Dr Edgar Moreno has been studying the factors that go into making a great coffee for many years. As the Director of Quality Control for the
Colombian Coffee Growers’ Federation (FNC), Moreno says that geography has alway been a significant factor but, as he tells Global Coffee Review, there have been some significant discoveries recently.
“Comprehension about geography [understood as soils, topography and weather] and their influence on production and quality of the coffee has been enhanced significantly indeed,” Moreno says.
He says that the FNC’s research institute, Cenicafe, has conducted numerous trials and investigations into this area. As a result they have developed technology for adequate use and preservation of soils, as well as technical management of the coffee fields under shade, semi-shade and full sun exposition according to the natural luminosity of the specific regions where coffee farms are located.
The results of these studies have allowed the FNC to determine the effects of key environmental factors on the production of coffee and assist and inform their farmers accordingly.
As Moreno shared in his lecture on the FNC’s website, the Colombian Coffee Hub, this information has allowed the FNC to create a detailed topographical profile of Colombia’s coffee growing regions and the types of coffee they produce.
The benefits of temperature and altitude on the quality of coffee are many, Dr Moreno says. First of all, a lower temperature will mean the fruit ripens more slowly, allowing it to build up higher levels of sugar. These higher sugar levels do not just improve the flavour of the coffee, ultimately transforming into acid and aromatic compounds, they also protect the fruit against freezing on cold nights.
Moreno says the altitude also plays a part in determining the characteristics of the soil, which can then amplify the effects of the temperature on the coffee.
“In higher altitudes, soils are made up of volcanic ashes whose physical characteristics allow the plant’s root development,” he says. “Also, those ashes have a great power of retaining humidity that can nurture the plant during drought periods.“
Moreno says that the optimal temperature for growing Arabicas is between 18°C to 23°C, while for Robustas it is between 24°C and 30°C. A basic interpretation of this information would dictate that, in a warm country like Colombia, Arabicas are best grown at higher altitudes and Robustas closer to sea level. However, with latitude having such a pronounced effect on climate, the altitudes needed to achieve different temperature ranges will change according to where the coffee is grown in relation to the equator.
This knowledge is helping Colombian farmers to determine the best places for starting new plantations, particularly in light of threats from pests and disease.
“We are witnessing the progressive movement of coffee farms to higher altitudes to diminish risk of diseases like roya (coffee leaf rust) or plagues of broca (the coffee berry borer),” Moreno says.
“Another common example is related to the preferential development of organic programs or Rainforest Alliance, where shaded coffee farms are required due to high natural luminosity and the low relative altitude of these coffee fields, such as in Colombia’s Santander and Sierra Nevada regions. At the same time coffee growers are more conscious of the importance of the environmental as well as the human factor in obtaining good quality coffee.”
Moreno adds that this knowledge is helping Colombian growers cater to the more lucrative premium coffee markets.
“Knowledge of different coffee profiles from different Colombian coffee regions due to specific geographical conditions also allow us to lead the supply of high-end specialty coffees that have robust and sound information about them,” he says.
However, despite these findings and the effect they have had on farmers’ livelihoods, Moreno says there is still more to be learned.
“It is not still clear how the soil’s chemical composition affects cup profile in certain areas or how exactly the rainfall or the dry season contributes to quality/production and through which exact mechanism,” he says.
Moreno’s lecture was just the first in a series being run by the Colombian Coffee Hub, with the aim of enhancing the knowledge of coffee professionals around the world with information from origin.
It is through this kind of knowledge exchange that the FNC hopes to better equip its farmers to mitigate impact of any future challenges such as the one they have faced in the past few years with the leaf rust crisis.
These lectures can be accessed on the Colombian Coffee Hub’s website, www. colombiancoffeehub.com, or via their YouTube channel.