Colombian Coffee History

Coffee Arrives in Colombia

 After traveling 300 years from Yemen and Martinique in 1732, the coffee plant arrived in Colombia. The first coffee trees were planted in Santa Teresa de Tabagué by a Spanish Valencian priest.

By 1736, coffee traveled 1300 km to the country’s interior. And the first coffee tree was planted in a Jesuit Monastery in Popayán, in the Cauca department. To later be spread among the same religious communities in Colombia.

In 1807, Manuel Londoño introduced the first commercial crop in Antioquia. Antioquia’s advantage was the climate of its agro-environmental adaptation and the opportunity to have overcome international trade conflicts as raw material (going from 20 to 108 US cents/lb). However, the most significant limitation was transporting the coffee beans from the highlands of the Andes mountains to the coastal ports.

Colombian Coffee In Europe

In 1808,  Colombian coffee exports arrived in Europe through the city of Cúcuta. This exportation was small, only 100 bags (60 kg each). Exports to Europe then ceased for 20 years following the War of Independence.

Ignacio Ordoñez was the first to officially have a coffee crop in the department of Norte de Santander, thus making it the epicenter for the germination of Coffee in the nascent Gran Colombia.

In 1831 and as an act of reconciliation of the war of independence, Father Bonafon in the Riosucio municipality (Gran Cauca) received coffee seeds from the neighboring region Antioquia and promoted its germination with the community.

Fransisco Romero

In 1835, Francisco Romero, a Jesuit priest, imposed penances on sinners to increase coffee production, having the “sinners” each plant between 100 to 1,000 coffee plants.  The following led to a surge in coffee plantations around Salazar de las Palmas in Colombia’s Norte de Santander department.

In this same year, from the departments of Santander and Norte de Santander, 2600 bags of 60 kilos of coffee were sent for Europe via Lake Maracaibo.

O.G Kimball & The New York Coffee Stock Exchange. Colombian Coffee Production Increases

By 1880, O. G. Kimball, the largest coffee marketer in the United States, died in Boston, causing the market to collapse and creating the New York Coffee Stock Exchange.

In Colombia, production continued to increase, representing 20% of the country’s exports in 1884 and 55% in 1895 and going from 173,000 bags to 358,000. Five years later, in 1900, with 463,000 bags per year, it had 10% of the soft coffees on the international market (1.5% of global exports).

Coffee production was led by the departments of Santander and Norte de Santander, making up 58% of the countries coffee yield. Cundinamarca and Tolima followed behind with 32%. Antioquia yielded  9% of Colombia’s coffee production.


Uniting Colombian Coffee Producers

On August 25, 1920, in Bogota, with the support of the Sociedad de Agricultores de Colombia -SAC. The association formed the first national congress of coffee producers to unite and organize coffee producers and quality.

By 1920 coffee represented 16% of the Gross Domestic Product of Colombia. The leading coffee exporter was Pedro A. López, owner of the then Banco López, whose bankruptcy in 1923 gave rise to the Banco de la República (the most important bank of the Colombian national government). 

Colombia’s National Federation of Coffee Growers

On June 27, 1927, the National Federation of Coffee Growers was formed in Medellin’s department of Antioquia. Originally this association was made up only of 36 members, with each member contributing $35. 

The federation implemented quality regulations and standards for the farming community. In 1931, Laws 76 and 126, on the inspection and surveillance of Coffee for export from the ports of Barranquilla, Cartagena, and Buenaventura and in 1932 the Decree 1461, to regulate the types and brands of Coffee for export, with each Coffee having a unique mark based on the region of origin (Huila, Nariño, Antioquia, Cauca…) and the size of the Coffee bean (supremo, excelso). 

Juan Valdez

In 1960, a proud farmer with a friendly expression, wearing espadrilles and a hat, coming down from the mountains on his farm, with his mule loaded with coffee beans. The image of the man became the icon that was synonymous with Colombian Coffee, the best coffee in the world: Juan Valdez. 

The International Coffee Organization (ICO) was created with the International Coffee Agreement or Quota Pact. 

In 1965, from the general management of the Almacafé General Warehouses of Coffee, Circular 129 was issued at a national level. It stated that the Excellent Coffee for Export could contain a maximum of 1% of pasilla and that mixtures with coffees of inferior quality were not allowed.

Peet’s Coffee

By 1966, with ten sacks of Colombian Coffee, Alfred Peet (whose father had a small roastery in Holland) founded Peet’s Coffee in Berkeley and installed a small bar to introduce his clients to quality Coffee and sell whole beans for home consumption.

Coffee Quality

In 1967 through Decree 444, Article 63, all traders must export only Excelso type coffee. And then, in 1969, with the Circular 079 of the General Management of the National Federation of Coffee Growers (FNC), the creation of the Quality Control Unit (UCC) of the Commercial Management of the FNC is informed. 

Green Colombian Coffee in Excelso
Green Colombian Excelso Coffee Beans

 Colombian Excelso 

In 1970, the FNC defined the Excelso Export Coffees according to the number of defects that they had in a random sample of a lot of 500 grams of Parchment Coffee. Then in 1975, the Quality Control Unit appointed a coffee quality checkpoint in the Port of Buenaventura. This was to check for physical defects and prevented poor-quality coffees from being exported. Later in 1976, the homogenizer for parchment coffee samples and the meshes to measure the granulometry of green Coffee were implemented.

 Cafe Excelso and the Coffee Exporting Standard

Afterward, a director of the UCC was appointed in 1977, more professionals were contracted for quality control, and parchment coffee began to be cupped by origin and cup profiles. This changed In 1986 when Coffee cuppings were done at the ports to prevent green coffee from being exported that did not meet the association’s standards. 

In 1988, a letter from the Commercial Management of the FNC made the UCC responsible for the control of the quality of Colombian Coffee and issued the norm for Café Excelso with a maximum of 12% humidity, clarifying that a cup should be clean and free of defects such as ferment or mold, and classifying the coffee grades into Supremo, Extra, Europa, UGQ, Caracol, and Maragogipe.

Organic Coffee and Micro-Lots

The production of organic Coffee has existed in Colombia with the Green Revolution since 1970 and the use of green fertilizers mentioned in the coffee manuals. In 1991, the first export of a micro-lot of organic Coffee was commercialized by air through the Max Havelaar platform for the Equal Exchange Cooperative in Boston.

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