Andes-grown Specialty Tea from Colombia

BITACO, La Cumbre, Colombia

High in the Pacific-facing Andes where the soil is rich and young, an innovative tea garden has captured the attention of specialty buyers.

Bitaco is the home of Colombia’s only commercial tea garden, a place close to the equator at an elevation of 6,500 ft (1,800– 2,050 meters) and tucked away between wildlife-rich national parks.

Tea bushes there are 35 years old, planted initially for CTC production on 51 hectares, but transformed in the past few years to orthodox production of green and black teas with an additional 10 hectares of herbal teas. Forty more hectares are planned for the next few years. Specialty grades are certified organic (USDA and EU) and sustainably certified by UTZ. The factory is impressively modern and the staff young, bright, and enthusiastic.

Bitaco Unique Colombian Tea has the support of the Colombian government and the pedigree of parent company Cali-based Agrícola Himalaya SA, which has supplied high-volume South American teas for several decades.

Juan Pablo Pineda, Colombia’s deputy minister of agricultural affairs, highlighted the importance of this new product for its social commitment to workers. He said that Bitaco is a model garden demonstrating optimal working conditions to rural families in the area, and an example of how growers can contribute to the development of sustainable farming practices.

Nigel Melican, founder of U.K.-based consultancy Teacraft says that “from our tastings so far we are convinced that their teas will be of the highest standard, truly organic, and will have that dash of geographical mystery that your customers will love.”

The region’s young soils, rich in organic materials, give the tea a very sweet flavor, similar to that obtained with sugar cane, said Melican.

The company’s goal is to take its specialty teas to the international market, says International sales director Juan Gonzalez. The spring 2017 launch targets the United States, Canada, six European countries, and six Latin American countries, he said.

The company first began experimenting with specialty tea in 2012. Last year the company’s Cacao Kisses, a tea made with organic cacao nibs, was awarded second place in the Penton International Tea Competition.

The teas are on display this week at World Tea Expo, booth 1044.