If the Brazil Daterra “Sunflower” is my favorite all-time coffee at the Black Drop, the Colombian Excelso “El Corazon” is a close second.
The Excelso designation refers to the screen size of the bean – in this case, 16 – and indicates that this is a smaller bean than a Supremo. As noted below by Atlas and Sweet Maria’s, there is little correlation between bean size and flavor. This is what I call a great archetypal coffee: the taste simply defines the essence of what coffee is. The immediate aroma after grinding is huge, sweet with light citrus notes.
In the cup it is full and rich with a crisp clean finish. This is a tightly structured coffee, well rounded in body and elegantly balanced. There is the classic chocolate base – but not too prevalent – and the citrus, almost floral, highs – again, not too much, muted, almost to a buttery honey finish. Everything working so well together that they make up the archetype of a great coffee.
Location: Colombia, South America
Predominant Varietals: Tipica, Bourbon, Maragogipe, Tabi, Caturra, and Variedad Castillo
Elevation: 4,200 to 6,000 ft.
Climate: The ideal conditions for cultivation are found between 1,200 and 1,800 meters above sea level. In Colombia, most farms are located on the slopes of the three ranges of the Andes (Eastern, Central, and Western) and, to a lesser extent, on the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. Colombian coffee zones are located in the departments of Antioquia, Boyacá, Caldas, Cauca, Cesar, Caquetá, Casanare, Cundinamarca, Guajira, Huila, Magdalena, Meta, Nariño, Norte de Santander, Quindío, Risaralda, Santander, Tolima, and Valle del Cauca. These regions possess optimal climate and atmospheric conditions for the growth of coffee. – From Colombia Travel
Soil conditions: Rich volcanic
Processing method: Wet
Drying method: After washing, the beans are exposed to the heat of the sun for their humidity to decrease, thus facilitating their conservation. To make transportation easier, the dried beans are then packed in clean sacks made from sisal. Further on, the thin shell of parchment called pergamino is removed from the bean. – From Colombia Travel
Harvest period: Thanks to these conditions, in Colombia it is possible to gather coffee year round. There are two harvests, a large one that is the main harvest, and a small one called traviesa or mitaca, which yields about a third of the main one. – From Colombia Travel
From Atlas Coffee Importers:
For a number of years now, Atlas had worked with its partner office in Colombia to secure the finest Supremos available to sell under our “El Toro” brand.
One of our traders who worked in the Bogota office continually argued that if we looked carefully, we could find some truly exceptional Excelsos, as well. And…after many trials, we found a coffee that proved his point. We are now proud to offer Colombia Excelso “El Corazon”.
Every year, we bring in a limited quantity of Excelsos that offer the combination of full aroma, ripe citrus top notes, creamy body and lingering sweet finish that characterize “El Corazon.” The coffee is a great stand-alone Colombia, and with its mellow character and pleasing softness, also serves as an outstanding base for drip blends or espresso.
A key factor in the quality of coffee is the balance of different attributes and characteristics. Colombian Coffee is characterized for being a beverage that has a clean taste, medium/high acidity and body, and a pronounced and complete aroma. These qualities can be obtained as long as the proper species and botanic varieties are grown in specific environments, characterized by high mountainous tropical regions with a specific type of soil and climate. In addition, several efforts are made in its cultivation, harvest and post harvest. The process of industrialization should ideally be performed immediately after the harvest.
Thus, the special quality characteristics begin with the selection of the adequate species. For this reason only 100% Arabica coffee is grown in Colombia, a species that produces milder coffees. Different varieties of these species that adapt to specific environments of the Colombian geography, or a combination of them, constitute the prime material of Colombian Coffee. The principal varietals of Arabica coffee that are grown in Colombia are: Tipica, Bourbon, Maragogipe, Tabi, Caturra, and Variedad Castillo®, previously referred to as Variedad Colombia. The selection of the specific varieties is the responsibility of Cenicafé, one of the most sophisticated centers of coffee research in the world.
The thermal regime, regulated in Colombia by the altitude associated with the mountains that rise to over 5,000 meters above sea level, allow the median temperatures where coffee is grown to vary between 18° to 24° C. Under these temperatures it is possible to cultivate coffee and avoid frosts. Consequently, in the Colombian Coffee Regions the temperatures remain within an optimal range for the cultivation of coffee, without experimenting excessive temperatures (extreme heat or frost) that would interfere the normal development of the Arabica coffee trees. The contrasts of the temperature during the day and the temperature throughout the year also favor the generation of sugars and other compounds within the coffee beans that develop, during the industrialization, appreciated attributes such as a medium/high acidity and a well balanced body.
The soil where coffee is grown in Colombia varies from sandy to rocky and even clay like, in slopes that vary from flat to slightly undulated to steep and dramatic, with marked differences in the origin of the soil in relation to other coffee producing countries. In Colombia there are different Coffee Regions throughout the three mountain ranges: Eastern, Central, and Western soils of igneous, metamorphic, sedimentary and volcanic origin are found. The main characteristic of the soils in the Colombian Coffee Regions is that most of these soils have volcanic origins, which have a rich content of organic material and good physical characteristics, reducing the need to apply fertilizer.
From Sweet Maria’s:
In the past, Colombians were all sold based on bean size (Excelso, Supremo) unlike other Central American and South American coffees which are graded mostly on altitude. 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 (but not necessarily) result in better cup quality.
From Ultimate Coffees Info:
Colombian Coffee Beans are grown at high altitudes and tended with painstaking care in the shade of banana and rubber trees. This coffee is among the best in the world, rich, full-bodied, and perfectly balanced. Coffea Arabica L., more commonly known as the Arabica bean, prefers higher altitudes and drier climates than its cousin, the lower quality Robusta bean (C. Robusta). Therefore, the arid mountains and the well-drained, rich volcanic soil of Colombia provide ideal conditions for growing high quality coffee.
Colombian Coffees are grown in two main regions, the central region around Medellin, Armenia and Manizales, known as MAM to aficionados, and the eastern, more mountainous region near Bogotá and Bucaramanga. MAM varieties are known for their heavy body, rich flavor and fine, balanced acidity while the mountain grown eastern beans produce an even richer, heavier, less acidic coffee. The finest coffee comes from this region.
From A User’s Guide to Colombian Coffees – an excellent guide to Colombian coffee beans – I excerpted only two:
The first coffee variety introduced to most coffee growing countries (including Colombia). Known to originate from Yemen, it has a conical shape and long stems, which causes it to have low yields. Its fruits are bold and long. It was replaced in Colombia starting in the 1970′s with the Caturra variety, because the latter variety is more productive. Today Typica still represents about 25% of total coffee trees grown in Colombia.
Originally discovered in Minas Gerais, Brazil as a natural mutation of the Bourbon variety. It is considered a “dwarf Bourbon” because it is shorter, has more secondary branches than Bourbon and the branch points are very closely spaced. It is precisely this characteristic that confers it higher productivity levels as it can produce more beans in the same space and trees can be grown closer from each other (higher density of trees per hectare). It was first introduced to Colombia in 1952 and widely accepted by coffee growers since the late 1960′s. Approximately 45% of the total trees grown in Colombia are from this variety.
No one knows exactly when coffee arrived in what is now Colombia. Some think the bean came with Jesuit priests in the seventeenth century, but the first shipment of coffee overseas wasn’t until 1835, when 2500 pounds of coffee headed from Colombia to the United States. In pre and post-independence times, most export agriculture was done on large-scale latifundos controlled by elites. By 1860, coffee had emerged as the dominant export crop, and shortly thereafter, tariffs on coffee exports had become the main source of government revenues. Land reform in the 1930’s did some to relieve the inequality in land ownership, but by 1980, 10% of farms, including ranches, managed 80% of arable land. This chronic inequality has not been as prevalent in the coffee sector, and the nation has shown a strong trend towards small fincas in the last 30 years.
The National Federation of Coffee Growers, an industry association which represents the nation’s coffee producers has been responsible for creating a name for Colombian coffee with their well-known spokesman, the fictional, charismatic Juan Valdez. The FNC guarantees purchase of green coffee, but farmers are under no obligation to sell to them.
Colombia has 38 cooperatives independent of the FNC, nineteen of which are certified fair trade by the Fair Trade Labeling Organization. The FNC reports that the vast majority of the nation’s coffee is grown under shade with 1.4 million hectares under canopy and only 717,000 hectares grown in full sun.
Deforestation as well as soil and water contamination from overuse of pesticide are among two of the most grievous environmental problems facing the country. Soil erosion has become a significant problem for some conventional farmers as well. Sustainable coffee production holds great promise in addressing these issues, and has the potential to protect species that occur nowhere else in the world.
Colombia is the only South American country with both Atlantic and Pacific ports…an invaluable aid to shipping. The crop’s economic importance is such that all cars entering Colombia are sprayed for harmful bacteria. Colombia’s coffee grows in the moist, temperate foothills of the Andes, where the combination of high altitude and moist climate makes for an especially mild cup.
Since 1970, the FNC has built:
•9,946 aqueducts and sewage systems
•5,522 homes for school teachers
•17,978 school bathrooms
•16,866 km of roads (137,386km were repaired)
•48 hospitals / healthcare centres
•14,155 coffee dryers
•6,893 wet mills
•It has also improved infrastructure in 9,973 homes and brought electricity to 250,320 homes