The 100% washed Arabica coffee produced in Colombia needs specific climatic conditions for its production. Arabica coffee is a product originated in the mountains of Eastern Africa, and its cultivation demands particular soil requirements, temperature conditions, atmospheric precipitation and certain altitude over sea level.
The ideal conditions for the cultivation of this species in Colombia are found between the 1.200 (4,000 ft) and 1.800 meters (6,000 ft) above the sea level, with temperatures between 17 and 23 degrees centigrade (62-75 fahrenheit) and with precipitations close to 2.000 millimeters (78 inch) per year, well distributed along the year. Although these conditions are very frequent, it is also possible to produce an outstanding coffee at altitudes of up to 2,300 meters (7,500 ft) or marginally lower than 1,200 m., and with different levels or frequency of precipitations.
The specific geographic location of each Colombian coffee growing region determines its particular conditions of availability of water, temperature, solar radiation, and wind regime for coffee cultivation. For example, the central coffee growing regions in the country present dry and rainy periods along different months, which allow harvesting fresh coffee regularly during the whole year. In most of the coffee growing regions in the country there is a period of flowering that goes from January to March, and another one that goes from July to September. The main harvest in these zones takes place between September and December, and there is a secondary harvest, denominated "mitaca", during the second quarter of the year. The main harvest and the mitaca could be alternated in other regions, in accordance with their latitude (see map).
Aside from the special conditions of altitude, latitude and climate, Colombian coffee growing has an essential attribute: the quality of its soil. The soil at coffee growing regions is characteristic for being in its majority derivative of volcanic ashes, which endows them with a high content of organic material and good physical characteristics for coffee production.
With those available natural elements, the people of coffee in Colombia carry out their hard work with different nuances, according with the conditions of the different regional environments. This variety of ecosystems does not only constitute a biodiversity paradise, but also determines the decisions of producers on the level of technification of their cultivation and the coffee varieties to be used. Thus, in Colombia coffee plantations are developed under different systems of cultivation that include traditional plantations with lower productivity, on the one side, and those more advanced and technical, with sun exposure, partially-shaded or those considered shade grown, on the other side. In any of these systems of cultivation, Colombian coffee growers only cultivate coffee of the Arabica species, using varieties that adapt to their specific conditions of production, including the ones that are known as Típica, Borbón, Caturra, Castillo o Tabi.
In general, it could be said that Colombia's coffee growing regions are characterized by the differences between their rain patterns and their harvest cycles, and the altitude and temperature at which their coffee is produced on the other hand, in the southern zones of the country, close to the Equator, coffee is produced at a higher altitude and at temperatures that, not being extreme, are less elevated. These coffees produced in specific regions such as Nariño or Cauca, Huila or South of Tolima have different harvesting cycles. They have a higher acidity and other certain special attributes, on occasions very specific in terms of aroma, or sweetness, very demanded by sophisticated markets. Those regions are being developed as regional Denominations of Origin (see DO/IGP) and are developing specific programs of guarantee of origin.
On the other hand, the coffees produced in the North of the country, at latitudes above 9° North, face conditions on occasions similar to the latitudes of the main Central American coffee producers. They are produced at lower latitudes and in consequence, at higher temperatures. Also, certain regions such as the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, the Perijá Mountains or the Colombian departments of Casanare, Santander and North of Santander, due to their climatic conditions and environment they tend to be more exposed to solar radiation and in consequence the cultivations are frequently protected by different levels of shade. Those coffees, highly requested by particular markets, have a lower acidity but a fuller body.
In the center of the country is where most of the Colombian Coffee harvest is produced. In these zones, known as the coffee belt (or zona cafetera), certain coffee growing areas of the departments of Caldas, Quindío and Risaralda, with others located in the North of the department Valle, conform the Cultural Coffee Landscape. One can find modern coffee cultivations that coexist with the smallest and more traditional producers. These zones, as the ones in Antioquia, Cundinamarca, Boyacá and the North of Tolima have several harvest cycles per year, and produce coffee basically year round with certain harvest peaks. On occasions, a same coffee tree gets up to 8 visits in one year in order to harvest its mature beans.
Sophisticated consumers from the whole world are increasingly aware of the importance of origin to select their coffee, and are continuously demanding 100% Colombian coffee Brands. However, some of them also want to know and to see the specific regions within Colombia where their coffee is produced in order to be able to fully appreciate the quality attributes of their coffee as well as the specific programs of Sustainability That Matters developed in those regions. In some cases consumers and clients are also demanding more sophisticated programs of guarantee of origin, which are also carried out by the Colombian Coffee Growers Federation and its Departmental Committees of coffee growers in these regions.
Most Colombian coffee growing areas are located at certain altitudes in the Colombian departments of Antioquia, Boyacá, Caldas, Cauca, Cesar, Caquetá, Casanare, Cundinamarca, Guajira, Huila, Magdalena, Meta, Nariño, Norte de Santander, Quindío, Risaralda, Santander, Tolima and Valle. Growers in these provinces have created their departmental and municipal coffee committees of producers, which also belong to their Federation. These committees of coffee producers are in charge of looking after the interests of coffee growers of each zone. If you wish to visit the programs and priorities of each Committee please visit the respective Committee in the Colombian Coffee Growers Federation site.