Colombia is a diverse group of growing regions spread from North to South along the three “cordilleras,” the mountain ranges that are the Northern extensions of the Andes. Colombian coffees can be outstanding. Most coffee, especially from the Southern growing areas of Huila, Cauca, Narino and Tolima, comes from small family farms, and when the picking and processing are done well they can be exceptional: Silky body, cane sugar sweetness, floral hints and traces of tropical fruits are found in the best Colombia coffees.
Colombian coffee has been highly marketed in the US for many decades by the FNC, the Federacion Nacional de Cafe. They have been successful at equating the name Colombian Coffee with “good” coffee. This is half-true. Colombian coffee is bulked into container lots that lack clean cup character and distinctive flavor attributes. This is the case with all origins in fact: There are stellar Ethiopian coffees but that does not mean Ethiopia coffee necessarily means good coffee. The fact that coffee is now marketed by origin country, sub-region, farm, farmer name, or which side of the tree they picked does not guarantee good quality. Also, indiscriminate mixing of good and bad lots, well-processed clean coffees with over-fermented batches, or ones that might have been re-wet by rain showers when drying, results in the lowest common denominator for the entire shipment of coffee.
Is there good Colombian coffee? Absolutely, but not from Supermarket bulk bins and the like. Good Colombian is rarely sold simply as Supremo or Excelso, a name that designates the size of the beans means nothing about the quality of taste. Grading by screen size doesn’t make sense because a larger bean does not mean better cup quality. In fact, the presence of diverse bean sizes can result in better cup quality, but not necessarily. Since we rate everything by cup quality and all coffees are judged “blind,” bean size is irrelevant and doesn’t enter into how we select coffees.