Colombian highland coffee

Highland coffee from Colombia                                                                                < >

is the epitome of quality and a delight for every coffee lover. A rich, round aroma, a good fullness and traces of slightly sweet nut aromas, these are the characteristics that distinguish the high-quality Colombian Arabica coffee.


It enjoys this high status due to the location of the cultivation areas in the Cordilleras, the method of cultivation, harvesting and processing.


The coffee produced in Colombia is divided into three different coffee qualities:

The large bean Supremo and the soft, acid-emphasised Excelso are common qualities that are sold in numerous coffee shops. The third quality is the average quality UGQ, which stands for "Usual Good Quality".


Coffee from Colombia in brief

Coffee type: Arabica

Flowering time: January to May

late flowering: July to September

Main harvest: September to December

Post-harvest: April to June

Shipping: all year round

Ports: Buenaventura, Cartagena, Santa Marta, Barranquilla

Harvest volume 2015: approx. 13.5 million bags (60 kg each)

Main customers: USA, Germany, Japan, Belgium, France, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, United Kingdom, Netherlands


Coffee is classified according to defects, region of cultivation and sieve size.
Defects of the first degree refer to the cup characteristics:

Black, muffig, sour.


Second degree defects refer to the appearance:

discoloration, damage, pest infestation, deformation, insufficient degree of ripeness


Harvesting process: picking is done by hand, washing by machine. 

Fermentation: 30 hours

Drying: sun-dried, under glass or industrial with gas heat

Sorting: automatic and selection by hand


The origin of coffee

Originally the coffee plant was assigned to the spindle tree family and later to the jasmine family. The Swedish naturalist Carl von Linné and Antoine de Jussieu finally added it to the Rubiaceae family. They gave it the name "Coffea". Under the name Coffea, more than 60 species of different coffee plants are grouped, of which only about a dozen are important for coffee cultivation. The coffee tree itself, which is not actually a tree but a shrub, grows to a height of about 2-3 metres. Coffea Arabika sometimes even reaches a considerable height of 5 metres. You can recognize it by its approximately 10 cm long and dark green shiny leaves and by its white flowers, which smell similar to jasmine. After a few months, the flowers produce oval stone fruits in the form of red berries. These fruits resemble the cherries in size and colour and are therefore also called so. When ripe, they have a dark or garnet-red skin which surrounds the elastic and sugary flesh. Embedded in the flesh are seeds, which are now of real interest to us: two beans lying flat against each other. The beans each have a curved and a flat side. Each coffee bean is split lengthwise and covered with parchment skin. After removing this skin, the bean appears greenish, grey-yellowish or slate grey, depending on the variety and growing area. The service life of a coffee tree in the plantation is approx. 15 years.


The coffee growing areas in the world

The main coffee-growing area, also called the coffee zone, stretches around the world like a belt between the 30th parallel north and south of the equator. The most important coffee suppliers include Brazil, Colombia, Indonesia, the Ivory Coast, Mexico, Ethiopia, Vietnam and Guatemala.


The coffee bush is an extremely sensitive plant. It only thrives in tropical zones, as it requires heat and constant humidity at regular temperatures between 17°C and 23°C. It is a very sensitive plant. It thrives best between 600 and 1200 metres above sea level. The highland coffee, called "high grown", is particularly popular among coffee connoisseurs because of its excellent quality. However, only two types of coffee trees have a real economic significance: coffee Arabica (Coffea arabica), it is cultivated as highland coffee from 1000 m to 2000 m and coffee Robusta (Coffea robusta). It is cultivated below 1000 m above sea level. Both originate from Africa.


Coffee Arabica (Coffea arabica)

The Arabica bean does not come from Arabia at all, but from Ethiopia, the original home of coffee. It is much more sensitive than the Robusta and thrives best at an average temperature of 18°C to 25°C. The bean is also more sensitive than the Robusta. Arabica, which is mainly cultivated in South America, is the longest known, the most widespread and the most appreciated. Its beans have a beautiful elongated and smooth shape, aroma and taste are of excellent quality with a low caffeine content of 0.9 to 1.4 %. Their crema takes on a full reddish-brown tone.


Robusta coffee (Coffea robusta)

The plant genus Robusta was only discovered at the end of the 19th century. Here the name is very appropriate, because the Robusta is much more resistant - although not quite as tasty - than its relative, the Arabica. The Robusta variety matures more quickly, is less susceptible to parasites and is more productive. It can also be grown in deeper regions. The country of origin of Robusta is Central Africa. It is mainly cultivated in the tropical regions of Africa and Asia. Its quality is rather medium, its taste bitter and astringent, with a caffeine content of 1.8 to 4.0%. The beans are light brown and have a roundish, irregular shape. The crema has a tart, rather grey-brown tone.


For tasty, aromatic coffee, the Arabica bean is usually used. However, connoisseurs also like to experiment with different, individual blends in which Robusta coffee has its share.



The preferred coffee seedlings are planted in deep, permeable, neutral or slightly acidic soil. Numerous intensive care measures are necessary for their productive growth. These include weeding weeds, removing unnecessary branches to prevent height growth, fertilizing the soil, irrigating in dry areas, and fighting insects and diseases. Unfortunately, the coffee plant is very susceptible to the latter. But temperatures below +10°C can also damage the plant, as can inferior soil.


Three to four years of extensive care are necessary, depending on the plant species, until the first harvest takes place, but only after six years can a normal yield be expected. The yield of a coffee tree varies between 400 g and 2000 g for Arabica coffee beans and between 600 g and 2200 g for Robusta coffee beans. Flowering and harvesting times vary greatly depending on plant species, region and latitude.


The coffee harvest

The coffee harvest is a real ritual in which no mistakes are allowed to happen if you don't want to annoy the coffee drinker at the end of a long processing chain. Since most plants ripen at the same time, the coffee cherries must be picked in time and processed immediately, as they cannot be transported for storage. The hand picking method, which is still used today, makes it possible to sort out the fruits infested by pests in a preselection process. Immediately after this, the fruit is processed. Fruit skin, fruit flesh and parchment skin are removed on site so that the water can be removed from the actual bean. Not everywhere in the world are the harvested ripe coffee fruits processed in the same way.


There are two methods: The "wet" and the "dry" preparation, where the "wet" should bring out the scent and the taste better. Most of the high quality varieties are processed wet in Guatemala, Costa Rica, Colombia, Mexico, Kenya and Tanzania. This washed coffee, also called "milds", is cleaned in a running water bath with squeezing rollers. At the same time, high-quality fruit is separated from inferior fruit floating on top. The pre-swollen fruit flesh is then completely removed in large vats or basins. After this process, the coffee beans are left to dry for a few days. The green coffee beans are then separated from the brittle parchment shells in a peeling machine. Before the most important process in coffee production, "roasting", takes place, the fine skin, the so-called silver skin, is removed from the bean. Without its removal, the coffee would not be ready for use. Now the bean is sorted according to its "density". This means that only beans of the same size, weight and colour remain. This is a basic prerequisite for uniform quality. Once the green coffee has been prepared, sorted and classified, it is filled into jute sacks and sent on its way. It is only roasted at its destination.


In addition to the "wet" form of preparation, there is the less complex and original dry preparation. It is mainly used in Brazil and West Africa. The cherries are washed and dried in the sun for three weeks on extensive concrete surfaces until the beans they contain can be removed without leaving any residue with the aid of a peeling machine.



Nearly 800 aroma substances are found in a coffee bean. They are only released when heated during the roasting process and thus lead to an almost limitless variety of flavours. Before the beans reach the roasting plant, they are mixed according to tried and tested recipes. Certain qualities are selected on the basis of their strong taste, others on the basis of their special aromatic properties. It is the pride and ambition of every coffee roasting master to compose his own coffee blend. The art lies in putting together different types of coffee in such a way that their individual characteristics are advantageously combined. The blend obtained in this way is called "blend" and is the basis for ensuring that each end product tastes different. Already at the mixing stage it is decided whether a strong and fiery or a mild, stomach-friendly coffee fills the cup. The country of origin also plays an important role when it comes to starch. From Brazil, for example, the hotter varieties come, while Central America and Africa are more known for their discreet mildness. The coffee only acquires its final taste when roasted. In modern roasting technology, the so-called fluidised bed process is used. Here the coffee is roasted floating in a hot air stream. This requires extreme caution, because even a few seconds too much or too little can spoil the whole "fire". Depending on the taste requirements of the coffee drinker, the coffee is roasted lighter or darker. Espresso, for example, is roasted stronger and longer than coffee beans for a "normal" cup of coffee.


The actual roasting process takes only six to eight minutes, depending on the intensity. The heat generated during the roasting process causes the coffee beans to "sweat". The water contained in the fruit evaporates and the weight is reduced by about 16%. The original green colour of the coffee beans changes to a strong coffee brown. Now the typical coffee taste and the characteristic aroma develop. To ensure that the freshly roasted coffee retains its aroma, it is filled airtight as quickly as possible or processed into soluble coffee.

(Source: Miele & Cie. KG, Gütersloh)


The naming of the coffee

For the normal coffee drinker it is not so important where and when his favourite drink was first discovered. He is, so to speak, not "interested in the bean" as long as he has a cup of this hot, steaming, aromatic brew in front of him and his taste and aroma are fully developed.


In order to know when coffee was discovered, one would have to immerse oneself in the darkness of history. But there is one thing that one is sure to know today, and that is that coffee originated in Ethiopia, or more precisely in the Abyssinian highlands and possibly in the province of Kaffa, to which it probably owes its name. From there coffee made its way to Arabia, where it was first prepared as a drink. The Arabs recognised its stimulating effect and exceptional taste.


How coffee got its name has not yet been clearly researched. In the first version, it probably owes its name to its place of origin, the province of Kaffa in Ethiopia. And in the second version, the word coffee most probably derives from an Arabic word, be it " Kahva - Kohoveh - Kaffa - or Kahwa", which was gradually changed by the pronunciation of the peoples. The Arabic word "kahwa" can be meaningfully translated as strength and vitality. According to this, the actual origin of the word coffee is more likely to be found in Arabic.


Only a few coffee connoisseurs have a concrete idea of what a coffee bush looks like. Actually, coffee is usually known as a whole bean or as a fragrant deep brown powder, more or less finely ground. However, the fact that the coffee bean is extracted from the coffee cherry, whose core it forms, so to speak, is not known to many people.


History of coffee cultivation in Colombia

Until a few years ago, Colombia was the second largest coffee producer in the world - right after Brazil. The success story of coffee cultivation in the South American Republic began with a clergyman who brought the first coffee plants from the French Antilles to Venezuela in 1808. From that moment on, coffee cultivation had a long tradition in Colombia. Currently (2012), the Andean country ranks fourth in the international ranking of the largest coffee producers.


What has remained, however, is that Colombian coffee stands out for its outstanding quality and is regarded as one of the best in the world. It is one of the few single-variety coffees to be sold and marketed internationally. The cultivation areas are located in the heart of Colombia, the so-called coffee triangle, consisting of the departments Risaralda, Quindio and Caldas. Colombia is the world's largest producer of Arabica beans. 66 percent of Colombian coffee bushes grow on modern plantations, the rest is still produced in traditional micro and family businesses.


Handpicked coffee cherries

The special thing about Colombian coffee bushes: They hang flowers as well as ripe and unripe coffee cherries at the same time. This is another reason for harvesting by hand. There are two beans in each cherry. After the pulp has been squeezed off, the beans together with the pulp residues are placed in a fermentation tank for 15 to 36 hours.


This is where a fermentation process takes place that gives the coffee an additional aroma. After washing, the coffee is dried in the open air in unusual places: on the flat roofs of the coffee farmers' houses. When rain threatens, hip roofs are simply pushed over the drying beans on rollers. Finally, the coffee is packed into sacks and taken to the next town.


Buyers of these coffees are private companies and the National Coffee Fund via cooperatives, which in turn deliver the coffee to the central warehouse of the Coffee Fund (Almacafe). The cooperatives offer all coffee farmers a purchase guarantee and set a minimum price for coffee, which is supported by this fund. This fund is administered by the FNC (Federacion Nacional de Cafeteros de Colombia). The FNC also supports farmers with education and service. In Colombia, the knowledge of how to grow coffee properly is not only passed on from generation to generation, but is also systematically developed by the FNC. The association also maintains analysis stations at which farmers can have the quality of their soil examined and receive fertilisation tips.


On-site quality inspections

Important for the further processing of the harvested, washed and dried coffee beans are the "Trilladoras" in the larger towns. Here the coffee is prepared for export. In a Trilladora, the quality of the coffee offered is thoroughly checked.


For this purpose, a 500-gram sample is taken from each of the FNC lorries, each of which has loaded 10 tonnes of coffee. In a sample mill, the parchment skins around the green coffee beans are removed. Then the "defective" yellow and black coffee beans are sorted out. The "healthy" green beans are roasted and ground - and then the coffee is boiled and tasted expertly. Only when everything is flawless is the green light given for the entire batch to be processed. This is only the first step in quality assurance. After processing, the beans, which are stored loose in silos, are filled into containers each holding 21 tonnes. During loading, samples are taken again and checked for quality. Both the company's own employees and the quality staff of the FNC (Almacafe) independently check the exportability of the goods again. In the event of anomalies, the delivery can still be stopped. The FNC checks the goods to ensure that the high Colombian standard is maintained. Thus the brand "Coffee from Colombia" remains strong and competitive.


Coffee - the way to good quality, a contribution from a small Austrian roaster

Who knows a good coffee? How do you define good coffee? What is the difference between an industrial roasted coffee and a small roaster?


Yes, tastes are different, that may be true. However, good coffee has the following attributes:


1. high quality raw material (preferably Arabica, but this does not mean that Robusta
     must be inferior)

2. gentle drum roasting process

3. freshly roasted coffee beans

4. the right equipment or the right preparation


Here are the explanations to the above-mentioned key points:

High-quality green coffee has its price. Depending on whether the coffee is harvested by machine or by hand, as in Colombia, the purchase price of the coffee varies. Likewise, whether it is coffee from organic cultivation, coffee of a certain cultivation area or only a certain coffee finca.


High-quality Arabica beans bear designations such as SHG (strictly high grown), SHB (strictly hard bean), Excelso or Supremo (designation of Colombian beans by their size). You will hardly find this information on supermarket coffee.


The gentle drum roasting process means that the bitter substances can slowly come to the surface of the beans and they also disappear. Depending on the bean, this process takes between 15 and 20 minutes at a temperature of around 200° Celsius. By releasing water and oils, the bean loses between 12 and 17% of its weight, but increases in size by up to two-thirds. The coffee industry uses two methods to compensate for the loss in weight: The first is steam cooling. Here, more water is added than is necessary. On the other hand, maltodextrin (a type of sugar used as a dietary supplement) and caramel are added to compensate for burn-in losses. Both increase the weight and are a deception of the end customer! Fully automatic coffee machine manufacturers, such as Jura, explicitly warn against using this bean as it can destroy the machine's grinding mechanism.


As Prof. Leopold Edelbauer from the Vienna Coffee Institute demands, all coffee packs should be marked with the roasting date. Despite food safe PET/PE packaging, the bean loses its aroma and taste the longer it is stored. Ground coffee is particularly sensitive.


In many cases, the small roaster you trust will provide you with tasting packages explaining the appropriate preparation method. Try coffee from the Italian mocha or pour your coffee in the filter. It is guaranteed to make (almost) no mistakes with fresh coffee. A small 1x1 such as this is helpful:


Other factors:

The person - everyone operates a coffee machine (espresso machine) differently

The machine - here the choice is inexhaustible. From the inexpensive mocha pot to the professional gastro equipment or the fully automatic machine, good results can be achieved.


The grinding - this varies from device to device and depends on the type of preparation.

The grinder - in order to consume the coffee as freshly as possible, you should grind it shortly before processing. Hand grinders or so-called direct grinders are suitable for this purpose.


Information on the perfect espresso:

Coffee quantity: approx. 7 g

Water temperature: 90°C

Pressure on the grinding material in the sieve carrier: approx. 20 kg

(can be measured with a bathroom scale)

Water pressure of the machine: approx. 9bar

Throughput time through the sieve carrier: 25 seconds

Volume in the cup: 30 millilitres

The differences between industrial roasting and small roasting are summarized:



The coffee industry uses less high-quality Arabica beans, mixes them with inexpensive Robustabohnen, which serve as fillers, and roasts them together. The roasting is carried out in a hot air roaster (aerothermal roasting). The roasting temperature is 450°C and lasts about 2.5 minutes. This is called short-term roasting.


Small roaster

Use the highest quality Arabica beans, roast them individually and mix them together after roasting to make a delicious coffee. Gentle drum roasting from approx. 180°C, 15 - 20 minutes. Thus the caffeic acid decomposes almost completely and stomach problems and heartburn are no longer an issue with these roasts.



Of course the lover of good coffee will only buy whole beans, grind them himself and prepare them according to his wishes. Coffee in vacuum packaging can be stored for a long time without any additional loss of aroma. Part of the aroma, however, is extracted by this type of packaging.


The subject of coffee can be considered a science. The "normal consumer" will generally be well served with coffee from large companies such as Tchibo, Dallmayr etc. Gourmets are more likely to choose high-quality coffee and roasts. For this there are small roasting plants which fulfil all wishes of quality.


You can also attend seminars in which you can learn about the perfect preparation of coffee, as well as the varieties, countries of origin, cultivation, harvest and processing.