In some countries, bean size is measured by sifting raw beans through a perforated container called a Sieve. Grade 18 beans will pass through a screen with 18/64″ diameter holes, but are stopped by the next smaller sieve with 16/64″ diameter holes. By this process, grade size is determined. The terms Excelso (smallest) and Supremo (largest) are used as the general coffee grading terms in Colombia. Excelso coffee beans can pass through grade 16 sieve perforations but will not make it through a grade 14 screen. Excelso beans are large, but yet smaller than Supremo coffee beans and even though they may come from the same tree, they are still sorted by size and grown with different characteristics. Supremo coffee beans can pass through screens Grade 17 and up (17/64″ diameter holes). Coffee grown at higher elevations tends to have a larger, denser, more flavorful body.
Coffee in Colombia
Colombian coffee is diverse, and crops are grown in both Northern and Southern regions. Colombian coffee is very balanced, has good body, brightness and flavor. Historically, Colombian beans were sold based on bean size (Excelso, Supremo), as opposed to Central American and South American coffees graded on altitude.
The first coffee crops were planted in the eastern part of Colombia, and the first commercial production occurred in 1835 with 2,560 green coffee bags. A priest named Francisco Romero was a very influential figure to the spread of the coffee crop in Northeast Colombia. The cultivation of coffee was even required as penance by Father Romero. Colombian coffee became an export in the second half of the 19th century, and the United States, Germany, and France became consumers of Colombian coffee. At the turn of the 20th century, international prices dropped, and so did profits of large coffee estates in Colombia. In the beginning of the 20th century, several small coffee producers adopted a new model of coffee exports, based on rural economy and supported by internal migration and colonization of new territories. The western regions of Colombia took the lead in the development of the Colombian coffee industry. Between 1905 and 1935, the Colombian coffee industry grew significantly due to the politics of the National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia (FNC) in 1927. The Federation created a union of local farmers and small producers, and confronted logistical and commercial difficulties. Cultivation systems improved, and spatial patterns permitted differentiation of the product, and supported its quality. Today, Colombia has 38 cooperatives independent of the FNC, and of those, nineteen are certified fair trade. The majority of Colombian coffee is shade grown with 1.4 million hectares (10,000 square meters) under canopy, and only 717,000 hectares grown in full sun.