Have you ever wondered exactly where the coffee you drink gets its start? Most of the coffee we drink originates in the equatorial belt around the globe. This is an area that is 1,000 miles wide which starts at the Tropic of Cancer and goes to the Tropic of Capricorn. While coffee can be grown in other areas, it simply cannot compare to the taste and quality of the beans that come from this sunny belt of the earth.
Something that might be surprised to some is just how hardy the coffee plant actually is. While shade-grown coffee can be fickler, most coffee trees are completely at ease in hot, sunny areas. Having a generous amount of rainfall is also common and offers a boost to the growth of this important plant. However, some coffee is also grown at high altitudes in mountains in places like Guatemala and Columbia. It can also be found in slopes filled with volcanic soil in areas such as Sumatra and Java.
Despite that, some coffees grown at lower altitudes can still be of fantastic quality. However, the conditions tend to be less ideal. It’s more likely in this case that the coffee beans will receive too much moisture or will overripen. That can lead to issues with quality and flavor since beans are produced at all times of the year. This is why there is less mass production in those areas and more in high altitudes in the sunny locations on the earth.
There are more than 75 countries that produce coffee, but some countries produce far larger amounts than others. We’re going to look at the different regions of the world and what sets them apart when it comes to producing the coffee that ends up as a steamy brew in our mugs each and every morning.
Starting in Costa Rica, we begin our journey through Central America. Many people believe that the coffee in Costa Rica is subpar compared to other countries with only traditional beans and a moderate quality. However, as time has passed, this stereotype has started to fall apart. In Costa Rica, there are now “micro-mills” which consist of a group of small farmers who have built their own cooperatives. These people control their own production through doing the processing and growing of their own coffee. All cherries are separated based on the elevation they were grown at as well as their quality and farmers learn how to build unique flavors into their beans which makes a great end product.
The coffee from Costa Rica is wet-processed and features sharp acidity and medium body. This is considered by many to be the ultimate balance. There is a huge emphasis on proper growing methods and quality processing which has given the country a great reputation for quality coffee. Some of the best varieties of coffee to come out of Costa Rica include Typica, Caturra, Villa Sarchi, Catuai, and Tarrazu.
The coffee country of El Salvador is located off of the mountainous roads near Route of the Flowers. The road is 22 miles long and in the month of May, you can expect to see coffee blossoms on every inch of the area. It’s a fantastic sight and a place that offers a fantastic coffee bean. The main issue with the coffee here lies not in the quality but in the political instability, which means that the supply can be pretty inconsistent. Coffee is often a family effort in this country and the best varieties to come out of El Salvador include Typica, Bourbon, Pacamara, and Pacas.
Guatemala is one of the best known and finest locations for a great cup of coffee. This area offers dozens of specialty coffees that you will find nowhere else. The coffee is grown in the Highlands where the climate seems to be made for the job. There are cool night, warm days, volcanic soil, and a high altitude for the best growing possible. All of the coffees cold from Guatemala are separated by grade with the altitude having a large effect on the final rating. The highest quality beans are strictly hard beans, while lower quality beans are known as hard beans. The good news is that Guatemala is near the United States, so the beans are imported directly.
While Guatemala isn’t the best known in the area, it does provide distinct coffees with a rich flavor. The country has three growing regions which feature volcanic soil. Most of the coffee out of the country is full or medium bodies and a spicy or chocolatey taste to it. Some of the best varieties out of Guatemala are Typica, Antigua, Maragogype, Atitlan, Pacamara, Coban, Bourbon, Caturra, Catuai, and more.
Those who enjoy full-bodied and mild coffees with a hint of caramel will likely appreciate the coffee that comes from Honduras. The issue is that even though the coffee is tasty and of a high quality, it has been valued at a low level in the past. This has made it difficult for farmers to get a good rate for their beans. However, an influx of cooperatives is helping with this and more specialty beans are leaving the area to be sold for a better price. Many of these beans are rain-forest friendly, organic, shade grown, or fair trade, which American coffee drinkers appreciate.
The best varieties of coffee out of Honduras are Caturra and Bourbon.
Nicaragua is in a fantastic location when it comes to the growth of coffee. However, political unrest kept the country from being a staple for many years. Thankfully, things are improving in recent years and many of the coffees from this area are sustainable with a great quality. There are tons of small and medium-sized farms throughout the are offering coffees with all sorts of flavors. The varieties best known in the area are Typica, Maragogype, Caturra, Bourbon, Pacamara, and Java Cultivar.
While Panama used to be overlooked when it came to coffee, that is no longer the case. One of the most famous coffees out of this country is the Panama Esmeralda, which has an unknown origin. The most well-known coffee varieties from this country are Caturra and Catuai.
Our final stop in Central America is Mexico, which offers chocolatey and nutty coffees with a rich flavor. Most of the coffee here is grown in the southern areas and almost all of the blends are dark roasts. Some of the most common varieties out of Mexico include Typica, Altura, Oaxaca Pluma, Bourbon, Nuevo, Carnica, Maragogype, and Coatepec.
Most farms in Mexico are small rather than being plantations, but there are hundreds of thousands of farmers, which makes Mexico a huge force to be reckoned with in coffee production. You’ll find that most of the farms are located to the south in places like Oaxaca, Veracruz, and Chiapas. If you get a chance to try a coffee here, you can expect a unique sharpness along with a deep flavor and great aroma. These beans are used in blends and work well for dark roasts.
The Dominican Republic
Moving to the Caribbean, there are plenty of locations that offer fantastic coffee that we drink every morning. The Dominican Republic offers a large range of low-altitude, complex coffees. There are many flavors but what you’ll notice the most is a light or bright finish with a hint of spice. There are about seven growing regions with different climates. The best-known variety coming out of the area is Santo Domingo.
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Haiti may not be the first place you think of when it comes to coffee, but if you give it a try, you might be surprised by the quality. The coffee that comes out of this area is known for being sweet and mellow compared to other locations.
Jamaica is a unique place and that is no different when it comes to the coffee they offer. You can expect a nutty flavor that is bright and acidic. If you visit the eastern area of the island, you’ll find the place where Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee is produced, something that is hard to find in the United States. Some of the best varieties out of Jamaica are Typica, Jamaican Blue Mountain, and High Mountain Supreme.
Our final stop in the Caribbean is Puerto Rico, where you can enjoy varieties like Café Rico, Limon, Yauco Selecto, Typica, and Bourbon. You can expect the coffee from this reason to be mild with a fruity edge.
Coffee became a fixture of Puerto Rico in the 17th century and was a major export by the 19th century. The problem is that competition from other countries coupled with hurricanes have made the need for other industries a reality of the island. In the world today, Puerto Rica is moving back toward quality coffee with a focus on Arabica. There are two different areas used for coffee production and both are known for offering balanced beans with a fruity aroma and high acidity.
We’re moving along now to South America, where the largest importer of coffee is located. It is none other than Brazil. The coffee here is most often low grown and blended to be used in major brands. This might make you concerned about the quality, but you should be. Brazil has a lot to offer the discerning coffee lover. There are many specialty roasters who have come to Brazil and made close connections with the many farms in the area. If you try a single origin from Brazil, you’ll find that most are complex with a touch of sweetness. While Brazil might export the most coffee of any country, that doesn’t mean that quantity trumps great quality. There are several notable farms with their own nuanced coffee that with notes of everything from dried fruit to butterscotch, and cocoa.
The number one source of imported coffee for the United States is best known for the Maragogype, Bourbon, Catimor, Typica, and Caturra varieties.
Columbia is an interesting country in terms of coffee. It is one of the top exporters of coffee, which is made simpler by the access to two large oceans. However, it also helps that there is great farming, tropical temperatures, and high altitudes to take advantage of. With the country putting out so much coffee, it is true that the quality may have dropped on some farms, but that isn’t true of all of them. You can still find beans that provide rich, sweet, and bright coffees of all sorts. The best varieties to come out of Columbia are Medellin and Columbian Supremo.
Columbia puts a lot into making sure their coffee is of great quality and that starts by using small family farms. The landscape is rugged and hard to travel on but it’s also ideal for growing great coffee.
The conditions of Ecuador are nearly perfect with growing slopes higher than nearly anywhere else on earth. Despite that, it is still on a path toward offering high-quality coffee that is appreciated in major area of coffee consumption. Most of the less quality coffee is used for blends. The varieties best known in this country are Typica, Bourbon, and Caturra, although you can find other types if you take the time to search.
Peru has plenty of coffee farms available, even if they are difficult to travel to. Due to political problems, Peru has never been the biggest name in coffee. However, things are slowly improving which can be seen with the large amounts of fair trade and organic coffee being grabbed up for import as quickly as it can be produced. The beans are often less expensive than other regions. However, sometimes the quality of the beans is also lower, which is an issue in itself. That said, there are good farms in Peru, it’s just a matter of finding them.
The best varieties of coffee in Peru include Pache, Typica, Bourbon, and Caturra.
Coffee in Venezuela isn’t what it used to be, largely because oil has become the best industry in the area. At one time, this country was known for great coffee but that has changed quickly. However, the Merida coffee is still wanted in some regions and offers lightness and sweet acidity. It’s a unique taste that many fall in love with after experiencing it.
We’re going to switch areas and move to Africa and the Middle East at this point and we’ll be starting in Ethiopia. If you listen to the tales of the history of coffee, you may already realize that coffee was first discovered in southern Ethiopia. Today, the country is a major supplier of Arabica beans and the production of coffee allows for the employment of massive amounts of people. The coffee found here is extremely high-quality and a taste that cannot be matched. The most loved varieties are Sidamo, Ethiopian Harrar, and Yirgacheffe.
Another area in Africa with coffee worth noting is Kenya where tons of Arabica beans originate. You can expect beans from this location to be vibrant and bright with intense fruity notes that add a richness to your cup. The varieties best known in Kenya include Ruiru II, SL 28, Kent, and Bourbon.
Not far from Kenya, Tanzania is also out there slinging coffee beans that are wet-processed. This has led to a competitiveness between the country and Kenya. However, Tanzania is best known for the Blue Mountain, Typica, Kent, Bourbon, and Arusha varieties.
Unlike most countries, Uganda mainly focuses on Robusta coffee rather than Arabica. This is natural to the area and can often be found growing wild. With the pollical climate finally improving, things are looking up for Ugandan coffee farmers. Having a relationship with neighboring countries with posts lets Arabica move from the region too. The best-known varieties from this area are Bugisu, Typica, and Kent.
Our final destination in this area is Yemen, which is just over the sea from Ethiopia, where we started our look at Africa and the Middle East. The process used here is a dry one which leads to a coffee that is spicy yet bright. The best-known variety you’ll find out of Yemen is none other than Mocha.
There is plenty of coffee being produced in Asia and India is as good of a place to start as any other. Outside of Africa, this country was the first large region to start growing and cultivating coffee after smuggling out beans. The southern part of India offers some truly unique coffee with hints of pepper, cardamom, and other spices. The varieties found here that are best known are Monsoon Malabar, and Indian Mysore.
One of the largest producers of coffee is Vietnam, where you can see men and woman alike tending to farms. Vietnam didn’t start getting involved in coffee until about 30 years ago but hasn’t had a lot of luck when it comes to high-quality beans. The largest amount of beans to be found are Robusta and not the high-grade type. The huge amounts of lower quality beans coming out of Vietnam hurts other areas, as they need to compete with lower prices when putting out better beans. Most of the cheap whole bean blends and pre-ground coffee you see in your supermarket has beans from Vietnam, which imports the fourth largest amount of coffee of any country.
Indonesia is a massive area that stretches all the way from Australia to Southeast Asia. There are three of the major islands that produce a huge amount of the world’s coffee. However, only about 1/10 of the coffee is Arabica with the best being the less favored Robusta beans.
It may come as no large surprise that a place called Java is known for their coffee. Those who visit may notice the distinct scent of coffee just traveling the island, although the largest amounts of coffee are from massive coffee estates. Java has been producing coffee since the 17th century and has been doing it right ever since that time.
This is another island that is known for its fantastic coffee. The island is humongous and the coffee you get from it is crisp and sweet for a brew that is complex on the palate. It’s an interesting coffee choice and one that everyone should try at some point in their coffee drinking life. The best-known variety out of the area is Sumatra Arabica.
One of the top exporters of coffee is New Guinea, which produces beans which are well-balanced but with a distinct fruity finish. There isn’t a lot to share about New Guinea coffee, but it is distinct and interesting to experience. The beans most well known here are form the varieties Tim Tim, Java, Sumatra, Djember, Mandheling Celebes, and Catimor.
The United States isn’t known for its coffee, or at least it wouldn’t be if it weren’t for Hawaii. Some of the best coffee in the world comes from these little islands. Kona coffee is what the island is best known for and it is grown on the Big Island. There are hundreds of farms that grow, and many are family based. The Kona coffee Hawaii is known for has a buttery finish and a medium body.
In Hawaii, the right environment is provided by the active Mauna Loa volcano where you’ll find coffee trees in various slopes. The immature coffee plants are placed in black soil in areas that offer afternoon shade courtesy of the clouds that form over the trees. There are also tons of showers which give the right balance to produce truly quality coffee with a medium body, rich taste, and fantastic aroma.
The Factors That Impact Flavor and Quality of Coffee Around the World
We mentioned that coffee is best grown in certain areas of the world, but there are many other things that affect how the coffee tastes when all is said and done. The soil chemistry, type of coffee plant, amount of rainfall, weather, and altitude are all factors that relate to how the final product tastes when you brew a cup. All of these things along with the way the cherries are processed lead to the various flavors you find in coffee from certain locations. What’s more, because of all these different factors, even two nearby plantations can have largely different taste and quality.
How Coffee Gets from a Farm and Into Your Cup in the Morning
Coffee can come from one of two plants, known as Arabica or Robusta. Arabica is the best known and most sought out of the tow species. It is known for having a rich and deep flavor which most coffee lovers prefer. However, some areas, like Vietnam and some African countries, prefer the earthy flavors that are commonly found with Robusta. That said, Arabica is more than 70% of the world supply, even as more areas are beginning to appreciate Robusta or a blend of the two for an interesting mix of flavors.
The coffee plant itself will look a lot like a shrub but it can grow up to 20 feet tall. If you are familiar with the look of a citrus tree, the coffee plant is quite similar. It has simple white flowers and wide, glossy leaves. The flowers eventually leave to allow for the coffee beans to come around. These beans, also called cherries, are green but ripen to yellow, then orange, and finally red before they are harvested and dried out for consumption.
That is only the start to coffee reaching your cup, however. There are multiple steps in processing that change the cherry into the beans that you grind and put in your coffee maker. The first step is to remove the beans from the plants, which is often done by hand. The plants can be huge and bushy and are grown in clusters, so using mechanical methods is rarer than you might expect. After the beans have been harvested, they are then dried out before they can be milled.
At this point, the coffee will go through either a dry process or wet process. The latter technique uses a substantial amount of water to separate quality beans from bad beans. It also helps to remove the covering that protects the bean inside. Many people prefer to buy beans that are dry produced, though. This is in part because it can be ecologically problematic due to the large amounts of water being polluted by the beans.
For the other process, beans will be laid out on massive cement slabs and the sun dries them out. After the beans are fully dry, they are then milled before being hulled. This process is known for offering richer flavors in the beans themselves, but it also requires more work. If the beans are dried too long, they may become brittle. On the other hand, beans that aren’t dried enough can become moldy.
Following the wet or dry process, the beans are then milled which removes any remaining fruit from the bean. At this point, the beans can be sorted, graded based on size and shape, and shipped out. They will then be roasted to bring out the flavor that is wanted from the beans.
From Roasting to the Grocery Store or Coffeehouse
Coffee beans don’t really become coffee until after being roasted. Sure, the bean has everything it needs to be coffee, but roasting has a huge effect on the flavor you get out of your morning cup of joe. What a roaster is in charge of is ensuring the beans are roasted exactly the right way to bring out the flavor that is already contained within the bean.
There are numerous techniques for roasting coffee beans, but in basic terms, it relies on time and heat. The process is often compared to that of popping popcorn. Why? Because the beans literally pop like a popcorn kernel when they reach the appropriate temperature. If heated high enough and long enough, they can even pop a total of two times. The first time the pop is caused by oxygen and water leaving the bean, while carbon dioxide leaves the bean on a second pop.
Beans are roasted to a certain temperature which can range from 370 to 580 degrees Fahrenheit. The heating process takes the bean from a green color all the way through the various tan hues and into a chocolaty brown. It can almost look a midnight black at the end for the darkest roasts. Of course, if the coffee is roasted for too long, it can also burn up and turn into ash, which is decidedly not what you want to find in your morning mug.
Two types of roasters exist, but each of them may use various machines to roast your coffee beans. The longest lasting method involves using a drum roaster. This just means that the coffee beans go into a cylinder or drum which is placed on its side. A flame, gas, or electricity is applied while the drum rotates to heat up the beans from the underneath. The other method of roasting involves an air roaster, which uses extremely heated air to heat the beans. The actual time that the beans are roasted will depend on the unique recipe.
Once the beans are properly roasted, they will then be cooled down. This can be done using a water misting process or a vacuum system, depending on preference. The beans are packaged after being cooled, often using a foil bag that allows them to degas. At that point, the roaster simply wants to get the coffee to customers as quickly as possible to guarantee the ultimate freshness. The beans will be shipped on to different locations for purchase.
The biggest challenge in roasting is understanding the right amount of time to heat the beans and what level of color works best for the bean. At some point, the actual taste of the bean will largely disappear and be overtaken by the flavor that roasting adds. Dark roasts have more flavor of the roasting process, while lighter roasts have a better balance. The roasting stages are listed below:
- Cinnamon Roast – The color is what leads to this roasting name, which may also be referred to as a pale or New England roast. Beans with a rather mild flavor will typically be roasted to this point to ensure their taste doesn’t become too muddled.
- Light Roast – This roast is also known as an American roast and involves beans that are a medium or light brown in color. Many everyday coffees are light roasted to provide a sweet, rich flavor for those who prefer it.
- City Roast – This is also known as a medium roast and the bean will be a medium brown when all is said and done. The bean will also have a slight oiliness to it. This is another commonly used roast that leaves much of the original flavor of the bean.
- Full City Roast – This is roasted a bit longer than a city roast and has more oil on the outside of the bean. It has a hearty taste with notes of chocolate, but sweetness and acidity are less noticeable.
- Vienna Roast – This is the first of the dark roasts out there and sometimes is considered the same as a French roast. The bean will be a dark brown and shiny in appearance with a fairly oily texture. This is the roasting option commonly used with expresso and while there are hints of the bean flavor there, the roasting process claims most of the flavor.
- French Roast – This is going to be a bean that is a very dark brown. You can expect the taste to be smoky or even slightly burnt and the bean will have very little acidity. This is the second of the most popular roasts that espresso makers use.
- Italian Roast – At this point, the bean will be nearly black, and it will be extremely brittle. There is little of the bean flavor remaining at all. Because of this, even the lowest quality beans can be used as the flavor comes from the roast itself.
- Spanish Roast – This roast type can also be called Neapolitan or Dark French roast. The beans are nearly indistinguishable from black. The beans will have a significant coating of oil and smell strongly of charcoal and smoke.
Coffee beans can come from all over the place, but some locations are certainly better than others. Understanding the pros and cons of every location can give you a better idea of which area to look for to get the coffee you prefer. For instance, you can expect spicy blends of coffee from India and a fruity flavor from coffee that comes from Puerto Rico. It all boils down to your preferences which locations will meet your needs.
It also matters how your coffee is produced in terms of the taste you can expect. Everything from the farming technique to the roasting technique will be huge factors in how your coffee tastes in your cup every morning. It’s important to understand what the different types of roasts are so you can choose the one that fits your taste. Some people love a dark roast with little bean taste left while others might appreciate a light roast that keeps all the nuances of the original bean.
This article has given you a bit of information about all of the countries that are known for producing imported coffee for the United States. If you came across a description that meets what you are looking for in a brew, don’t be afraid to do some research and find a coffee to try from the area. You never know, it might just be your new favorite. Good luck!
1. Where are coffee beans grown in Australia?
Most of the coffee in Australia is grown in north and south ease Queensland as well as in north east New South Wales.
2. What environment does coffee grow in?
Arabica coffee grows best in subtropical regions with an altitude of 1800 to 3600 feet. The location should also have properly defined dry and rainy seasons.
3. Which country is a major importer of coffee from India?
Indian coffee is imported to nearly 50 different country, but about 50% of the crop is imported to Europe. Italy brings in the largest amount followed by Germany, Belgium, and Turkey.
4. What type of soil is best for growing coffee?
While coffee can be grown in all sorts of soil, the absolute best would have to be deep sandy loam or volcanic red earth. The soil should also be a well-draining sort.
5. How big do coffee plants get?
Tropical coffee grown as bushes or trees can reach an average height of about 10 to 11.5 feet.
6. What temperature does coffee need to grow?
For Arabica coffee, the optimal temperature range is between 64- and 70-degrees Fahrenheit.
7. How far apart should coffee trees be planted?
In most cases, you will see coffee planted in rows like other crops. It is typically planted in rows that are 2 meters apart with each plant in the row around 1.5 meters from the others in the row.
8. Where does Italy import coffee from?
The two largest regions that import coffee to Italy are Vietnam and Brazil, but other countries like Ethiopia, Dominican Republic, Indonesia, Congo, Uganda, and Madagascar also import coffee to the country.
9. How many years can a coffee tree yield fruit for?
On average, a coffee tree will grow fruit for about 50 or 60 years after becoming mature. Some trees have provided coffee for up to 100 years.
10. What is sun coffee?
Sun coffee is grown in full sun, rather than being grown underneath a forest canopy, which is the traditional method.
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