Climates and growing conditions must be just right to grow the best beans in the world. Many generations, through trial and error, have given coffee growers a good understanding of what a coffee bean needs to thrive, and taste incredible. Coffee needs warm weather year-round, generous rainfall, and abundant amounts of sunshine.
Where Is Coffee Grown?
The coffee tree is a tropical evergreen shrub and grows best in what’s known as the “Bean Belt” which is the ideal condition for coffee trees to thrive.
The region known as the Bean Belt extends to the north by the Tropic of Cancer and to the south by the Tropic of Capricorn, and from Hawaii to Indonesia, across the Americas, Africa, and Eurasia; or between latitudes 25 degrees North and 30 degrees South
There are more than 75 coffee-producing countries, each with their own characteristics that give them unique identities. Things like soil, rainfall, and sunlight affect the characteristics of the coffee beans; however, it’s the attitude that can make coffee truly unique. Coffee can grow at lower altitudes but it can over-ripen or receive too much moisture. The beans grown at higher elevations are the ones with just a bit more zing. For example, Arabica grows best at high altitudes in rich soil, while the heartier Robusta thrives at a higher temperature and can do well at lower altitudes.
Many of the top coffee-producing nations are well-known; however, some may come as a surprise. Around 70 countries produce coffee, with the overwhelming majority of the supply coming from developing countries like Brazil, Vietnam, Colombia, Indonesia, and Ethiopia.
Top 5 Coffee Producers in the World
Introduced in the early 18th century by French settlers, it became quite popular among Europeans. Brazil quickly became the world’s largest producer in 1840 and continued since. In 2014, Brazil produced 2.7 million metric tons of coffee, which was 30% of the world’s production. Over 300,000 plantations extend over more than 10,000 square miles of the Brazilian countryside. Brazilian production continues to be the driving force for the country’s economy.
Second, only to Brazil, being relatively new to the international coffee trade, Vietnam has quickly become one of the largest producers. In the 1980s, the Communist Party bet the future of the nation on coffee. Coffee production increased 20 to 30% each year in the 1990s, totally transforming the nation’s economy. In 2014, Vietnam produced 1.65 million metric tons of coffee.
The National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia created the fictional coffee farmer named Juan Valdez to help brand Colombia as one of the most famous coffee-producing nations. Colombia is renowned for its quality coffee and produced 696,000 metric tons in 2014. However, some think Colombian coffee production may have been negatively impacted by the fluctuations in climate. Temperatures and precipitation amounts have increased from 1980 to 2010. Yet, Colombia is still the highest-producing nation of arabica beans.
Not nearly as well-known, Indonesia’s perfect location and climate helped it become the second-largest exporter of robusta beans in the world. The Indonesian coffee industry is made up of 1.5 million independent small farms and only a few large-scale operations. It produced 411,000 metric tons of coffee in 2014.
Indonesia produces several types of highly sought-after specialty coffees. Kopi Luwak is harvested from the feces of Asian palm civets giving the beans a distinctive and unique flavor. This intensive process of collecting and harvesting the beans results in one of the most expensive coffee beans in the world.
According to legend, a goat herder took notice of the plant when he realized the energizing effect it had on his herd. And the rest was history as the very first arabica coffee plant was found there in the ninth century.
Coffee played an integral role in the development of the Ethiopian economy. Ethiopia’s 1.2 million smallholder farmers contribute over 90% of production, and an estimated 15 million Ethiopians depend on the industry for their living. As the largest coffee producer in Africa, it produced 390,000 metric tons of coffee in 2014.
It’s estimated that 3.5 billion cups of coffee are enjoyed worldwide every day. Many people, whose lives revolve around the love of this dark and delicious brew, probably have a favorite brand of bean, but chances are where their daily cup-o-joe comes from is a mystery. Today, we are diving into where the best coffee in the world comes from and what makes it so special. Here, you can learn more about your favorite regions and beans, and possibly discover new areas you might like to try.
Who Grows the Best?
TOP 15 COFFEE-GROWING COUNTRIES IN THE WORLD
So, which countries shell out the best beans? With the many variables, naming the best countries is not an easy task. Naturally a personal bias in taste, education, and life experience influence a person’s favorite.
Going around the world, here’s each of the regions and countries that produce the best beans in the world.
North America and the Caribbean
Hawaii: Different coffee varieties are grown all over the state; however, it’s the coffee from the Kona region on the big island that’s the most famous. Grown on the slopes of the volcanoes in black volcanic soil, Hualalai and Mauna Loa, this extraordinary coffee is pricey and in-demand. Known for its buttery finish, medium body, and deep aromatics its grown in the perfect conditions of frequent showers and just enough cloud coverage from the intense tropical sun.
Mexico: Over 100,000 smaller coffee farms contribute to the coffee production making it one of the largest coffee-producing countries concentrated in the southern regions, primarily Veracruz, Oaxaca, and Chiapas. With so many plantations and locations there’s a lot of variability in varieties; however they lean on the side of rich, nutty, chocolaty, and on the darker side.
Jamaica: Jamaica produces Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee, one of the world’s most sought after specialty coffees. Exports are highly regulated and certified only through their Government which makes it hard to find in the U.S. This high altitude bean is known for its mild and sweet flavor from the cool air, bountiful 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 brilliantly acidic and nutty, with almost beefy-flavored notes.
Costa Rica: Coffees from Costa Rica have a good reputation throughout the world from the enormous amount of effort put into the cultivation of their beans. Coffees 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 with floral notes, to berry undertones to nutty and chocolaty.
Guatemala: Guatemalan rich volcanic soil plus its microclimates give the beans from this country depth and complexity, as well as a spicy and chocolaty taste, with a medium-to-full body. Grown at high altitudes of 4500 feet or higher is the Strictly Hard Bean, known as a dense and hard bean.
Panama: The many microclimates along with high altitude, rich volcanic soil, just enough moisture and sunshine make Panama’s countryside an ideal coffee producing environment. Producer of the “Holy Grail” of coffee- Panama Esmerelda and the most expensive coffee- Panama Geisha, this Central American country brings coffee lovers 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.
Brazil: As the largest producer of the bean in the entire world, Brazil contributes about a third of all coffee. 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. Brazilian coffees are produced in many different regions but they are almost all quite mild, medium body, and low acidity with nice bittersweet chocolate tastes.
Colombia: As the third highest producer and probably the best-known coffee producer, Colombia maintains a high standard when it comes to their beans. Coffee is grown on many small farms throughout the country, whose rugged landscape makes it a perfect environment for these world class beans, but complicated 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.
Africa and Middle East
Ethiopia: The mother land of the coffee plant. Coffee was first discovered in southern Ethiopia. The flavors differ according to how the bean is processed as it comes both natural and washed. Natural beans have the fruity and wine-like tastes while the washed tend to be floral and tea-like. 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: Coffee from Kenya is grown on the foothills of Mount Kenya often by small farmers. The processing and drying procedures are strictly controlled and monitored. Processing and drying procedures are graded with their unique system such as Kenyan AA is the largest bean while AA+ means it was estate grown. The coffees produced in Kenya have a bright, wine-like taste, with fruity notes and acidity, and a full body and rich aroma.
Tanzania: Ninety percent of the coffee grown here comes from smallholder and the rest from plantations. 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. Home to the world-famous Peaberry coffee, these beans are not only unique in their taste but are rare because they’re a whole-bean coffee cherry, rather than two half-beans like most coffee fruits bear.
Yemen: Most coffee roots lead back to Yemeni coffee. Very distinct in flavor and home of the famous Mocha Java coffee, Yemeni coffee boasts citrus and cocoa notes. Blending the Java beans from Indonesia with their own homegrown Mocha gives way to the well know mocha java. 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, which was so successful the name has become synonymous. Java beans 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 large island in western Indonesian can be sweet and crisp, with complex flavors with some describing as maple syrup to chocolate to toasted almonds. 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, Karnataka, 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.
This short tour of coffee regions may be introduced new regions and sparked an interest in trying new flavors. So take a tour around the world without leaving your sofa by ordering from the menu of the world’s best coffees.
Coffees come in many different types; their worth comes from where the beans are grown, the size of the beans, their texture, and the way they are processed and roasted. Once they reach the open marketplace beans can be blended with coffee beans from other places to produce unique and exquisite aromas and tastes that mark each brand as unique. The cost of beans to the roasters is based on exactly where the coffee is grown.
Specialty coffee was born when roasters made consumers aware of the value, quality, and image of the location and quality of the coffee bean blends. The purpose was to market coffee to every person with distinct and rich flavors, including flavored coffees for the “soft drink generation.” Coffee for everyone. The flavor aficionados, the penny-pinchers, people on-the-go, and most definitely the senior population who were already big coffee drinkers and strong supports. Coffee was meant to infiltrate every aspect of life, and because of the response of the growers and retailers, it did. Smaller roasting companies and boutique brands found their own little niche, and the consumers that complained about paying just $3/lb for tasteless nasty coffee were more than willing to purchase specialty coffees for a higher price.
The birth of specialty coffees was taken up by small roasters, as they were seen by the specialty coffee crowd as boutique brands and not mass producers. It was felt that these smaller companies had a close relationship to the coffees and the coffee bean growers of the coffee they were trying to sell. These smaller producers were portrayed to have a more flavorful coffee experience. Many roasters dressed up less than impressive and flavorful coffees with fancy names. Other small roasters were able to establish a brand through their special blends of coffee, and the more aggressive of these companies, such as Starbucks were able to expand globally.
Coffees then became more personal, and more accessible. The group that the coffee marketers feared it had lost, the 20 somethings, had been brought back because of the specialty coffee market. People began to drink coffee because of its social appeal: a taste for everyone, a style for every lifestyle—we have been brainwashed to think it makes us cool to socialize over coffee and to look for a boost in energy and productivity from drinking coffee.
Most employers have a coffeemaker in the workplace. Sure, it may just make instant coffee, but it still provides you with a cup of caffeine when you need it. What about when you are at home, we have some way to make coffee. And how far away are the nearest coffee houses? Even if they are franchises or major chains, we’re surrounded by coffee drinks and caffeine. Why? We live in a society that demands productivity all the time, and if you live in a large urban center like Los Angeles, there is a demand for lots of productivity at all hours.
Our time is managed; it is not our own. 75% of adults over the age of 65 consider themselves morning people, and only 10% of those under age 65 feel that they can put in this category. Individuals over the age of 65 seem to perform better on tests of memory and concentration in the morning, while individuals under the age of 65 seem to perform better on these types of tests in the afternoon. This may be in part related to inconsistent sleep patterns over the course of the individual’s life and our accommodation of routines, but this phenomenon is not well understood.
Enter coffee, caffeine is perhaps the most widely used stimulant in our general population. It helps us get through those rough periods when we need productivity. Caffeine makes us feel alert, energetic and attentive. It is a highly lipid soluble, so it tends to cross from the bloodstream into the brain quickly and we feel its effects relatively quickly. In animals, caffeine has shown that it reaches peak accumulations in the brain within minutes of ingestion. And it hangs around in the brain, stimulating the regions that control sleep, mood, energy, and concentration, slowly going away over three to four hours, which is plenty of time for you to get through your morning tasks, survive the office meeting, handle phone calls, and then get ready for lunch. Coffee has become our number one go to to get through our daily routines.