Gourmet Coffees of the World

By Lori Ranshaw
In June 12, 2015

coffee_mediumx1000 Gourmet coffee continues to increase in popularity and appeal throughout the world. With so many kinds of coffee to choose from, we can all enjoy gourmet blends from every region of the globe; yet, how well do we know our favorite gourmet beans? Here is a brief description of coffee beans from nearly every region to help you become more knowledgeable and aware of the varieties that are available to the consumer. First, however, we will mention a few interesting facts about the industry.

The Coffee Industry

Coffee is currently ranked as the world’s most heavily traded commodity after petroleum. It is the top food import into the U. S., with over 130 million consumers designated as coffee drinkers. The Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) (2014) estimates that there are over 10,000 coffee cafés and 2,500 specialty stores selling coffee. Chains, such as Starbucks, represent 30 percent of all coffee retail stores, but the majority remains in the hands of independent owners or small family businesses. Since 2010, daily consumption of coffee in the United States has increased by 30 percent. Specialty coffee has increased its market share from 40 percent in 2010 to 51 percent in 2014. More than 58 percent of consumers over age 18 drink coffee on a regular basis (SCAA, 2014).

The best coffee beans are produced when they are grown at high altitudes in a tropical climate where the soil is rich. These conditions exist in locations near the Equator. Other factors can affect the quality and flavor of the coffee bean, such as plant variety, weather, rainfall, and sunshine. These variables, along with the way the beans are processed after picking all contribute to distinctions between coffees in various regions and countries. The combination of these variables can be so complex that even beans grown on the same plantation can differ in quality and taste (NCAUSA, 2015)

Coffee is grown in more than 50 countries around the world! We’ve included just a few below:

African Coffees

African coffees combine the sparkling acidity of the best Central Americans with aromatic, floral and winey (berry-like) notes.

East African/Kenyan Coffee. Kenya is the coffee powerhouse of East African coffee producers. It is the 21st largest producer of coffee in the world, producing over 112 million pounds annually. Approximately 6 million Kenyans are employed either directly or indirectly in the coffee industry. Most Kenyan coffee is grown from the Mount Kenya region. With its high altitude, warm climate, and fertile soil, these regions are well suited for producing Arabica coffee.

Kenyan coffee is a bright coffee that is complex with some fruity flavors.

Ethiopian Coffee. Ethiopian coffee is aromatic, highly flavorful, and also known to be some of the best coffees in the world. It is also the origin of all coffee. The process of making the coffee varies by region. In some regions it is dry processed and in some other regions it is washed. The Ethiopian coffee found in most stores today is dry processed. Ethiopian coffee has a rich, bold, taste that has been preferred by many people for a long time.

Most Ethiopian coffees are grown without the use of chemicals, under adequate shade and alongside other crops. Exceptions to this older method are a handful of wet-processed coffees that are produced by large estates, usually government-run, in southwestern Ethiopia. Even these estates use chemicals very discreetly. The Harrar and Yirgacheffe coffees are known as “garden coffees” by the Ethiopians. Villagers using completely traditional Ethiopian methods grow them on small plots of land.

Yemen Coffee. Yemen is famous for its Mocha coffee (also spelled Mocca, Moca, or Moka). For hundreds of years, this coffee has been grown in the mountains of Yemen, in the southwestern tip of the Arabian Peninsula. Originally, the coffee was shipped through the ancient port of Mocha; hence the name given to this coffee. Today, Mocha is often confused with drinks that combine hot chocolate and coffee. At one time Mocha coffee from Yemen was mixed with hot chocolate, and the name continued to be associated with this specialty drink.

True Arabian Mocha from the central mountains of Yemen is still grown as it was over 500 years ago. Coffee plants are grown on terraces clinging to the sides of semiarid mountains. In the summer, when the coffee trees are blossoming and beginning to bear fruit, rains temporarily turn the mountains into a bright, emerald green. As the fruit ripens in the fall and the air turns dry, it is picked and spread out in the sun to dry. All Yemen Mochas are dried with the fruit still attached to the beans. Once they are dried, the shriveled fruit husk is removed by millstone giving Yemen beans a rough, irregular appearance.

Central and South American Coffees

Central and South American coffees are generally light to medium bodied with lively qualities (also known as palate acidity). The volcano regions of Guatemala, Costa Rica, and Panama produce coffee that has spicy and chocolate notes.

Brazilian Coffee. Coffee was introduced to Brazil in 1727 from Cayenne, French Guiana. Today, Brazil is the world’s largest coffee producer, producing about 25% of the world’s supply of coffee. Brazil is also becoming a significant player in the specialty coffee industry. Brazilian coffee beans are not only used for coffee blending as they once were, but can be purchased and roasted properly to enhance their rich, bold, and smooth characteristics. 80% of coffee from Brazil is Arabica.

Brazil uses both the dry and wet processing methods for their coffees. The majority of Brazil’s coffee beans are processed using the dry method, as Brazil’s distinct dry and wet seasons allow them to do so successfully. Dry-processed coffees are dried while they are still in the cherry. Since they are dried in contact with the sweet mucilage, the coffee will be heavy-bodied, sweet, and smooth. Wet-processing is a relatively new method of removing the layers surrounding the coffee bean. This process results in a coffee flavor that is brighter, fruitier, and cleaner than coffee processed by the dry method.

Columbian Coffee. Colombian coffee is regarded as some of the highest quality coffee in the world, producing mild and well-balanced coffee beans. Colombia has traditionally grown Arabica beans and its unique geography makes it perfectly suited for producing a delicious, high quality specialty coffee. It currently produces over 11.5 million bags, ranking it third in the world after Brazil and Vietnam.

By the 18th century, the coffee plant had spread to Columbia and was grown by Jesuit priests. Commercial production did not begin until 1835. Great worldwide economic expansion at that time enabled Columbian landowners to find lucrative opportunities for trade in international markets. Eventually, the United States became the most important consumer of coffee, with Germany and France leading the European consumers of coffee.

Costa Rican Coffee. Coffee first began to be produced in Costa Rica in 1779 in the Meseta Central, which had ideal soil and climate conditions for coffee plantations. Arabica coffee was introduced to the country directly from Ethiopia. The 19th century witnessed growth and development of the coffee plantation system. Soon coffee became a major source of revenue for Costa Rica, even surpassing cocoa, tobacco, and sugar production.

Costa Rican coffee is considered among the best coffees in the world. The most traditional and popular Costa Rican coffees have a mild and softly acidic flavor and are well paired with desserts. Costa Rican farmers are also currently experimenting with new flavors that bring a fruitier, brighter flavor to specialty coffee.

Panamanian Coffee. Although Panama is the smallest of all coffee producing countries; however, they grow most of the highest rated coffees each year. Panama has what is considered by many to be the ideal microclimate to grow coffee, receiving winds from the north along with a light mist and cool breeze.

For years, coffee from Panama was not well known amongst the public but the quality was apparent to the traders. At one time, traders would try to sell lower-cost Panamanian coffee beans as Hawaiian Kona beans, a more widely known and respected Arabica coffee bean. Now, Panamanian coffee has a solid reputation as a gourmet and specialty coffee.

North America & The Caribbean

Hawaii. Kona coffee, grown on the large island of Hawaii, is the most well known of all the Hawaiian coffees. The slopes of the active Mauna Loa volcano provide an optimal environment for coffee trees. The young trees are planted in the black volcanic soil on these slopes. Afternoon shade from tropical clouds provides the perfect canopy that protects the trees from intense sun. Frequent rain showers keep the plants nourished and hydrated with just the right amount of water. The Kona beans are carefully processed and produce a rich, aromatic coffee with medium body.

Mexico. Mexican coffee is grown primarily on small coffee farms as opposed to large plantations. Mexico ranks as one of the largest coffee producing countries in the world, with over 100,000 coffee farmers actively growing coffee. Most farms can be found in South Mexico in the states of Vera Cruz, Oaxaca, and Chiapas. Mexican coffee has a depth of flavor with a pronounced sharpness and pleasing aroma. It is often used in blends, as it is an excellent bean used in dark roasts.

Puerto Rico. Coffee was first introduced to Puerto Rico from Martinique in 1736. By the late 19th century, Puerto Rico had become the 6th leading coffee exporter in the world. Unfortunately, Puerto Rico could not maintain its world standing. Damage from hurricanes and competition forced Puerto Rico to seek other resources for its economic survival. However, today, the coffee industry in Puerto Rico is re-emerging. Coffees grown on this island are cultivated from quality Arabica varieties and produced to very high standards. The two major regions for coffee growing are Grand Lares in the south central part of the island and Yauco Selecto in the southwest region. The coffees from both regions are noted for their balanced body, acidity, and fruity aroma.

Indonesia/Southeast Asia

East Timor Coffee. The Portuguese first began growing coffee in East Timor in colonial times. By the mid-19th century, coffee accounted for over 50% of the East Timor’s exports. Under Indonesian rule, Timorese coffee growers were forced to sell their coffee beans at below standard coffee prices. Since 1999, East Timor is rebuilding its coffee production and although it accounts for less than 1% of the world’s coffee production, coffee is currently the country’s top exporting commodity. The East Timor coffee trade provides a substantial income for nearly a quarter of the population.

Most of the coffee grown in East Timor is high quality Arabica coffee and is grown organically. Some of the crop is processed using the “wet-milling” or washing process, adding substantial value and quality to the coffee. This “wet milling” processed bean is sent to Indonesia for further processing. The more common method is sun-drying the berries after harvesting, then removing the pulp, then selling the beans for further processing in another country

Himalayan Coffees. Himalayan coffee is organically grown Arabica coffee that is grown at an altitude of 2200-2400 feet above sea level. The coffee is washed and sun-dried, thus producing a premium quality bean. It is gaining in popularity as a specialty coffee.

Indonesian Coffees. Indonesian coffees are typically full-bodied and smooth with low acidity, possessing an appealing earthy, nutty quality. Indonesia is the fourth largest coffee exporter in the world. Of these exports, 25% are Arabica coffee and 75% is Robusta coffee. The specialty coffee market is the best opportunity for growth in Indonesia’s coffee industry. Indonesia’s Arabica coffee beans usually have low acidity coupled with a strong-bodied flavor, making them an ideal match for blending with coffee beans that are higher in acidity, such as the coffees from Central America and East Africa.

Java Coffee. Coffee production first began on the island of Java during the 17th century by the Dutch. It is currently centered on the ljen Plateau, which is at the eastern end of Java. The coffee is primarily grown on large estates built by the Dutch during the Colonial era.

Java coffee is harvested, and then sent to the mills where the pulp is fermented and washed off through the wet process. Java coffee has a smooth, supple taste that has a delicate herbal hint in the aftertaste. Some coffee estates age a portion of their coffee beans for up to three years. As the beans age, they turn from green to light brown and gain strength while losing acidity. These aged coffees are sometimes called Old Java or Old Government coffee.

Java coffee is prized for its blending capabilities. The most well known blend is the “Mocha Java” blend, which pairs Java coffee to Yemen coffee beans.

Sumatran Coffee. Sumatran coffee comes from the island in Indonesia called Sumatra. The taste of Sumatran coffee is spicy, herbal, and has low-acidity. It is considered to be one of the best coffees in the world and was first introduced by the Dutch around 1699 when the Dutch wanted to keep up with the demand of coffee to Europe. The Dutch traders knew the difference between Sumatran coffee beans and other coffee beans by the appearance, which are irregularly shaped and bright green.

Most of the Sumatran coffee beans are processed using both the wet and dry processing method. This processing method is another reason why Sumatran coffee is so popular, as most other types of coffee beans are processed by using either a wet method or a dry method, not both. Sumatran coffee has a unique flavor that truly makes it a specialty coffee.

Vietnamese Coffee. First introduced by the French in the mid-19th century, coffee production has been a major source of income for Vietnam. The coffee industry was developed through the plantation system and became a major economic force. Coffee production was interrupted during the Vietnam War, but shortly after, production rose once more. In 2009, Vietnamese coffee exports were estimated to be 1.13 million tons, making coffee second only to rice in value of exported agricultural products.

Vietnamese coffee has characteristics that distinguish it from other coffees and brewing methods. Vietnamese coffee producers blend several varieties of beans for different flavor characteristics and balance. The coffee is prepared in single servings in single-cup filter/brewers known as phin. It is traditionally served tableside while still brewing. Sweetened condensed milk is served with the coffee. The coffee is often brewed onto ice and served with or without the sweetened condensed milk.


US Specialty Coffee Facts and Figures (2014). US Specialty Coffee Association. Retrieved from http://www.scaa.org

Coffee from Around the World (2015). National Coffee Association of USA. Retrieved from





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