Finding Your Perfect Coffee Through Origins
Our value systems are unusual. It’s a consequence of how different we are as people. All of us have different preferences in the things we choose to surround ourselves with. Coffee is no different. Yet so many of us have only been privy to the tail end of coffee, and it makes our tendencies grossly misinformed. The coffee we know is a generic product that’s personalized through sweeteners & flavoring agents instead of celebrating the variety of natural flavors in the bean. Importance was never given to quality because doing so would make it harder to drive volume.
All retail coffee looks the same with no information to distinguish one from the other. Ironically, this makes sense since they all taste the same too. At Bunafr, we love the fact that people have started to recognize the lack of transparency and have begun their journey into the world of specialty coffee. We’ve been there. We know the challenge, and we’d like to be the Yoda to your Luke. The single decision that makes the most difference to the quality of your coffee is home coffee roasting. You’d be getting raw green coffee beans straight from a farmer, importer, or green coffee retailer to roasting them yourself. For a guide on how to roast at home, learn more here.
What’s the right green coffee for you? How does each one taste? Why do they taste different? Are all questions you might have, and you’d be right to ask them. If you’re looking for answers, you’re in the right place. This is a guide on how to pick the right single-origin green coffee for your preferences, regardless of how experienced you are. Here’s the full story.
Coffee thrives in the right environment. Sufficient rainfall, consistent temperatures (between 70 & 85°F) to name a few. And the bean belt is where all of these conditions are met. The belt spans a colossal 3200 miles covering over 50 countries as it stretches across the world. It passes through Africa, Asia, and the Americas among other places. Although inconclusive, looking at coffee’s origins should give you a general idea of the flavor profile. For a deeper understanding of what happens during the growth of a coffee plant, click here.
Africa is often regarded as the birthplace of coffee. The history of coffee in Ethiopia has been recorded as early as the 11th century and during this period, the coffee fruit was often consumed as a snack. Today, it’s among their primary exports. Coffees from Africa are often fruity and floral, with berry and citrus undertones. They’re known to have higher levels of acidity resulting in a refreshing, light-bodied cup of coffee. Different regions in Africa are known to have their own farming techniques, varietals, and processing methods, creating a wide range of choices for a coffee connoisseur.
Smack dab in the middle of Africa lies this tiny country that’s barely large enough to have dedicated coffee plantations, and as a result, the whole country plays that role. It’s grown wherever favorable. When coffee arrived in Burundi as a result of colonial rule in the 1920s, it was thoroughly controlled. But when they gained their independence, production was privatized. Some of the best coffees from Burundi are known for their juicy qualities with fruit & berry flavors.
Coffee from this region is heavily favored around the world and considered the perfect starter coffee because of the notably diverse indigenous varieties. With coffee ceremonies as an integral part of their culture, the country has a love for coffee that’s downright contagious, and we’re all the better for it. Different production systems like plantations, gardens, and forests create unique flavors within the bean and are celebrated for their differences. While coffee from Ethiopia can be incredibly different from each other, they’re recognized for the incredibly evident fruity, floral, citrus, and tropical flavors. The cup is undeniably elegant, complex, and delicious.
As Ethiopia’s neighbor, many would surmise that coffee made its way to Kenya soon after its discovery in Ethiopia. But against all logic, the earliest documented coffee yield was in 1896. Having been under British colonial rule like most of its neighbors, most of the produced coffee was sold in London, and control was regained in 1933 after the Coffee Act was passed. The delightfully acidic coffee complements the bright, sweet, and complex berry/fruit qualities that are found in many other African coffees.
Right above Burundi lies Rwanda. Being about the same size as Burundi, most of the country is covered in coffee farms. The geographical coincidence comes with similarities in the terrain and some associated afflictions. A certain defect is sometimes found in the beans from these two regions, and while it doesn’t influence the bean’s toxicity, it does harm the flavor. It’s not very common, but research on its eradication is already underway. Coffee cherries with broken outer skins are more likely to be tainted, and they can be separated during processing. Thanks to which their coffee enjoys widespread love for a fresh and fruity cup with red apple & red grape undertones.
For merchants or travelers moving from Ethiopia to Tanzania, going through Kenya was the quickest way to do so. But strangely enough, coffee from Ethiopia made its way to Tanzania centuries before Kenya. Coffee from this region is complex, bright, and acidic with a characteristic berry/fruit flavor.
The Goliath nation of Congo neighbors the David of Burundi and Rwanda. However, coffee production does not scale the same. Today, Congo is considered a rising star in the world of specialty coffee and is on a road that’s paved with numerous challenges. Hopes are high though because people are enchanted by the sweet, fruity, and delightfully full-bodied coffee from this region.
The Americas are the world’s largest supplier of coffee and Brazil alone is responsible for more than half of this massive industry. While the Americas drive immense volume, they also produce some of the most specialized coffee in the world with a focus on sustainability and revolutionary farming techniques. Coffee from the Americas can be broadly classified into two categories; Central American and South American. Coffee from Central America is often regarded as more traditional and is characterized by nutty & chocolatey flavors. The lower levels of acidity pair perfectly with the mellow undertones of toffee and brown sugar. South American coffees tend to vary in body and texture with chocolate and mild fruit notes. That being said, extensive research on growing and processing methods has enabled many farms in Central and South America to recreate some of the flavors from African coffee.
Brazil is the fifth largest country in the world and the largest in South America. As the world’s biggest coffee supplier for the past 150 years, the Brazilian harvest meets a third of the world’s coffee demand. This seems high but compared to its past market share of 80%, these feel like rookie numbers. In the 1820s, coffee production in Brazil boomed and the slave-driven coffee plantations were scaled further to meet the rising demand. Until the abolishment of slavery in 1888, production kept persisting on the upward trend. During this period and into the 19th century, Brazil dominated world markets and decided the price, supply, and fate of coffee everywhere. To this day, the coffee of this region is loved for its nutty and chocolatey flavors while balancing out the low acidity with a heavy body.
Among the few different exports that Colombia is known for, coffee is one of them. We’ve all have heard of Colombian coffee, and that’s because of their early marketing efforts. To this day, 100% Colombian coffee stands apart as a brand. The variety of terrains and well-defined regions for growing coffee create an ideal environment and establishment to produce coffee that has a spectrum of flavors; from a chocolatey, nutty, heavy-bodied cup with low acidity to a fruity, vibrant, light-bodied coffee.
Ever since Costa Rica gained independence from Spain, the government has encouraged its citizens to explore the world of coffee through farming. People loved this, and the benefits that came with it. To this day, Costa Rica boasts a contrasting coffee culture in comparison with most of its neighbors. This encouraged people to visit the country to experience their love for coffee, and that’s how two massive industries got intertwined; coffee and tourism. A new surge of funds in Costa Rica enabled a micro-mill boom, which lets producers provide the right care for each type of bean. Originally producing clean, sweet, light-bodied cups of coffee with citrus undertones, the new age of coffee allows for a variety of notes, body, and acidity.
The coffee from this Central American country was dismissed for the longest time. Neighboring Costa Rica, an absolute coffee powerhouse, coffee from Panama paled in comparison. All of that changed once specialty coffee enthusiasts found out about Geisha; a varietal that’s commonly found in this region. Although Geisha is originally an African varietal, it grows well in Panama. This floral coffee with citrus undertones is delicate, light-bodied, and complex. Today, Geisha coffees are regarded as a delicacy and have several unique characteristics that are celebrated. Many people say that the Panama Geisha tastes almost like tea and they drink it without any milk or sugar. Just Black!
For most countries on this list, coffee was primarily grown for the betterment of the economy. In Nicaragua, it was done out of curiosity; to find out the reason behind its success, and uncover the mysteries that it holds. Today, it bears notable significance to their economy. From the mid-1800s to the mid-1900s, they experienced an upsurge in the demand for their complex, mildly fruit-like coffee and the array of different flavors found in the different growing regions of Nicaragua.
The government of El Salvador adopted an approach to growing coffee that’s comparable to that of Costa Rica. The people of this region were incentivized to grow coffee with tax exemptions for producers. This was an active campaign in the mid-1800s, and by 1880, coffee had become the country’s main export making El Salvador the fourth largest coffee producer in the world during that period. The mildly acidic cup was renowned everywhere for its sweet and balanced taste.
The mid-1800s marked a period where the coffee of this region would become an important part of the nation’s economy. With a decline in the demand for natural indigo dyes, the nation diversified its portfolio and adapted to changing times. Coffee seeds were distributed as a part of this effort. Their introduction to coffee was made by the Jesuits in the mid-1700s. Today, the vastly different flavor possibilities of Guatemalan coffee range from a rich, chocolatey, and heavy-bodied cup to a light, sweet, and complex flavor with fruity undertones.
Most coffee-growing countries export a majority of their products, but Hawaii is different. Being the only region that’s able to engage its customers directly, its marketing strategies take an untrodden path. The well-rounded coffee of this region is lower in acidity and has more body with macadamia and other tropical flavor notes. It’s considered expensive because of labor rates and not as a reflection of its flavors.
Stories and myths have been spun around the mysterious origins of coffee in Asia. Beans being smuggled across nations, gifted to another, and the effect of coffee on the prosperity of these regions today. Today, Asian coffee is responsible for a significant percentage of the world’s coffee supply.
Coffee is one of Yemen’s age-old treasures. It has a long lineage, perhaps the longest, second only to Ethiopia. Some speculate that while the coffee fruit has its roots in Ethiopia, the coffee drink was first actualized in Yemen. During the 1700s, virtually all of the world’s coffee supply was from Yemen. It became the country’s primary source of income. The wild, complex, and distinctive flavors of the coffee are reminiscent of fermented fruit. While some people find these one-of-a-kind flavors quite charming, it’s a deal-breaker for the rest. However, the ongoing conflict makes Yemeni coffee very hard to come by. If you find some, we highly recommend trying it.
Indonesian coffee is recognized throughout the world. Especially Kopi Luwak; a method of coffee production that relies on the semi-digested coffee cherries eaten by civet cats. It’s a novelty to some, and a delicacy to others. However, Indonesian coffee wouldn’t have flourished without some help from India. The Governor of Jakarta was sent a few coffee seeds as a gift from the Dutch Governor of Malabar in India. It was grown on the island of Java and eventually made its way to Sumatra in the late 1880s. Coffee from these regions are known the world over for their unique processing techniques and the resulting flavors; a heavy body, low acidity, and undertones of earth, wood, and spice.
India had a speculative coffee history of its own; A pilgrim returning from Mecca had brought seven coffee seeds from Yemen and planted them. Since India was a region where both coffee and tea flourished, demand for Indian coffee was always short-lived. Several coffee plantations had switched to tea production, but that wasn’t enough to stop India’s coffee export. Their heavy and creamy coffees are low in acidity and tend to shy away from complexity. Monsoon Malabar is an interesting varietal that some people enjoy. The flavors in these coffees were developed from the monsoon winds on the Indian ocean when coffee was traveling from India to Europe. Today, these monsoon flavors are introduced by adopting certain processing methods.
All of the different regions above are some of the most recognized coffee from around the world. But there’s more out there.
Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee is one of the rarest in the world. The climate, environment, and altitude create a bean that’s well-balanced with nutty, cocoa, and herbal undertones.
Vietnam is the second-largest coffee producer in the world and their coffee echoes everywhere. But the coffee of this region isn’t the highest quality, typically tasting flat, woody, and without much complexity.
Mexican coffee is light-bodied and delicate with caramel, toffee, and chocolate undertones.
The region of Peru was originally known to produce clean, sweet, and heavy-bodied cups of coffee, but with new farming techniques and processing methods becoming accessible, there are juicier, complex, and more distinctive coffees to choose from.
Honduras is the largest producer in Central America, and they’re known for their fruity, juicy, and mildly acidic coffee.
Some of these are generalizations, but choosing beans based on origin is a simple and effective way to find coffee that suits your taste. Even within the same country, city, or estate, you might find coffees that taste completely different; because of differences in varietal, elevation, and processing methods. Every region in the world has something unique to offer, and out there is one that’s perfect for you. With some information about each origin, you now have the makings of a great adventure. Try new origins, evaluate the flavor, body, and texture to appreciate its characteristics. There’s no real alternative to trial and error but our coffee quiz reduces some of the guesswork. Before you leave, if you’re curious about the Farm-to-cup journey of coffee, click through.