Colombianness” in coffee. It really should give you a very firm handle on the origin.

Grown on just 4.3 hectares at Finca La Esperanza, this coffee bean is nursed to perfection by father and son team Geiner and Jamer Vasquez. Geiner has a lifetime of experience, beginning to work the farm with his father and uncles at the age of 10. It does all show in the quality of this Colombian bean.

The medium roast applied at Temple Coffee Roasters is just enough to highlight the walnut characteristics and lend it a medium body.

We found we enjoyed this most Colombian of coffees best in a French press


Counter Culture – Gradient

At A Glance

Roast Profile: Dark Roast

Origin: Various, Colombia

Flavor Profile: Dark Chocolate / Roasted Nuts / Berry

Processing Method: Washed Process

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.


PT’s Coffee – Tolima ASOBRIS Co-op

At A Glance

Roast Profile: Light/Medium Roast

Origin: Tolima, Colombia

Flavor Profile: Brown Sugar / Yellow Apple / Roasted Almond

Processing Method: Washed Process

Variety: Caturra, Colombia, Castillo, Typica

PT’s Coffee has been around for a very long time. Established in 1993, after almost 30 years in the business, they have become a very reliable hand at the wheel. Their coffees never disappoint, and this Colombian from Tolima is no exception.

Grown by the ASOBRIS cooperative in the municipality of Planados, these beans are sourced from across 42 independent smallholders in the villages around Nevado del Huila, the highest volcano in Colombia. These fincas all benefit from the mineral deposits of the volcanic ash-deposit enriched soil.

This coffee is mellow and sweet with just a touch of crisp, malic acidity. Cooked fruits are brought to mind here, perhaps dessert apples or pears stewed with cinnamon hint. We enjoyed this coffee most brewed with a fairly full body in a French press.


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 7 pm, as Colombians are not put off by 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%). 

Related Post: Arabica vs Robusta

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 bourbon, 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 produce, 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. 

Suppose you want a truly authentic Colombian coffee experience. In that case, you may be best off sitting by your campfire with some Andean folk music in the background sipping pretty poor quality coffee. Perhaps even brewed in a colador, so you can marvel over just how Colombian your coffee is.

On the other hand, if you are looking to get the best out of the region, Colombian coffee may look a little different to you. Using modern roasting and brewing methods and profiting from specialty grade beans grown naturally at high altitudes by coffee farmers with generations of experience will be the better route to success.

As a coffee-lover, you will not regret opting for this light roast Castillo from farmer Israel Salazar. 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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