Savoring a good cup of Colombian coffee is a pleasure in life. But to get that perfect aroma and taste in your cup, there’s a whole process behind: growing, harvesting, and processing the coffee beans.
In this blog, you will discover the whole journey a Colombian coffee seed takes to reach your cup. You will understand how coffee production works in the third-largest coffee-producing country in the world.
Table of Contents
Step 1: Growing coffee in Colombia
The process of growing coffee depends on factors such as the variety of coffee to be sown, the size of the land, the degree of sun exposure, the soil, among others.
Here you will find an overview of the planting process.
Coffee plantations in Colombia are found typically in steep mountains along with other larger plant crops that can provide shade and water; for example, banana plants. Once the coffee seed is planted and it blooms, the coffee cherries, the characteristic red fruits of the plant, are born.
Let’s see then what this first step is like:
Choosing the seeds and their variety
The process to select the coffee seeds and then plant them is very interesting. There are two ways:
- Seeds for future planting are selected from the existing trees with the best fruits in order to obtain seeds with the same characteristics.
- Purchase of certified seeds that will ensure an excellent quality coffee.
The Colombian coffee harvest has two specific seasons per year; in general, it will always be in the rainy season and this season varies by region:
- Northern zone: starts in March and ends between October and November.
- North center and south center zone: it can be between March and May or between September and November.
- South zone: It starts in October and ends in June.
- Eastern zone: starts in March and ends in November.
To delve into the characteristics of coffee grown in each area of the country and how to know if it is quality coffee, visit our post about the best coffees in Colombia.
Once the seeds are selected, they are sown in seedbeds, where they will remain approximately 2 months, but this time may vary. These seedbeds are usually placed in a plant nursery and not in the place where the plantation will be. This is to save space. Generally, seedbeds consist of large plots of clean river sand. Its main purpose is for the seeds to take root and develop the first two leaves. These seedbeds are then constantly watered.
After those two months, the seedling is ready to move on to another stage. The nursery. The objective of this stage is to develop the crop and select the plants that will go to the final crop.
Here the coffee plant goes also in bags, but with a mixture of soil and decomposed coffee pulp that serves as fertilizer.
This stage lasts about 6 months for a total of 8 months before the coffee tree is transplanted to the place of cultivation.
In seedbeds and nurseries, coffee seeds should be under specific shade, moisture, and nutrient conditions. This will ensure the development of germination and seedling.
Soil preparation and planting distribution
The preparation of the soil and the distribution of the plants are very important for continuing the coffee planting process. Coffee growers have different techniques to make the most of the land and be able to grow as many plants in mountainous areas while keeping the distance, depending on the variety of coffee.
It is also very important to know whether the crop will be open or shaded.
One of the most used ways is to distribute the crop in single or double rows. Also, for crops on slopes less than 5%, growers arrange the crop in the form of a box or triangle. These are the best ways to take advantage of the terrain.
According to the Federation of Coffee Growers, only 20% of Colombian coffee is grown under direct sunlight. The rest of the crops are shaded with plants such as banana or guamo, which are perfect to protect the coffee from very heavy rains and, also, provide organic matter for the soil. Finally, during this process, coffee growers develop fertilization and pest control practices so that the final result is as expected.
There are three levels of shading:
- Open or sun
This will be decided depending on the climatic conditions of the terrain, the type of soil, and the slope. Coffee plants require a shaded crop when there is not much rain, the climate is too warm and the place is located above 2,000 meters of altitude.
Coffee growers also decide whether the shade should be transitory or permanent. When it is transitory, it can be only in the first years of the coffee tree life so that it develops completely well.
Step 2: Harvesting the coffee cherries
In Colombia, coffee harvesting is an arduous process for coffee growers. They make sure they only pick the beans that have the perfect ripeness. Therefore, Colombian coffee differs from other coffees because its harvest is very selective.
This process begins once the cherries are ripe, that is, red or yellow in color. At this point, farmers are very careful not to collect green beans, as these will negatively change the taste of coffee and damage the rest of the production.
This manual picking is the best way to obtain the best Colombian coffee beans to have a selected coffee of superior quality. The surprising thing here is the great effort of coffee growers to bring Colombians and the world a pound of roasted coffee:
- For varieties that are more industrial and productive, which are not grown in the shade, you need to wait 1 year for the fruit of a whole tree for a pound of coffee.
- For the most selected and less productive varieties, which are trees grown in the shade, it is necessary to wait 1 year for the fruit of a little more than two trees.
Therefore, people say that coffee is an art because to be able to enjoy a pound of ground coffee, behind there is a whole process that is often unknown to the final consumer.
Step 3: Coffee processing
The coffee process that comes after harvest is made up of three stages. Pulping, washing, and drying.
Many Colombian coffee farms use a drum pulping machine to do the pulping process.
The function of this machine is to separate the pulp from the seeds that are in each cherry. That is, this part of the process consists of extracting the coffee beans, which are two per fruit and are called seeds, from the red peel that is discarded and used as fertilizer in the first step of cultivation.
The pulp of coffee accounts for about 40% of the weight of the cherry. It is a biodegradable component with a high level of moisture and a lot of proteins, minerals, and carbohydrates.
These beans are still wrapped in a parchment-like shell along with a gelatinous coating that covers the coffee parchment. Now they are immersed in cold water for about 1 day for the washing process.
This step is important because another selection is made of some beans that are very ripe or that aren’t in good condition and therefore remain floating. Also, in this step, the gelatinous layer that covers the parchment peel of the coffee is removed. That layer is known as mucilage and being in contact with water for a few hours, it is diluted so that the bean is left only with the parchment.
Although this step seems to be just to wash the coffee, the seeds go into a fermentation process. This step is extremely important because it will influence the quality of the taste that the coffee will have in the cup.
What is mucilage?
Mucilage is an organic compound that results from coffee seeds and is found in many other foods. It is a type of soluble fiber and is not so well known. But it provides a lot of nutrients to a healthy and balanced diet.
This fiber is highly recommended for people who have high cholesterol, constipation, blood sugar problems and is even used for weight loss.
Once the beans are already washed and free of impurities, the drying process is next.
The success of this step is to get all the coffee beans to dry evenly. That is why they should be spread on a flat surface not more than 3 cm thick to expose them to the sun for about 30 hours.
It is important to stir the beans several times a day so that they can dry very well on all sides and avoid wetness.
4. Quality control
Once the beans are pulped, washed, and dried, they are exposed to rigorous quality controls. Each coffee farm has quality standards to ensure that Colombian coffee is one of the best in the world.
In addition, the National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia carries out quality controls on coffee farms. They are responsible for sending inspectors to the farms to check if they are meeting the sanitary conditions and if the coffee processing is correct.
That’s how you know you have quality coffee when you buy 100% Colombian coffee.
Step 4: Coffee threshing
Coffee threshing is one of the last steps to have coffee beans ready to market.
In this step, the parchment, which is a yellow peel, is removed from the coffee seed. This is when the coffee is called parchment coffee. Through a friction process, this peel is removed from the coffee, so that the green bean is ready to be roasted.
At this point of the green coffee, the coffee growers are in charge of making another selection.
This will depend on the size of the coffee beans that will be known with a screen of different sieves:
|Coffee type according to size||Screen|
|Pasillas||13 or less|
Step 5: Coffee Roasting
Roasting coffee is one of the steps that will be fundamental to mark the taste, aroma, and body of coffee in the cup. Up to this point, coffee is considered a seed. But once these seeds enter the roasting process, they are considered food and that is why it will be better to use them as soon as possible so as not to lose their main characteristics.
Similarly, many people have been interested in roasting coffee at home to consume it fresher. For this reason, some brands have focused on selling green coffee, that is, the seed, so that the consumer has a whole experience around the coffee.
The degree of roasting can vary depending on the features desired in that cup of coffee. If you want to know more, we have a complete roasting guide.
Colombian coffee is recognized for being mild and having a low acidity that also comes from a medium roasting. In other parts of the world, they prefer a much stronger degree of roasting to have higher acidity and fewer caffeine levels.
Roasting is done slowly. At this stage, the beans grow in size and lose more moisture. Here, coffee can lose from 12 to 20% of its weight. It also loses more caffeine the longer it’s on the fire. Besides, it gets a dark brown color that indicates the level of roasting.
The roasting process can vary depending on whether it is in an industrial roaster or a more homemade one. What is important is to choose what kind of flavor, aroma, and body you want to decide what degree of roasting the coffee needs.
Once the coffee is roasted, it also goes through a cooling process so that it is ready to market. Most coffee farms sell their coffee in beans and not ground, because those who love coffee want to have the experience of grinding the coffee the moment they are going to brew it. Therefore, this could be the last stage of the coffee grower. Roasted coffee is ready to be enjoyed.
Step 6: Coffee grinding
Despite the above, many people prefer to buy freshly roasted and ground coffee. The grinding will then be the last step before you can enjoy your coffee in a cup.
This step is also very essential because the degree of grinding must be different depending on the brewing method you are going to use. There are several degrees of grinding and, therefore, the consumer prefers to do the process at home with manual or electric grinders to be able to adjust the grinding.
Step 7: Brewing
This is the so desired step to have a cup of coffee full of many flavors, low acidity, and the perfect body – Colombian coffee.
Brewing is one of the most exciting and free steps for the consumer. Among the most common are the americano, espresso, latte, cappuccino, and cold coffee brews. However, there are endless ways to make coffee that can captivate your palate.
The basis of most coffee drinks is espresso: a heavy and dense coffee that can be diluted to reach an americano, a latte, and others. That is why we have written a step-by-step of some coffee drinks, so that you have a more detailed guide to get to the perfect coffee for you.
- How to make an Americano.
- Step by step and best tips to make a latte.
- Making of a good cappuccino.
- Learn how to make Irish coffee.
- Look at the step-by-step to make a Vietnamese coffee.
- Make a Mocca coffee quickly and easily with this guide.
But if what you want is a complete guide on how to make good coffee, what to keep in mind, and how it is done in different instruments such as the Moka pot, Chemex, French press, and more, visit our article on how to make a good espresso.
As you saw throughout this guide, coffee goes through a long process before it reaches your cup. It is a process that has become an art for many years in Colombia and in many parts of the world.
Colombian coffee is part of our daily life, our culture, our economy and our way of life. Colombia is synonymous with coffee. And when you know a little more about the great work of coffee growers, you fall even more in love with this seed.
With modernity and the evolution of new sustainable practices, coffee growers have taken care of implementing the best processes at every step to offer their consumers a coffee of excellent quality and gain more economic benefits. That’s why you should be sure that when you buy 100% Colombian coffee, you will have excellent coffee.