Colombia, probably the single most famous coffee origin in the world (especially where I am from, in North America), has several unique characteristics that separate it from all other coffee origins.
Chief among these is the presence of the “mitaca” — or “fly crop.” The fly crop is a sort of alternate crop of coffee that is harvest at the opposite time of year from the main crop.
(In fact, it is not totally unique — there is the case of Kenya, which we will address later.)
As we all know, coffee is seasonal, and ripe fruit is only available a few months out of the year in each country. The time when this fruit harvests is largely dependent on the latitude of the country (whether it is in the southern or northern hemisphere — and how far away it is from the equator). And it depends on when the rainy season occurs.
Most coffee trees tend to flower just before or after the rainy season, depending on the country. From there, the very beginning of cherries start to form, turn green, and eventually ripen. This process takes several months.
In Central America, for example, cherries tend to reach full ripeness between December and March. This can vary from country to country, and from year to year, but it’s always about that time of year.
Colombia’s Equatorial Position
Colombia is one of just a few coffee producing countries that lies directly on the equator.
Brazil, for example, straddles the equator, but all of its coffee production is far south of it, fully in the southern hemisphere, and so they harvest at the opposite time of year from Central American countries like Panama and Guatemala.
A few other coffee producing countries are on the equator but have just one primary crop, because of the prevailing winds and rains — Ecuador, Congo, and Timor, for example.
Kenya, in fact, lies on the equator too. And they do have a fly crop in Kenya. However, it is relatively minor, and quality tends to be a step below the quality of the main harvest.
That leaves Colombia. Colombia’s primary harvest by volume is what we might call an “early northern” harvest, from October through December. But they also have their fly crop — or mitaca in Spanish.
In fact, in certain areas of Colombia, what we call the “fly crop” is actually the primary crop. Some areas harvest in November, with a June fly crop; and some harvest in June, with a November fly crop!
Endless Possibilities for Great Coffee in Colombia
What this means is that there is almost always fresh, high-quality coffee to be found in Colombia. You cannot go to the same farm or same district, however, and expect to find year-round great coffee. You must be flexible, adventurous, and willing to travel.
Take a look at this map of the various harvesting seasons in Colombia, put out by the excellent Colombian Coffee Federation:
Green is the “northern” main crop; yellow is the “southern” main crop; and the orange and pink bits are areas with two harvests, with fly crops at different times for each color. As you can see, some of the so-called “northern” areas are quite far south, and vice versa.
Confused? Ah, but it’s just part of the fun and amazing adventure of Colombia.
[On a personal note, Colombia is a country I visited for the first time relatively late in my coffee career — I had been to El Salvador eight times, for example, before I made my first visit to Colombia. Everyone had been telling me to expect the most beautiful and wonderful coffee country. And they were right — Colombia quickly rocketed right up to the top as one of the most amazing coffee countries I have ever seen.]
Those fly crop coffees are just being finished now, and are soon ready to cup and purchase.
OCN has strong contacts in Colombia, and we are offering fly-crop Colombian coffee as part of our concierge service. With such a complex and variegated situation on the ground, it’s the kind of country where you need a direct agent on the ground to navigate in a smart way. It’s our pleasure to be that agent for you, finding you exactly the coffees you want, just when you need them.
Our targets for this year’s fly crop are excellent coffees from small producers in the famous regions of Cauca and Huila; and some relatively unknown small farms in Cundinamarca.
Although we will be back in Colombia after the main harvest in early 2016 as well, now is the time to act to get fresh, delicious, unique coffees from Colombia’s one-of-a-kind fly crop.
Personally, I can’t wait to go and find them.