If you make your daily home brew with a variety of freshly ground premium quality beans, then you and I are kindred spirits. There is nothing like a strong medium roast for a perfect start to your day and a full-bodied dark roast for that afternoon boost, right? If you are anything like me, I am sure your cupboard contains different types of coffees. You have worked out what your favourite ones are and just how and when you like them. No matter the time or place, I have always enjoyed various roasts in the form of a good old Flat White (with Almond milk, please). Whatever your preference, the beans you and I use have travelled a long way to reach their destination, aka our grinder. Coffee beans journey across borders and some even across oceans before they make their way to our coffee pantry. As much as I love drinking coffee, I never gave it much thought. I was convinced I was having the best coffee experience possible, since my cupboard was always stocked with well roasted beans. It was not until I started exploring the origin of these precious nuggets that a whole other coffee world opened before me.
Almost all the coffees that are currently in my pantry come from specific countries in Africa, Central and South America. When I looked at them on a map, I noticed that they are all situated in a horizontal line in the area between the Tropics of Capricorn and Cancer. Upon further investigation I discovered that this region along the equator provides all the necessary conditions for coffee plants to be happy and strong. It is a strip of land aptly referred to as the Coffee or Bean Belt. Coffee plants thrive in the Belt because the temperatures are mild (between 21° and 29°C) all year round, the soil is rich, and it rains a lot. Add a dry season and shaded sun to that and you have a winning recipe for growing some of the best coffee plants in the world.
While the conditions for growing are similar in all the regions, what profoundly affect the flavour of the beans are the variations of these conditions between the continents and between the countries in the same continent. Beans originating from South America have a different flavour from their African and Central American counterparts. In the same way an Ethiopian bean does not have the same flavour as a Kenyan bean. There are even different coffee growing regions in each country that produce different flavour beans. It is fascinating. For us to be able to taste the different flavours of a premium quality coffee bean is the responsibility of the roaster. This is where a competent roaster is crucial. Somewhere in the roasting process between the Medium-Light and a Medium-Dark stage, coffee reaches its peak flavour. You can then actually taste where the beans come from. On the other hand, an extremely dark roast will not leave traces of the origin of the coffee (Learn more at our blog, “The Best Roast”.)
Below are some of the key coffee growing regions:
There are nearly twenty coffee growing countries in Africa, with Ethiopia ranked as number one. The diversity of this continent is also reflected in its array of interesting coffees. Africa boasts with incredible conditions for growing coffee: from forests to volcanic landscapes and everything in between. Flavours unique to African beans are fruity, like berries or citrus fruit and a hint of red wine. Trying out the variety of African coffees is a great way to expand your palate. Browse around some African beans.
- Central America
The most well-known characteristic of the coffee beans of this region is their balance. This makes for easy-drinking coffees which are well-loved by most people. Another special quality of these beans is that they make exceptional single origins whilst still being compatible with other origins for beautiful blends. I personally have a soft spot for anything from Guatemala. The prominent flavour tones for Central America are milky to dark chocolate, honey, and a hint of nut. Browse around some Central American beans.
- South America
This continent is home to the Andes mountain range, which provides varied micro-climates favourable for coffee plants. The ocean breezes and rich volcanic soil add to the diversity of these conditions. Brazil is the largest coffee-producing country in the world and its beans are a key component in many delicious blends. Flavour tones for South America are soft citrus, floral and mild nut, but also dark chocolate and caramel. Browse around for some South American beans.
This wonderfully complex world of coffee is daunting at first, but I soon realised what a pleasure it is to explore. As I started to appreciate the geography of the beans, I became increasingly aware of the flavours in each cup I drink. Coffee is so much more than our daily caffeine-fix, and each time I try a new coffee I brace myself for an adventure. While I still enjoy a flat white, I am beginning to learn that some coffees taste better milk-free. Sometimes an espresso or americano open flavours that were previously hidden to me. Each brewing method also brings out the flavours of the beans in a different way, too. (Learn more at our blog, “How to make coffee using a Moka Pot”.)
As I carefully studied the content of my coffee pantry and compared it with the Belt, I could not help noticing that there is still a whole continent I am yet to explore. Conspicuous in their absence on my shelf are the coffees from Asia. I will be sure to keep my eye out for them for my next adventure.
What does your next adventure look (and taste) like, kindred spirit?