A Guide to the World's Coffee Regions (Slideshow)
September 10, 2013
Where your coffee comes from, and the different tastes of the various regions
The coffee-growing regions in Central America include not just Colombia, but also Costa Rica, Guatemala, Ecuador, and Honduras, and Nicaragua. (Did you catch all that?) The coffee-growing plots center on the mountains that stretch from Mexico to Panama, which makes for some interesting coffee tastes. Central American coffees have a diverse range of flavors thanks to differing altitudes, from sea-level to high altitude. But most everyone agrees that Central American coffees are the "everyman" coffee (no pun intended, Everyman Espresso). Coffees from Central America have just the right amount of acidity to balance honey, caramel, milk chocolate, and toasted nut flavors. There’s a touch of sweetness, but the acidity makes these coffees anything but boring.
Most people think South American coffees equal Colombian coffee, but in fact, Brazil is the largest coffee-producing country. While Brazilian coffee hasn’t always had a good reputation, Brazil has quickly made its way up in the coffee rankings. Brazilian coffee is known for its creamy body and low acidity, and some chocolate and caramel notes. Colombia earned its reputation for high-quality beans long ago, thanks to its tropical temperatures and high altitude. Colombian coffees are between low and medium acidity and body, similar to coffee from its northern neighbors in Central America. Other coffee-producing countries in South America include Venezuela and Peru.
Ethiopia is the home of the Arabica tree, so it should be no surprise that the country is one of the leaders when it comes to high-quality coffee beans. What to expect from an Ethiopian coffee? Anything bold and full-flavored. Serious Eats notes that coffees from Ethiopia can vary greatly, not only because of the massive variety of the coffees grown there, but how they’re processed as well. The difference between "natural" and "washed" coffees is great; natural coffees can be almost syrupy sweet and cherry-flavored, while washed coffees are lighter on the palate, with jasmine or lemongrass flavors.
Meanwhile, across the continent, Kenya’s coffees are bright, fruity, sometimes tart, and have an acidity that rivals a good wine (really). Those who like a milder acidic coffee may not understand what all the fuss is about, but coffee lovers craving a different kind of cup know what’s up. Tanzanian coffees are an up-and-comer in the coffee scene, because Tanzania is home to the peaberry, a type of coffee bean that’s coveted for its pea shape (making it easier to roast). Uganda is one of the largest producers of robusta coffee, if you’re into that.
The Southeast Asian coffee-producing countries include Vietnam, Papua New Guinea, and Indonesia. Indonesian coffees make up one of the more interesting coffee profiles from around the world; coffees from the Sumatra region have developed a devoted fan base for a meaty, smoky, and earthy-tasting coffee. (It’s better than it sounds.) Southeast Asia is a large producer of robusta beans (up to 30 percent of the world’s coffee supply), but these coffees aren’t beloved by everyone because they're stronger than how most people enjoy their coffee. Still, some of these smaller countries are growing in the ranks, like Papua New Guinea and its washed coffees (originally from Jamaica Blue Mountain) that are syrupy sweet, light in acidity, and have a balanced body.
America and the 'Islands'
Think there's coffee growing in the middle of America? Wrong. America’s only coffee-producing region is found in Hawaii, with growing conditions similar to the other "islands": Jamaica, Puerto Rico, the Galapagos, and even Australia. The most well-known and sought-after coffee from the islands is the Jamaica Blue Mountain variety. The Jamaican Blue Mountain variety is low in acidity, sweet, and silky, making it one of the most popular coffee varieties out there. The Kona variety from Hawaii is just as popular, thanks to a buttery finish, deep aromatics, and medium body.