Have you ever wondered who or what country produces the most coffee beans? Or about the coffee beans that go into your favorite cappuccino? How can an espresso from one coffee house taste so extremely different to an espresso from another?
There are a variety of factors that influence your cup of coffee. To name but a few: bean variety, terroir, farming practices, processing and roast profile, blending plus finally brewing.
The two main variants are Arabica and Robusta beans. They differ in taste, growing conditions and price. Arabica beans usually have a sweeter and softer taste with undertones of sugar, fruit and berries. They also have a high acidity, which gives them a characteristically winey taste.
Robusta beans have a stronger and harsher taste, with grain-like overtones and a peanut aftertaste. They also contain twice as much caffeine as Arabica beans. Generally they are considered to be inferior to Arabica.
What is the Value of Robusta Beans?
Some Robusta’s are high quality and valued particularly in espressos for their deep flavor and good crema.
Robusta’s grow easier. They can grow at low altitudes and are less vulnerable to pests and weather conditions. They also produce fruit quicker than Arabica trees and they yield more crop per tree.
Robusta coffee is grown primarily in Africa and Indonesia, the Eastern Hemisphere. Arabica is also grown in Africa and Papua New Guinea, but grows dominantly in Latin America. One of the biggest coffee producing countries, Colombia, only produces Arabica beans. Brazil and India produce both variants.
Most supermarket coffees are exclusively Robusta, as well as instant and cheap ground coffees. In the end it’s all about personal taste. Pure Arabica blends can sometimes be too floral, while the dark harshness of Robusta can be perfect in a blend.
Exploring the Arabica Bean
Within the Arabica bean variant, there are over a dozen different types of coffee bean. We’ll discuss a few of the most popular ones here.
grown in any coffee producing region. Other cultivars have been developed from this main one. The Typica trees have secondary trunks that grow slightly slanted. The lateral branches form an angle of roughly 50–70°, giving the tree an overall conical-shape. Typica coffee trees are low yielding, but they produce delicious, high-quality beans.
many variants were developed from the Bourbon. These coffee trees were originally developed in 1708 by the French, on an island in the Indian Ocean called Bourbon, also known as Reunion island. The Bourbon’s leaves are broader and its cherries larger than the Typica but it is also conically shaped. It produces a rich tasting brew and yields 20–30% more fruit than the Typica.
named after the town in Brazil where it was discovered. It is an altered version of the Bourbon. Although discovered in Brazil, it thrives better in Colombia and South America. It produces a vibrant brew with a zesty essence. The Caturra tree has broad waxy leaves with wavy edges; it is shorter than the Bourbon with a thick and bushy appearance. It has a higher yield than the Bourbon, but it produces a lighter brew and requires a lot of intensive care in order to thrive.
a cross between the Caturra and Mundo Novo trees. Similar to the Caturra, it is a short and bushy plant that produces a high yield. The Catuai tree requires a lot of attention and fertilization to thrive. It yields yellow or red cherries, producing a fruit-like brew.
a hybrid formed in the 1940’s, crossing a Bourbon tree and a Typica. It is a high yielding cultivar that is resistant to many diseases. Its harvest comes a little later than the other types of coffee trees.
this cultivar came about as a variety of the Typica tree and it’s grown in Jamaica. It is best known for its resistance to the coffee berry disease. The Blue Mountain tree thrives at high altitudes. It was named after the Blue Mountains of Jamaica where it is usually grown.
Can you guess the top coffee producing country?
Maybe you know the answer already, this country has dominated the coffee industry for the past 150 years. Coffee is the second highest trading commodity, just-just behind oil and coffee production creates millions of jobs worldwide.
Let’s start the countdown.
No. 5 Ethiopia
This is the geographic home of Arabica coffee and it’s the most popular beans worldwide. Coffee counts for over 28% of Ethiopia’s yearly exports, it is estimated that in total 15 million citizens are employed through coffee production.
The country has a very rich coffee culture. For over 1100 years, the strange stimulating beans have been annoying unlucky farmers and shepherds whose herds happened to eat them. Regional variants of the Arabica bean have been developed since domestication of the plant.
Each have their own characteristic name and taste. The Harar, Limu, Sidamo, and Yirgacheffe beans are all trademarked varieties of the Arabica bean, the rights are owned and protected by the government of Ethiopia.
They are the largest coffee producer in Africa. The European Union is their primary market, accounting for 60% of coffee sales. The country’s 1.2 million smallholder farmers contribute over 90% of coffee production.
No. 4 Indonesia
They have opted for a quantity over quality method, the country’s climate is better suited for the production of lower-quality Robusta beans but it has an ideal geographical location for coffee plantation. It is situated near the equator and has numerous mountainous regions that are favorable for coffee production.
Coffee production was introduced by the Dutch colonists but production continued long after colonization. Currently over one million hectares of Indonesia’s territory is covered by coffee plantations. It is the second-largest exporter of Robusta beans.
Indonesia is famous for Kopi Luwak, an expensive bean with a unique production method. A cat-like animal called the palm civet lives in the jungles of South East Asia and it eats the raw coffee berries but its body cannot process the hard beans.
The digestive juices of the civet partially breaks down the bean, the “deposits” are then collected, cleaned and sold. Only 1100 pounds (500kg) of the “Cat Poop Coffee” is produced each year, a cup of coffee brewed from the beans can cost up to $80.
No. 3 Colombia
Their coffee is famous worldwide, possibly because of the well-known ads for the National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia, featuring a character called Juan Valdez. But recently climate changes have been affecting coffee production.
Temperatures have slowly risen, as has precipitation, from 1980 up to about 2010. Both factors jeopardize the climate requirements necessary to produce the most popular type of Colombian bean.
Even after dropping to third place, Colombia remains a key player in the coffee game. They are the second-largest supplier of Arabica coffee after Brazil. Currently 2,4 million Colombians depend on job creation from coffee production, which is 25% of the country’s rural population.
No. 2 Vietnam
There was an understandable hiatus during and after the war, but coffee has always remained a huge part of the Vietnamese economy. Their coffee production grew from only 6,000 tons in 1975 to now almost 2 million tons a year.
They are the second largest producer of coffee in the world, contributing 16% of global production. Vietnam is the main producer of Robusta beans. Coffee production creates jobs for more than 1 million Vietnamese people.
No. 1 Brazil
Worldwide Brazil is the undisputed largest coffee-producing nation. Almost 2,700000 hectares of Brazil are covered by coffee plantations, the majority located in Minas Gerais, Sao Paulo and Parana. These three southeastern states have the ideal climate and temperature combination for coffee production.
Brazilians process coffee with the dry process (unwashed coffee) and it distinguishes them from other coffee producing nations. In other nations the coffee cherries are dried in the sun. The coffee sector employs over five million people, contributing to 40% of the world’s total coffee supply.
It’s not just a cup of coffee
For passionate coffee lovers, the statement “it’s just a cup of coffee” will unleash a very indignant gasp. From red berry to steaming cup of coffee is a long and tedious process, with more complicated aspects than one would expect. Next time we’ll explore the production process a bit more in detail.