Coffee 101 – Understanding Coffee Origins

Coffee Origins

Hello Geniuses! Welcome to Coffee 101.

We are going to kick things off in 2015 by talking coffee origins. So let’s get started, shall we?

We as humans inherently tend to associate food and all its facets (e.g. taste, texture, and aroma) with a particular geographic region. When you first experienced a truly great slice of authentic pizza, you’re transported to Italy…the best taco, to Mexico. Coffee is no different.

Much like wine, various coffee cultivating regions across the world are associated with specific characteristics; frequently referred to as terroir. Distinct flavor notes can be attributed to a particular coffee growing continent, country, farm and even geologically different sections of one farm! Could it be that you have a favorite coffee-growing region or country in the world? Let’s go ahead and find out.

Understanding the Bean Belt

First, let’s start by understanding where coffee can actually be grown. Coffee is generally cultivated in regions that fall within the “Bean Belt.” How do you identify the Bean Belt? Really simple; open a world map and look at the regions between the Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn. There is a catch, however, as not all regions within the belt are ideal for coffee cultivation. In order to yield a good crop year after year, coffee trees flourish best in slightly cooler climates (circa 700F), at higher elevation, and where they are nurtured by moderate rain and sunshine.

Coffee Bean Belt


Coffees from Africa – Fruity and Floral

Let’s go back to where it all began…to Ethiopia, the birthplace of coffee. The coffee plant is indigenous to this region, then went on to be transported to and cultivated around the world. While fruity and floral flavor profiles seem to be a constant theme with coffees from this region, coffees from this region can be incredibly diverse. Other coffee-producing nations in Africa include Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, and Tanzania.

African Coffee


Coffees from Asia – Earthy and Spicy

The main coffee-producing regions in Asia are Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, Java, Laos, Sumatra, and New Guinea. Coffees from the Indonesian island regions – including Java, Sumatra, and Sulawesi – are known for their earthy and spicy flavor profiles.

Coffee from Asia


Coffees from South America – Chocolaty, Nutty and Sweet

Since being smuggled into South America, coffee plant has become a leading cash crop in the region; Brazil and Colombia account for nearly a third of the world’s coffee output, combined. Coffees from this region are characterized by their chocolaty, nutty, and sweet flavor profiles. Other coffee-cultivating regions from the mainland include Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru.

South American Coffee


Coffees from Central America – Citrusy, Fruity and Balanced

As coffee spread to Central America, it established in Costa Rica, Guatemala, Panama, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Mexico and Honduras. Though geographically close to South America, Central American coffee regions feature slightly different flavors in a cup. This is due to the difference in terroir and cultivation methods. Coffees from this region are usually citrusy, fruity, and balanced. Coffee is also cultivated in Hawaii, Jamaica, Peurto Rico, and Haiti.

There you have it – a quick tour of the coffee growing regions of the world. These guideposts should help you associate tastes and regions, but do keep in mind that this is just one piece of the puzzle. We are often surprised during our blind cupping sessions when we associate a coffee with a particular region, only to be proven wrong!

That’s about all for today, class. This week’s challenge: Next time you buy a bag of coffee, try to recall what you learned today. Select your bag based on what you now know about region/flavor relationships, and then upon brewing, see if you can taste what we’re talking about!



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