An estimated 3.6 billion cups of coffee are consumed all over the world every single day. That is something you should think about while sifting through your unroasted coffee beans anticipating the first cup of coffee in the morning.
That is an awful lot of coffee. Just where does it all come from?
Coffee needs to grow in ideal conditions, it’s something you can’t just toss in a garden and water every other day. The coffee tree is a tropical evergreen shrub that grows best in tropical environments. Roughly 70 nations produce coffee, with Brazil, Colombia, Ethiopia and Indonesia leading the pack.
What Impacts the Flavor of Coffee
The variety of the plant is a good place to start. But then you must also consider the chemistry of the soil, weather conditions and even the altitude at which the coffee grows comes into play when considering flavor
You must also consider how the coffee beans are picked and processed as these are also factors that contribute to flavor.
Of course, what you do with your coffee beans when you buy them is also a huge factor in flavor. Everything from the way you grind your coffee to the water you use and the way in which you brew your coffee all contribute to its unique flavor.
Let’s take a look at where your coffee is grown.
Coffee farms can be found throughout the Hawaiian islands. Kona coffee from the large island of Hawaii is well known and always in high demand. The climate in Hawaii is perfect for growing coffee beans along the slopes of the active Mauna Loa volcano.
Young coffee trees are planted in the volcanic soil under a canopy of trees that protect the plants from the intense afternoon sun. Kona Coffee is a carefully processed coffee that produces a rich and aromatic cup of medium body.
Brazil is not only the world’s largest producer of coffee, it is also the most complex. As it turns out, coffee from Brazil ranks from the cheapest to the most elegant and prized. Fruit is removed from the bean using four different processes, and in many cases, all four are used on the same farm during the same harvest.
Growing ranges in Brazil vary between 2,000 feet and 4,000 feet, which is quite a bit lower than the much higher growing elevations you see in East Africa, Columbia and Central America.
Coffee first came to Brazil in the 18th century and has been a dominant producer since the 1840s. Due to the sheer amount of coffee output, it is almost impossible to narrow down one specific description of the taste.
It is widely believed that coffee grows best between elevations of 4,000 and 6,000 feet and in frost free places that get at least 80 inches of rain a year. It is also believed that coffee grows best in volcanic soil. This makes Columbia the perfect place to grow coffee.
Coffee originated in Ethiopia. Legend has it that Jesuit missionaries first brought coffee to Columbia in the mid 18th century. Coffee was first exported from Columbia is 1835 and by 1860, it was the top export.
There are currently well over 500,000 individual coffee producers in Columbia which consist mostly of small farms. And almost all the coffee beans grown in Columbia are sold to the National Federation of Coffee Growers, which is well-known for their fictional spokesperson Juan Valdez.
Ethiopia is the birthplace of coffee and it has been grown here for centuries. Coffee plays such a heavy role in Ethiopian culture that it appears in many expressions dealing with food, life and interpersonal relationships.
Ethiopia accounts for about three percent of the global coffee market and it makes up for about 40 percent of the country’s foreign export earnings.
There are over 1,000 variations of coffee in Ethiopia. This is a staggering number considering the second closest country in terms of variation is Columbia, which has about 30 known varieties. Even more impressive is the fact there are still thousands of coffee varieties in Ethiopia that have yet to be identified.
Most of the coffee beans in Kenya are grown at 2,000 meters above sea level in the volcanic soil of the snow-capped Mount Kenya. Most coffee that comes from Kenya is grown on small farms, yet the entire industry employs about six million people all across the country.
Each region that grows coffee beans produces its own unique taste, but overall, Kenyan coffee can best be described as full-bodied with a bold taste. Many varieties of Kenyan coffee have a noticeably fruity aroma and a bright flavor.
It is these characteristics that make Kenyan coffee a pleasant choice for coffee drinkers.
Vietnam is the world’s second-largest coffee producer behind Brazil and beats out Columbia by a rather large margin.
Coffee was introduced to Vietnam by French colonists sometime in the 19th century and has grown rapidly to become the second most exported commodity in the country.
Coffee production in Vietnam is made up of mostly Robusta beans, which are more bitter, rough in texture and stronger in taste than their Arabica counterpart. Coffee beans from Vietnam produce coffee that is quite strong with a smoky taste. The aroma hits your nasal passage and you know you are going to be in for a treat. The delicious liquid seduces your tongue and leaves you gasping for more.
The best farm-to-cup Indonesian coffees come from three regions: Java, Sumatra and Sulawesi. Of these three regions, the most productive and noted coffee comes from Java.
Coffee was introduced to Indonesia by the Dutch East India Company while the country was still occupied by the Dutch. The goal was to grow coffee here and break the worldwide monopoly Arab coffee held at the time.
Indonesian coffees tend to have a dark and bold flavor with prominent earthiness. Often, they have a finish that is long-lasting and feels unsweetened.
Costa Rica is the only country in the world where it is actually illegal to produce any other coffee than 100 percent Arabica. Arabica has long been labeled as the highest quality coffee bean. Costa Rica passed a law in 1989 prohibiting the planting and harvesting of low quality coffee beans. This was to encourage farmers to pursue excellence in coffee.
The first coffee crops were brought to Costa Rica in the late 18th century via Ethiopia. The Costa Rican government quickly recognized the potential of a coffee crop and offered free land to any brave farmers who showed an interest in coffee farming.
By 1930, coffee became the most important source of revenue for the country, surpassing cacao, tobacco and sugar.
Located in Central America, just south of Mexico and north of El Salvador and Honduras lies Guatemala, a small country with a population of 9 million. It is known worldwide for its high-quality coffee. Which is of no surprise as they are second in the world in high-grade coffee production.
In the 19th century, the invention of chemical dyes all but killed the export market for Guatemalan cochineal and indigo. It was after this collapse that coffee was developed as an export crop to help support the country and government.
Guatemalan coffees tend to have a medium or full body with rich flavor. But the quality and taste also depend on the region.
It may not be as famous for coffee as its Columbian cousin, but Puerto Rico has enjoyed a long association with high-quality coffees. This is because the rich volcanic soil, climate and altitude are perfect conditions for high-quality coffee beans.
The coffee bean came to this island in the 18th century during the Spanish colonial rule and was predominantly consumed locally. It wasn’t until the late 19th century that coffee becomes Puerto Rico’s principal export.
Coffee from Puerto Rico is best described as full-bodied, balanced and gentle.
The smallest Central American country, about the same size as New Jersey, El Salvador is known as “the land of volcanoes.” Yet, it holds a reputation for producing coffee beans with huge flavor. Coffee was first planted and cultivated here beginning in the mid-1700s and has become a significant and stable crop since then.
The flavor of El Salvadorian coffee is mild, medium body with sharp acidity and good balance. It also has just a hint of sweetness. Coffee from El Salvador tends to be gentler and milder than other parts of the region. The subtlety of El Salvadorian coffee will draw you in and it will pique your interest.
In the past, political instability affected the ability of El Salvador to produce quality coffee on a consistent basis. But in recent years, El Salvador has gained a reputation for the ability to produce some of the best coffee in the world.
Coffee beans grown in Honduras, which borders Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua, have taste notes describing them as full-bodied with a sweet and mild taste. Historically, much of the coffee beans in Honduras was fairly unremarkable and often just used as a base in coffee blends. But that has changed in recent years. Honduras coffee beans have emerged as a force of its own and are highly sought after by coffee connoisseurs worldwide.
Coffee beans in Honduras run the range from bright and vibrant to soft and nutty. The finest Honduras coffee beans are sweet and mild so they make an excellent cup of coffee. The dark rich soil of the rainforest is loaded with nutrients from the decay below, so it isn’t necessary to fertilize to grow great coffee beans.
Among the coffee-growing nations in the world, Nicaragua stands tall and proud. With a wonderfully pleasant and well-balanced profile, the coffee of Nicaragua is complex in flavor and high in quality. With a good climate, it was inevitable that this nation was bound for coffee success.
With a medium to smooth body and a mild but distinct acidity, Nicaraguan coffees are rich with subtle flavors and balanced sweetness.
The coffees of Nicaragua are characteristic of other Central American coffees, though typically are milder in acidity. Nicaragua is home to some of the lowest growing elevations among its neighbors.
Peru began growing coffee pretty early, around the mid-1700s. Though production of coffee beans steadily increased through the 1700s and 1800s, not many of the beans were exported. And very few of them ever made it to the United States.
However, Asia’s coffee industry was all but destroyed by disease in the late nineteenth century, forcing European coffee buyers to seek other producers to satisfy Europeans’ insatiable desire for coffee. Lucky for them, they found Peru.
Generally speaking, Peruvian coffee beans offer a mildly-acidic coffee that is light-bodied and aromatic. The best coffee beans grown in Peru are subtly exceptional, offering a light and levitating taste with vanilla-nut-toned sweetness.
Sumatra is one of the first places coffee was grown on a large scale, and its coffee is legendary.
It’s a coffee bean that packs a punch to be sure. Coffee beans from Sumatra have depth, body and a unique earthy flavor to them. Sumatran coffees are well renowned worldwide for providing a rich and satisfying flavor. But watch out, this can be overwhelming for those who are uninitiated.
Coffee beans in Sumatra are typically grown on small farms by families with as few as 100 trees. Coffees in Sumatra are traditionally processed using a method called Giling Basah, or wet-hulling, which results in a spicy and wild flavor.
People who drink Sumatran coffee enjoy what they say are a smoother and full-bodied flavor.
When the words Bali and coffee are spoken in the same sentence, many coffee enthusiasts think about coffee Luwak. Coffee Luwak has an entirely different process than normal Bali coffee. The fruits are eaten by a civet, a wild animal that looks somewhat like a domestic cat. The coffee beans actually stay intact throughout the digestive process and come out whole. Coffee made from this process can cost as much as $50 a cup.
Most of Bali’s coffee is grown by small farms. Balinese coffee is known worldwide for its delicious aroma and rich taste. Coffee from Bali holds notes of vanilla, clove and dried red apple, a hidden jewel that will leave you wanting more.
Mexico is one of the largest coffee-producing countries in the world. In fact, they account for 60% of world production. The vast majority of coffee beans grown in Mexico comes from small farms; close to half a million farms rely on their coffee crop for economic survival.
Mexican coffee conveys light to medium body with mild acidity and delicate fruit and spice overtones. But Mexico is a big country and flavor varies depending on location.
For example, coffee from the Chiapas region is grown in the shape and naturally cultivated, It has a chocolaty body with hints of peach and berry.
It wasn’t all that long ago that Ugandan specialty coffee was almost unheard of. But the times are changing. Uganda is an excellent location for coffee growing as the country boasts richly fertile land with volcanic soil to the east and west and plenty of rainfall.
Most coffee grown in Uganda is Robusta and has been a part of Ugandan life for centuries. This coffee features fruit tones and a hint of spice. It has a nice balance and makes for a great cup of coffee.
Burundi is the heart of Africa. It is called this because its outline is heart-shaped and it is centrally located on the African continent. And in many ways, coffee is the heart of Burundi.
Large parts of Burundi have excellent conditions for growing coffee. The soil is perfect and the climate is favorable. Burundi coffees are emerging into the market as a selection of fresh-tasting, high-quality coffees similar to the coffees from Rwanda.
Burundi coffee profiles are dynamic and bright, with red fruits including berries and citrus and with a lingering sweetness through the finish. Just don’t make your coffee too dark, or you will completely overpower the fruity notes.
Typically, the lower altitudes will produce a coffee more chocolatey, with some hints of nut as well. Burundi takes great pride in the coffee they grow and you can expect a high-quality bean at every level.
The coffee of Nepal can be best described as rustic in the cup with mild acidity. In some regions, it is noted that the coffee is high in fruit flavors with a woody aroma.
Coffee farming in Nepal shows tremendous promise as the soil and climate of the Himalayas is ideal. Up until about 20 years ago, coffee producers in Nepal weren’t sure if coffee could be a main source of income. But since 2000, the market demand for Nepalese coffee has increased dramatically.
Rwanda coffee is delicate tasting, with a pleasant caramelly aroma and hints of citrus. The flavors are delicately balanced to create a complex and unusual coffee flavor. Rwandan coffee is more balanced compared to other African coffee beans.
Coffee isn’t native to Rwanda, it was brought to the country by German missionaries in the early twentieth century. From that point, it has grown to represent economic opportunities for many rural families.
Despite being one of the top 30 coffee-producing countries in the world, you tend to hear very little about Rwanda coffee. This could be because they are relatively new to the specialty coffee scene. Nevertheless, the soil and climate conditions are ideal for high-quality coffee growth.
Sulawesi Toraja is grown in the Toraja region in the south-eastern highlands of Sulawesi, an Indonesian island east of Borneo. This area is very mountainous and the coffee is grown at high altitudes. While much of Sumatran coffee is grown at altitudes around 2,500 feet, Sulawesi Toraja is grown as high as 6,000 feet.
The area is humid with just the right amount of rainfall needed for excellent growing conditions. In all likelihood, the Sulawesi coffee you are drinking came from a small, family-owned farm.
Sulawesi beans are light-bodied with low acidity, which gives it a creamy texture and flavor.
Coffee beans were first brought to Tanzania from Ethiopia is the 16th century. Up until the 19th century, coffee was mainly used as a stimulate and it was grown under strict guidance from tribal leaders. That all changed when Tanzania was colonized.
Things have changed greatly as coffee is now the top export crop in Tanzania and accounts for over 3% of the country’s exports.
Tanzanian coffee is known for its high acidity and intense brightness. The coffee is medium-bodied and you will enjoy a rich, chocolate flavor with a soft, sweet finish.