The Geography of Coffee

I wake up every morning and join millions of people around the world by starting my day with coffee. Some folks drink coffee to get a jump start on their day. Others linger over a cup or two in a café or at home. Because coffee is a daily routine, many may be blissfully unaware of where there coffee comes from.

For a long time, I was that guy. I used to think that coffee was just that – coffee.  I brewed a pot at home or grabbed a cup anywhere I could.  I’ll even admit to settling for really bad coffee from places like the gas station!  But, having discovered that really good coffee is as different from regular coffee as fine wine is to the cheap stuff, I began to enjoy sampling coffees from many regions around the world.  In the process, I discovered that coffee is as varied in aroma, flavor and nuance as the best wines.  That revelation made me want to learn more.

Geography is a flavor

That phrase was a marketing slogan used by Starbucks to educate consumers about the differences in coffees that are grown in various regions of the globe. And they are right.  Each region where coffee is grown has distinctive flavor characteristics.  We’ll look at some of those a little further on, but let’s first define the areas of the planet where coffee grows best. It’s a narrow band between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn known as the Bean Belt.

These are the choicest growing areas because the best beans produced are those grown at high altitudes, in a moist, tropical climate, with rich soils and temperatures around 70°F (21°C) -- all of which the tropics have to offer.

This Bean Belt is composed of three primary regions:

  • Central and South America
  • Africa and the Middle East
  • Southeast Asia

Central and South America

Central and South America produce the most coffee out of the three growing locations, with Brazil and Colombia leading the way. Mexico, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama also play a role here. In terms of flavor, these coffees are considered mild, medium bodied, and aromatic.

Colombia is the most well-known coffee producing country in this region and is unique because of its exceptionally rugged terrain. Remember the fictional character Juan Valdez and his burro? This landscape allows small family farms to produce the coffee and, as a result, it is consistently ranked well.

Africa and the Middle East

The most famous coffees from Africa and the Middle East originate in Kenya and the Arabian Peninsula. Kenyan coffee is generally grown in the foothills of Mount Kenya and is full bodied and very fragrant, while the Arabian version tends to have a fruity flavor.

Ethiopia is also a famous place for coffee in this region and is where coffee originated around 800 AD. Even today, though, coffee is harvested there off of wild coffee trees. It mainly comes from Sidamo, Harer, or Kaffa -- the three growing regions within the country. Ethiopian coffee is both full flavored and full bodied.

Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia is particularly popular for coffees from Indonesia and Vietnam. The Indonesian islands of Sumatra, Java, and Sulawesi are famous around the world for their rich, full-bodied coffees with "earthy flavors," whereas Vietnamese coffee is known for its medium bodied light flavor.

I was amazed at what I didn’t know about coffee.  Discovering these flavor variations has made me appreciate that cup of coffee so much more and those that are involved in it's production.

Here at Arnold’s Coffee, we only sell ethically sourced coffees that support sustainable processes.  We hope articles like this will prompt you to try the different coffees of the world and appreciate your coffee even more.  Comment and tell us what you think.


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