A Beginner’s Guide to Coffee Regions
Even for someone with an educated palate, it can be tricky to detect the differences between coffees from around the world. Smelling both the fresh beans and the brewed coffee is a great help in detecting the subtleties of coffee – and obviously, there’s no substitute for tasting it yourself. But before you invest in your next batch of beans, take a look at our rough guide to what you can expect taste-wise from the beans produced in the major coffee-growing regions around the world.
Nepal boasts a great environment for growing beans, with high elevation and fertile vegetation, it is perfect for arabica as well as other coffee varietals. Coffee tasting notes include a very mild acidity, smooth flavour, delicate hints of floral, cocoa, jasmine and cinnamon.
The Estates are scattered under the snow line in the foothills of the Himalayas, approximately 100km from Mount Everest. Tree canopies protect the coffee plants which are naturally irrigated and washed in snowmelt water. The beans are sun dried and sorted meticulously by hand producing specialty rated organic coffee.
Notably, these coffee plantations contribute to reforestation, soil conservation and preservation of the environment. These actions have given rise to various species of birds and animals, which had previously vanished from the area. Local communities and villagers are also supported through education funding and employment opportunities.
The biggest coffee producing country in the world, Brazil’s vast expanse of coffee-growing land has resulted in massive plantations producing huge quantities of beans. Brazilian coffee has a wide variety of flavours, due both to the variety of beans grown (Arabica and Robusta) and the changes in climate and soil quality. Chocolate and spice are common flavour notes, while beans that are “pulped natural” (pulped without the traditional fermentation stage) can have a peanut-like quality and heavy body that’s often used in espresso blends. A good cup of Brazilian coffee is sweet, medium-bodied and has low acidity, with a lingering aftertaste.
Kenyan beans create a coffee that has a sharp, fruity acidity, with a rich fragrance and full body. Grown on the foothills of Mount Kenya, often by small farmers, Kenyan coffee beans thrive in this sunny, dry climate.
Due to the wide variety of beans and a wet processing method, combined with the fact that most of the beans are grown without shade, Kenyan coffee boasts a tropical-tasting combination of savoury and sweet characteristics. Bold and juicy, the rich fragrance of Kenyan coffee is a major part of its appeal.
While much of the Central American region is home to coffee growers, the main centres of activity are in Guatemala and Costa Rica. Costa Rica produces only wet-processed Arabicas; Guatemala has three main growing regions — Antigua, Coban and Huehuetenango – using the region’s rich volcanic soil. The flavours of the coffee from the region are bright and clean, but less sweet than those from south of the equator. The spicy, sometimes chocolatey notes of the coffee blend seamlessly with equally fruity and nutty undertones, giving the product a well-balanced taste and a medium-full body.
Colombia is one of the world’s most prevalent coffee producers. The country’s growers take great pride in the reputation of their crop, carefully grown on thousands of small family farms scattered across the region’s mountainous terrain. This leads to consistently solid, mild-tasting coffees, with mellow acidity and strong caramel sweetness – the kind of flavour most of us consider to be a classic coffee taste. Colombian Supremo, the highest grade of Colombian coffee, has a delicate, aromatic sweetness while Excelso Grade is softer and slightly more acidic.
Legend has it that Ethiopia is the birthplace of coffee, and with thousands of varieties of coffee growing there – many wild and uncatalogued – it’s not hard to believe it. Unlike much of the rest of the world, there are two distinct methods of processing coffee in use in Ethiopia: “natural”, where the cherry is dried around the coffee bean before being removed, or “washed”, where the fruit is stripped within 12 hours of being picked. The result is two very different types of flavour. Washed coffee is drier and has an almost tea-like taste, while the naturally processed variety is full-bodied, and more aggressively fruity and syrupy.
Coming mostly from smaller farms, Indonesian coffees tend to have a deep, dark flavour. Sumatra is the source of Mandheling and Ankola, two of the world’s best-known high-quality blends, and in general, coffees from this part of the world are known for their ability to take well to dark roasting. Sumatran coffee often features an earthy complexity combining savoury and herbaceous tastes, with a finish suggestive of unsweetened cocoa. Indonesia is also known for its aged coffee, stored for long periods by farmers looking for the best price. Thanks to the country’s warm, damp climate, being kept in storage can create a coffee with an even deeper body and reduced acidity.
Many of these specialty coffees are available for individuals and businesses to order through the Happy Farmer Organics website www.happyfarmerorganics.com
This article was written with expert advice by Anthony Morris.