People used to think that not only could your day not begin without breakfast, but it had to begin with a big breakfast, replete with eggs, bacon, and toast, with coffee as an afterthought. These days, people don’t have time for protein and pork, but they will make time for a cup of coffee, with people’s entire work day being thrown into disarray without that first cup ‘o joe. Many people whose lives revolve around this dark and bitter nectar, and you know who you are, probably have a favorite brand of bean, but chances are they don’t know much, if anything, about where their daily liquid lifesaver comes from.
Today, we are talking about where the best coffee in the world comes from – where it’s grown, and what makes each so special. For those of you that need more than just that morning jolt, and would like to learn a bit more about your favorite beans, and possibly discover new types of beans you might like to try, you’ve come to the right place. If you’d like to learn all about coffee, not just where it comes from, then this crash course on coffee will take you from beans to brew.
Who Can Grow Coffee?
Let’s briefly discuss why coffee must grow where it’s grown, also known as the “Bean Belt”, which this site illustrates quite nicely. Over the course of many generations, trial and error have brought coffee growers to a pretty good understanding of what a coffee bean needs not only grow, but also to thrive, and taste (and smell) incredible. Coffee needs warm weather year-round, generous rainfall, and copious amounts of sunshine. The region known as the Bean Belt is bounded to the north by the Tropic of Cancer, and to the south by the Tropic of Capricorn, and extends from Hawaii to Indonesia, across the Americas, Africa, and Euroasia.
Within this region, there are more than 75 coffee-producing countries, each with specific characteristics that give their bean their unique identities. Everything from soil, to rainfall, to sunlight can affect the flavor of coffee beans, but it’s altitude that can make a coffee truly special. While coffee can grow at lower altitudes, there they have a chance to over-ripen, or receive too much moisture, but it’s the beans that are grown at higher elevations that have just a bit more oomph.
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Who’s Grows the Best?
Now that you know in what kind of conditions coffee must be grown in order to thrive, let’s go around the world and discuss each of the regions and countries that not only meet these criteria for a bean bounty, but produce the best ones in the world. If you’re a fan of making crafts, in addition to being a coffee lover, this course on liquid substitutions in soapmaking will help you combine your love of java with your handiness.
North America and the Caribbean
- Hawaii: Though coffee is grown all over the state of Hawaii (the only state that grows it in the U.S.), it’s the coffee from the Kona region of the big island of Hawaii, which shares the region’s name, that is the most famous and in-demand. This coffee, which is quite pricey, is grown on the slopes of the volcanoes Hualalai and Mauna Loa, where the black volcanic soil, and frequent showers, along with just enough cloud coverage from the intense tropical sun, all team up to give this bean a medium bodied, rich, and aromatic flavor.
- Mexico: Most coffee grown in Mexico is concentrated in the southern regions, primarily Veracruz, Oaxaca, and Chiapas, and is grown not on large plantations, but rather by an assortment of over 100,000 smaller coffee farms. Because of the multitude of sources, in Mexico, there is no one way to describe its coffee, though they tend to be rich, nutty, and chocolaty, and on the darker side.
- Jamaica: Jamaica produces Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee, one of the finest in the world (and hard to find in the U.S.), which gains its mild and sweet flavor from the cool air, copious amounts of rainfall, rich soil, and excellent drainage found at the top of one of the highest mountain ranges in the Caribbean. Other coffees found in Jamaica tend to be brightly acidic and nutty, with almost beefy-flavored notes.
- Costa Rica: The coffees from this country have a very good reputation throughout the world, due to the enormous amount of effort and love put into the cultivation of their beans. Coffees from Costa Rica are strictly wet-processed arabicas, which results in a perfectly balanced, medium bodied, and sharply acidic coffee. The flavors of these beans range from sweet and fruity with floral notes, to berry-like, to nutty and chocolaty.
- Guatemala: The volcanic soil of Guatemala, in addition to its microclimates, imbue the beans from this country with depth and complexity, as well as a spicy and chocolaty taste, with a medium-to-full body. The Strictly Hard Bean is grown here, which is a dense and hard bean grown at an altitude of 4500 feet or higher.
- Panama: Producer of the “Holy Grail” of coffee, the Panama Esmerelda, this Central American country brings coffee lovers the world over to its yearly Best of Panama coffee competition. Other coffees of renown from Panama include the sweet Honey Hartmann, as well as those produced by Elida Estate.
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- Brazil: No discussion about coffee would be complete without mentioning Brazil, which is the largest producer of the bean in the entire world. About 80% of the beans produced here are the arabica variety, with the rest being rubusta, and are cultivated using the wet, dry, and semi-washed methods of processing. Though Brazilian coffees are produced in many different regions of the country, they are almost all quite mild, with a sweet taste, medium body, and low acidity.
- Colombia: Perhaps the best-known coffee producer, Colombia maintains a very high standard when it comes to their beans. Like in Mexico, Colombian coffee is grown on many small farms throughout the country, whose rugged landscape makes it a perfect environment for these world class beans, but difficult to transport. The coffees of Colombia tend to be mild, with a well-balanced acidity, with Colombia Supremo, a delicate and aromatic coffee, and Excelso Grade, a softer and more acidic coffee, being the two most sought after types.
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Africa and Middle East
- Ethiopia: Coffee was first discovered in southern Ethiopia, so it’s reasonable to assume that people who have been growing it the longest might make some of the best. Harrar and Yergahcheffe beans are the most famous beans found here, and a typical Ethiopian coffee is sweet, full-flavored, full-bodied, and bold.
- Kenya: Popular here in the U.S., as well as in Europe, coffees from Kenya are grown on the foothills of Mount Kenya, and the processing and drying procedures are strictly controlled and monitored, with its own unique grading system. The coffees produced in Kenya have a bright, almost wine-like taste, with fruity notes and acidity, and a full body and rich aroma.
- Tanzania: Home to the world-famous Peaberry coffee, Tanzania grows its coffee beans at the foot of mighty Mount Kilimanjaro, near Kenya. Coffees from this country tend to be medium-bodied, with a mild acidity, a rich and delicate taste, and wine notes. The Peaberry beans are not only unique in their taste, but are rare because they consist of a whole bean coffee cherry, rather than two half-beans that most coffee fruits bear.
- Yemen: Home to the famous Mocha Java coffee, which blends the Java beans from Indonesia with their own homegrown Mocha, Yemeni is an arid country, which means that coffee beans are a bit smaller than normal, and must be dry processed after harvest, resulting in a distinctively deep and rich flavor.
Asia and Indonesia
- Java: The most notable of the coffee-producing islands of the Indonesian archipelago, Java is so adept at coffee production that one of the nicknames for the beverage comes from this country. Coffee was brought here by the Dutch in the 17th century, and the beans from Java tend to have a heavy body and an overall sweetness to the taste, a long-lasting finish, and a slightly herbaceous after-taste.
- Sumatra: The coffees from this westernmost Indonesian country can be sweet and crisp, with complex flavors. The body is smooth and well-balanced due to the acidity, and contains notes of tobacco, cocoa, smoke, earth, and cedar wood. The most famous type of coffee from Sumatra comes from the northern part of the island, and is called Mandheling, named for the people who produce it.
- India: The coffees of India are similar to those from Indonesia, and are grown mostly on terraced mountainsides. The best coffees from this country come from the regions of Kerala, Karnatka, and Tamilnadu, and are full-bodied and acidic. An unusual type of coffee that is unique to India is the monsoon coffee, in which the unripened beans are left out to be blown around by the heavy winds, which results in less acidity and more sweetness.
So now that you know where some of the tastiest coffee in the world comes from, get out there and grab a bag or two, and take a tour around the world without leaving your sofa or desk at work. If you’re content with freeze-dried instant coffee to get you up in the morning, you may need the information found in this article more than anyone else. Once you try an aromatic, full-bodied coffee grown with love, then you’ll never look at coffee the same way. If you’d like to visit one of these coffee-growing countries in person, but are a bit intimidated by the idea of international travel, this article on what to pack for your overseas trip, and this course on how to travel safely abroad will prepare you for a life-changing coffee tour abroad.