Before it reaches your morning brew, the humble coffee bean has travelled great distances — but not every bean is grown equally. In fact, the unique flavour of your favourite brew depends on how and where its beans have been grown.
So, where does coffee come from?
Come with us and we’ll take you on a trip around the world, to the famous destinations responsible for producing some of the best beans on the market.
Coffee beans are grown on the coffee plant, or Coffea, a bush-like shrub that can grow as high as 8 metres tall. There are many different species of coffee plant, but the two most common are the “Arabica” and “Robusta” varieties. These produce the vast majority of the coffee that we know and love.
Coffee plants can live for up to 100 years, but tend to have their most productive phase between the ages of 5 and 20 years old. During this window, the plants start to bear cherry-like fruit. These fruit take around nine months to ripen, and they’re then ready to be picked for the crown jewels stored inside — two fully ripened coffee beans.
Of course, not every climate is suitable for growing the perfect bean — and that’s why in the UK, we tend to import most of ours. Productive coffee plants require highly specific conditions to grow, including:
So, which are the countries that offer these favourable conditions? Allow us to introduce you to every coffee-lover’s idea of paradise: the coffee bean belt.
The bean belt is the part of the world that runs along the equator and provides optimal conditions for growing coffee beans. It spans around 3200 miles from one end to the other, including countries from the three main coffee-growing regions: Latin America, Africa and the Middle East, and Asia.
While the conditions found across each of these destinations are similar, small variations between their climates can drastically alter the characteristics of the beans that grow. This is what leads each variety of coffee to have a unique flavour and aroma profile, depending on its country of origin.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the regional differences found across the belt.>
Many countries produce coffee across Central and South America. The nations best known for their superior growing conditions and prolific exports include:
The Latin American climate offers optimal conditions for the growth of Arabica coffee, though it also produces some Robusta.
Central America is known for satisfyingly well-balanced coffees. Guatemala produces brews enjoyed for their bold and smoky flavours, using beans borne from rich volcanic soil. Costa Rica is another prolific producer, recognised for its clean, sweet-tasting blends with notes of citrus, honey and grape.
South American coffee is known for being slightly more mild-bodied and creamy. Brazilian coffees have a trademark nuttiness, while Colombian blends will delight the sweet tooth with notes of caramel.
As we head further along the belt, we reach Africa and the Middle East. Across the region, these countries are best known for their coffee bean output:
Climates here are better suited for the growth of Robusta plants, which thrive at lower altitudes than Arabica. Robusta’s deep, complex flavour profile makes it a popular choice for espressos or black coffee — and it often boasts a higher caffeine content, too.
Full-bodied Kenyan coffee is one of the most popular regional exports, grown on the slopes of Mount Kenya. Kenyan brews are enjoyed for their vibrant mix of fruit and floral flavours, with hints of tartness reminiscent of tomato and wine. Elsewhere, Ethiopia — widely considered as the “birthplace” of coffee — offers up a smooth, rich blend with berry notes.
Our final stop on the coffee bean belt is Asia. As we know, the continent covers a fairly large expanse of land — but the top coffee producers in the region are:
In contrast to sweeter western brews, Asian coffees are revered for their deep and bitter flavours. These are a result of the Robusta beans that are grown across Asian microclimates, offering lower acidity levels and less sweetness.
Between plantation hotspots such as Sumatra, Java, and Bali, Indonesia grows coffee beans that have a distinctly earthy quality, exuding herbal aromas and notes of dark chocolate. Meanwhile, Vietnam is well-regarded as the world’s second largest coffee producer, growing medium-bodied beans that offer the bold flavour and heightened caffeine content trademark of a Robusta brew.
At Beans Coffee Club, we’re proud to source our coffees from all across the growing belt, to suit a range of flavour preferences. Every region has something to offer — but there are some producers that are well-regarded among aficionados for growing the highest-quality of their specialty bean.
Countries in Latin America are widely considered to be the best Arabica producers. Colombia is frequently cited as the crema of the crop, offering “supremo” grade coffee grown with rigorous standards and processed with cutting-edge technology.
With similarly mountainous terrain and tropical conditions to Colombia, Costa Rica is another top Arabica producer, exporting smooth, soft beans grown in fertile volcanic soils.TAKE THE QUIZ
Indonesia is regularly touted as one of the countries responsible for the best quality Robusta beans. It’s even home to some of the most expensive coffee in the world — “kopi luwak” — which is made using partially digested beans excreted by an Asian palm civet!
Ultimately, the quality of a coffee depends on a multitude of factors, from the growing conditions and processing methods all the way to the freshness of the crop.
As for which will be your favourite, that’s down to you — but we can provide some inspiration if you take our handy quiz that will intelligently match your tastes to a selection of premium roasters.
The UK has an undeniably diverse coffee market. Roasters import high-quality green (unroasted) beans from all over the globe, generally from the immediate country of origin. Once they arrive in the UK, the beans are assessed, roasted, and distributed to customers.
Global coffee trade has evolved into an empire in and of itself. Nowadays, the industry serves every taste a coffee drinker could have, from notes of chocolate to grape and every hint and aroma in between.
Next time you pick up a bag of your favourite coffee, pay attention to its country of origin — you might just find that you have a preference for a certain flavour profile that you need to be exploring further.
The main coffee suppliers to the UK in 2021