Coffee has been integral to Colombian life for centuries. The fertile lands and year-round consistent climate that the country is blessed with means it produces some of the world’s best coffee. In this guide to exporting coffee from Colombia we’ll explain the incredible variety the country has to offer and what international buyers need to know when sourcing coffee from Colombia.
A brief history of the Colombian coffee industry
Colombia produces more washed arabica coffee than any other country in the world. In 2019 it produced 14.8 million 60-kg bags of the stuff. The vast majority of this coffee is destined for the international markets, with 92% of it being exported.
The backbone of the Colombian coffee industry is the thousands of small-scale coffee-growing families, 96% of whom farm less than 5 hectares of planted coffee each. In total, some 2.2 million Colombians (accounting for 33% of the rural population), make their living through coffee production. This makes coffee the key driver of economic and social change for millions of Colombians and a crucial part of the economy as a whole.
The industry has been around since the 1800s, but was somewhat disorganized and small scale, until the establishment of the Federación Nacional de Cafeteros de Colombia (FNC) in 1927. The organization has done an incredible job driving much of the country’s growth towards becoming one of the world’s premium coffee producers. It achieved this partly by harmonizing crops to create a single “Colombian coffee” product, famed for its mild, well-balanced flavor.
Colombia specialty coffee
Following the huge growth in specialty coffee, more and more growers are moving away from FNC guidelines and are now developing their own farm-specific profiles. The country’s volcanic soils and temperate climates enable farmers to grow rich coffee profiles: medium to full-bodied, with vivid acidity, sweet notes, and citric fruits.
Common Colombian specialty coffee varieties grown by smallholders include Bourbons, Castillo, Caturra, and Tabi.
These growers are now supported by a large network of small and medium-sized Colombian coffee export partners, including Those Coffee People, who are helping them showcase their incredible variety to buyers across the world.
Colombia’s coffee growing regions
Colombia is a country rich in diversity. Stretching from north to south are the three Andean mountain ranges “las tres cordilleras” with peaks above 5,000m (16,400ft). These create incredible variations in soils, winds, altitudes, and microclimates, which are all reflected in the different types of coffee beans grown throughout the country.
Some of the most notable Colombian coffee regions include:
One of Colombia’s largest departments, Antioquia is the birthplace of the FNC and the industrialization of the Colombian coffee industry. A number of Antioqueña towns are now firmly on the global coffee map, including Santa Barbara, Ciudad Bolivar, El Peñol and La Sierra.
Situated across the Western Colombian Andes, farms from this region sit at particularly high altitudes of up to 2,200m (7,217 ft). The lower temperatures of the high altitudes create a slower ripening process, producing full-bodied flavors with specific microclimates giving the coffees each a particular profile.
The name Huila is recently recognized throughout the coffee-drinking world. Sometimes mistaken as the name of a farm or a variety of coffee, Huila is actually another department in Colombia that is about the size of Kuwait.
Huila had been an epicenter for FARC activity in Colombia’s recent past. Pairing this political and social instability with the extremely rustic infrastructure of the department, the industrialization practices of Antoioquia didn’t easily appear in the region. Considering the lack of industrialization, Hulia still produces some of the highest concentration of traditional colombian varieties like bourbon, tabi and caturra, among others.
The Sierra Nevada is the world’s highest coastal mountain range, so altitudes, winds, and humidity have a big impact on the coffee beans grown here. The area is also notable for its organic farming practices and indigenous farming communities.
Eje Cafetero (Coffee Triangle)
Consisting of three Departments – Quindio, Risaralda, and Caldas, this was also the cradle of the Colombian coffee industry alongside Antioquia to the north. The farms in this region are generally at lower altitudes with less dramatic mountain terrain, allowing a higher level of production on the land.
Finding a Colombian coffee exporter
We like to say that buying a container of coffee is becoming almost as easy as ordering Nespresso pods from Amazon. But this all depends on the Colombian coffee exporter you choose to work with. So here are some things to bear in mind when finding and choosing a coffee supplier in Colombia:
- Make sure they’re an exporter with the required licenses to facilitate trade in Colombia. If you go directly to a grower it’s possible they won’t have the correct licenses to support international trade.
- You should ask for plenty of information about the farms where they’re sourcing coffee beans from. All good exporters should also be happy to arrange coffee origin trips for customers. Be wary if they withhold information or don’t allow origin trips.
- When exporting coffee from Colombia, good storage is very important in ensuring the quality of your beans. Ask exporters what their transport and storage conditions are like and what conditions the beans will be stored at and for how long.
- Some exporters will have large minimum order values that won’t be appropriate for smaller buyers. However, here at Those Coffee People, we can fulfill orders of any size.
Looking for a green coffee supplier? Discover our range of Colombian direct trade green coffee beans for export.
Average prices for Colombian coffee
The price per kilo can vary widely and depends on many factors. But here’s a breakdown of how absolute minimum costs are calculated:
The National Federation of Coffee Growers (FNC) provides daily list prices for coffee in cargas, or 125kgs of parchment (pre dry mill), on their website. To take an example on April 8th, 2020, the price is 1,200,000 COP per “carga” which is $309 USD per 125kg parchment, or $2.47 per kilo. Once you account for average parchment weight you can calculate an absolute minimum price of $3.37 per kilo in green.
This is the minimum price that an exporter will pay at the farm. There are still a number of other process expenses, fees, and taxes that need to be added to this before you’re given a quote, including:
- Domestic transportation
- Banking fees
- International shipping
A very large variable in cost can come from milling, and the milling rule your exporter will use. A standard milling rule in commercial Colombian coffee is 12/60, or 12 allowed faults of the first group of defects and 60 faults of the second group of defects in a single sample. Other common milling rules are 3/20 or 0/5. The more strict you will request your coffee to be milled equates to more beans that are thrown aside, raising the price of the per kilo cost.
For anything higher quality than commercial beans, or specialty coffee with unique profiles or processes, prices can increase from anywhere between 5% to 1,000% per carga.
Procedures and possible problems to be aware of
There are routine procedures as well as occasional problems when exporting coffee from Colombia to be aware of. Your exporter will manage these on your behalf, but it’s good to be aware of some of the things that can cause problems:
- All sales must be logged with the FNC and they must grant permission before transporting coffee inside the country, and exporters are also required to settle contribucion-cafetera tax with them which is $9.24 USD per 70 Kilos. Again, this is why it’s vital you deal with a fully licensed exporter, otherwise, significant problems can arise.
- Many farms are located in extremely rural parts of Colombia, meaning road conditions such as landslides can sometimes cause delays.
- While security and political stability has improved dramatically over the last decade, protests and strikes can sometimes occur which again can cause delays.
- The coffee industry at the level of the smallholder remains very traditional in many parts of the country. This lack of modern technology and communications can therefore also sometimes cause delays.
Your Colombian coffee exporter should be able to clearly explain how much you have to pay in export taxes. As mentioned above as of April 2020 the contribucion-cafetera tax is $9.24 USD per 70 kilos sack, so a multiple of this amount will be included for each sack you purchase.
How to get the best price for Colombian coffee
Price breaks are usually applied at certain volume thresholds and if a buyer can commit to future orders. Here at Those Coffee People we offer our best prices to buyers that are able to make 1 to 2 years’ worth of orders at once. Contact us to find out more about the discounts we can offer.
Payment and invoicing norms
The default currency for paying Colombian coffee exporters is the US dollar, usually via wire transfer.
Bear in mind that the value of the Colombian peso can fluctuate against the dollar, so once a quote expires, the same order might then change in price. Therefore if it’s currently a favorable exchange rate, it can pay to complete the purchase quickly while a quote is valid, rather than spending time shopping around.
Average time from placing an order to shipment leaving Colombia
Once an order is placed with a direct trade exporter like Those Coffee People, they will usually collect the coffee from the farm, mill, perform quality control, then package, which can take 10 to 14 days.
It can then take up to 2 weeks for the shipment to complete the exportation controls and issuing of documentation before leaving the country via sea, or 5 days to leave via air.
Before committing to exporting coffee from Colombia and placing an order it’s best to arrange a cupping event to sample the beans. This can be tricky for many buyers depending on your location. Here at Those Coffee People we make this a little easier with our online matching tool, which pairs our specialty coffee to your tastes and allows you to order samples directly to your door.