What is special about the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta coffee?

14 July, 2022

Colombia is well known for the quality of its coffee and there are regions of the country that count many years as great coffee producers. Today they are the main references of this product internationally. Nonetheless, there is a particular coffee that is getting some attention recently, we talk about the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta coffee. So, what makes it different? Is it special? Let us find out the reasons that make it a great product, hoping you accept the invitation to taste it and let yourself be delighted by its flavor and aroma.

Unique coffee beans

The climatic conditions of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta only allow for one coffee harvest per year, which generally runs from October to January. Some characteristics of the climate in this area are high solar radiation and a significant dry season.

In order to partially compensate for these climatic conditions coffee plantations in the Sierra Nevada are planted under the shade of native trees. This cropping system reduces the solar radiation and provides a vegetation cover for the soil that is important for the organic coffee plantations.

History of the coffee plantations in the Sierra Nevada

The answer to who first came up with the idea to use coffee beans or leaves in infusion is uncertain, but it is known that this was done centuries ago in Ethiopia. The concept spread throughout the Arab world, then Europe and finally America in the XVIII century.

Coffee plants arrived in Colombia around 1730, and even when there are several hypotheses about it, it is considered that at the beginning, the Jesuits were the ones who promoted its cultivation. In the Colombian Caribbean, the first coffee plants in the Sierra Nevada date back to 1741. However, its best moment was at the end of the XIX century and the beginning of the XX century, when large coffee farms were established in Minca and its surrounding.

The boost given to coffee cultivation in the Sierra Nevada was largely due to the investments of foreign entrepreneurs. A good example of this is La Victoria Farm, which began operations in 1892 as “The Victoria Coffee Company” founded by Englishmen, in fact the farm was named after Queen Victoria.

Another example is the Cincinnati Farm, founded by the American Orlando Lincoln Flye. They started in 1898 with some crops of the Typica coffee variety and by 1901 they were making their first coffee exports to the United States.

Coffee production in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta

The Sierra Nevada mountain range covers part of 3 departments in Colombia: La Guajira, El Magdalena and El Cesar. Coffee plantations can be spotted in all of them.

It is worth mentioning that not only peasants participate in the planting of coffee in the Sierra Nevada, there is also an important participation of indigenous communities. Let us remember that in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta there are 4 indigenous ethnic groups: Arhuacos, Koguis, Wiwas and Kankuamos. Of these, some communities have developed their own products, and coffee is one of these for which they excel in quality.

The main coffee producers in the Sierra Nevada are located in what is called the “Coffee belt of the Caribbean”: Cienaga, Santa Marta, Fundacion and Aracataca.

Sierra Nevada coffee by the numbers

Below, we share some figures from the Federación Nacional de Cafeteros (National Federation of Coffee Growers) regarding the coffee crops in the Sierra Nevada:

  • Coffee producing families: 4,194 
  • Hectares cultivated with coffee: 17,917 
  • Coffee farms: 5,178
  • The rural sector of Ciénaga is the largest coffee producer in Magdalena, with an average of 168,904 bags (60 kg) of dry parchment coffee.

In 2019, around 781 tons of coffee were produced in the Sierra Nevada. The countries to which it was exported the most were France, the United States, Japan, Korea and the Netherlands.

What type of coffee is cultivated?

All coffee crops in the Sierra Nevada belong to the Coffea Arabica species, in fact that is the species of coffee planted in all of Colombia. To be more precise, the coffee varieties that are cultivated are: Castillo, Colombia, Caturra, Typica, Cenicafé 1 and Tabí.The Castillo and Typica are among the most common in the Sierra Nevada, we can highlight they have a good resistance to pests and diseases.

Profile of the Sierra Nevada Coffee

The Denomination of Origin Café de la Sierra Nevada is identified by having the characteristics below:

  • Medium to High-bodied
  • Medium acidity
  • Tasting notes of chocolate
  • Sweet and nut-like aroma

Important: Not all the coffee produced in the Sierra Nevada has denomination of origin, and we use its characteristics just as a reference.

International recognition of the Sierra Nevada Coffee

Although other regions of Colombia have a greater coffee tradition, the coffee growers of the Sierra Nevada have committed themselves to obtain international certifications and recognition. Thus, today we can find its coffee sold in other countries as gourmet, special or premium coffee, furthermore, some have organic and/or fair trade certifications.

Coffee experiences in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta

Tasting good coffee from the Sierra Nevada can be quite an experience if you visit some of the places where it is produced. Many of them are open to the public, show the coffee production process to visitors, and as is to be expected, they include coffee tasting, too.

The most accessible are in Minca, a small coffee town in the low parts of the Sierra Nevada, here we share with you the places where you can live an authentic coffee experience there.

Minca coffee farms

In Minca we find the majority of coffee farms that have opened their doors to tourism. The following are the most visited.

La Victoria Coffee Farm

“La Victoria Farm” was founded 130 years ago by English founders, nowadays it is probably the most known coffee farm in Minca.

The area of the farm covers more than 1,200 hectares, but only 217 are used for growing coffee, most of the land is used as a forest reserve to protect water sources, too.

The Victoria farm can be visited to learn about the coffee production process, taste it, learn about its environmentally friendly practices and its history, as the hacienda still preserves equipment that has been used for decades.

It is located about 6 km from Minca and can be reached by taking a motorcycle from the town.

La Candelaria Farm

“La Candelaria” is a family farm where cacao and coffee are grown. In this farm you can take a tour to see the stages of coffee production and take a sip of good coffee of the Sierra Nevada. For arriving la Candelaria coffee farm, you can take a motorcycle in Minca and then walk up to the farm for about 10 minutes.

Another much more comfortable option is to arrive with transportation from Santa Marta on a coffee tour through Minca.

La Milagrosa Farm

Finca cafetera la Milagrosa en Minca Colombia

La Milagrosa coffee farm is located at an altitude of 1,600 meters above sea level on the road that goes from Minca to Cerro Kennedy. From this cozy farm you will be able to enjoy a delicious coffee from the Sierra Nevada, while contemplating the beautiful views of the surroundings. 

Caficosta roasting plant

Laboratorio de café Caficosta en Minca, Santa Marta

Although it is not a farm, it is the best place to enjoy a coffee cupping activity in Minca. The Caficosta roasting plant has a cupping school, a coffee laboratory and a coffee shop that sells coffee produced on the Caribbean coast.

If you want to live a coffee experience in the Sierra Nevada we invite you to take a coffee tour in Minca with us.

Coffee with great potential

As we have seen, the coffee of the Sierra Nevada has a great value and also a lot of potential. Today many coffee growing families in the region depend on this activity, and they are making an effort to be eco-friendly and deliver a product with an increasingly better quality. What are you waiting for? Come and try the coffee of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta!

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