No 30

Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, a Regional Origin of Organic Essence

September, 2015


Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, a Regional Origin of Organic Essence

This origin has a pronounced aroma, high body, good bean size, low acidity and prominent notes of dark chocolate and toasted almonds. By ancient tradition, it is grown in harmony with nature.

Café de Colombia’s portfolio of regional origins is increasingly wider: Cauca, Nariño, Huila, Santander, Antioquia, Coffee Cultural Landscape (PCC) and Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.

As part of Colombian coffee growers’ quality, differentiation and added-value strategy, together with a constant work on proper characterization and defense of the origin, the first four regional origins are Protected Geographical Indications (PGI), whose quality is closely linked to climatic, cultural and geographic production conditions.

Sierra Nevada in particular is an origin that, because of ancestral tradition of indigenous communities living in this region, is closely linked to organic production.

This coffee has a pronounced aroma, high body, good bean size, low acidity, prominent notes of dark chocolate and toasted almonds, and its production is guided also by an ancestral culture. There is a single harvest per year, between October and December, which also gives it a character of limited edition, taking into account that the rest of the country has two harvest seasons (main and mid-year).


In addition, Sierra Nevada features a foodpairing tree, which enables coffee lovers, sommeliers, chefs and baristas to create new flavors and concepts around this origin.

Unique coastal mountain range
Located in Northern Colombia, the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta is the highest coastal mountain range in the world, with snow-capped peaks of 5,775 masl, and considered as Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO.

The coffee departments of Magdalena, Cesar and La Guajira share this mountainous system. Coffee is usually grown between 900 and 1,600 m.a.s.l.; lands in this strip have slopes of over 50 degrees and in some places they reach 80 degrees. Coffee is grown under the shade of trees, mainly guamos, carboneros, walnuts, avocado, fruit trees and other native species.

Indigenous communities of arhuacos, kankuamos, koguis and wiwas inhabit the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta from ancestral times, living in harmony with nature. And those who grow coffee do it with very sustainable practices by own conviction.

Production in harmony with nature

Oliveiro Villafana, an arhuaco native to the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, is part of 778 coffee growers, mostly indigenous, that produce coffee organically. For these communities, organic coffee has become their way of life through a balanced production based on rational use of natural resources that will ensure a long-term sustainability.

“We the indigenous people in the Sierra Nevada have a philosophy: we don’t apply any synthetic product and we grow coffee naturally. In our daily life, we coexist in harmony with mother nature and all living beings, so we do not use any chemical product. On the other hand, we see that organic coffee has become a fashion, but for us it is not a fashion, it’s something we do by cultural tradition, because our ancestors have taught us so,” he says.

Thanks to this, organic coffee from Sierra Nevada has become a global reference for Colombia. For the indigenous people in the Sierra Nevada, coffee enables to bring their philosophy of harmonious coexistence with Nature to different corners of Earth.

“Coffee is the only product that enables us to have a stable economy. Coffee has become the salary of indigenous people
in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.”
Oliveiro Villafana

More and more sustainable coffees
This coffee is part of the category of specialty coffees and has a growing demand by specialized buyers from such countries as Japan, South Korea, the United States, Canada, Belgium, France and Germany, which have an organic culture on the rise and appreciate this coffee for differentiated and unique attributes as an organic product.

Colombian sales of certified or verified sustainable coffees increased 105% (more than doubled) between 2006 and 2012. In 2013, organic coffee production in Colombia was 248,000 60-kg bags, of which the country sold 133,000 bags (54%). So, its offer still has wide room to meet new customers.

Much of organic coffee produced by native communities in the Sierra Nevada is sold or exported directly to customers abroad, not always through the Colombian Coffee Growers Federation, whose export supply is close to 58,000 60-kg bags, mainly towards the United States, Canada and Europe.

Café de Colombia has managed to build and create long-term commercial relationships between communities that grow organic coffee, customers and consumers, mainly focusing on self-sustainable economic development and cultural strengthening of producers, so that this translates into higher incomes and well-being for themselves and their families.

“We market our coffee clearly thinking that it’s a service to society and this gives us an added value. Buyers are aware of what we are producing, which is totally organic, and that behind every coffee plantation there is a history. By explaining all this, buying countries truly understand what is an organic product and how, through their purchases, they support indigenous communities and help improve each producer’s quality of life,” Villafana says.



In addition, Sierra Nevada organic and specialty coffee programs have promoted associative work. At the same time, these associations have strengthened their commitment to preservation of the Sierra Nevada by entering different sustainable production standards such as Fair Trade, Rainforest Alliance, 4C, UTZ and FLO (organic).

Organic coffee from the Sierra Nevada is mostly sold as Fair Trade-Organic (FTO), because most of the groups have both certifications and the industry demands that coffee. This double certification also represents higher benefits for coffee-growing communities.

The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta is another of Café de Colombia’s clearly differentiated regional origins, with significant impacts on sustainability, which will enable 100% brands to expand their portfolio of products to final consumers.

You are invited to learn more about our coffee family and our products, visiting the BEAN & BEYOND sections on the top of this page.