How Origin Impacts Coffee Beans: Top 10 Countries
We all love a cup of coffee. But have you wondered how the coffee beans’ origin impacts your experience?
Whether single-origin or blended, coffee has a different taste profile based on its origin. These variations in flavor profiles are most obvious in single-origin batches, but common characteristics found in blends can enhance some tastes over others.
Single-origin beans come from the same country; for example, you may have heard of Peruvian or Colombian beans.
Sometimes, these terms can feel a little broad. In a big country like Brazil, which produces the most coffee beans in the world, there are different microclimates that impact flavor profiles differently; southern-harvested beans brew differently than those from the north.
As the name suggests, blends are a mix of beans from different farms or countries and processed together. Most blends include beans from up to four places, but some roasters may mix as many as nine.
They can come from different regions in the same country, but they’re most often from separate countries.
In all cases, roasters create blends with the intent of making a unique, consistent flavor. Keep in mind: It’s not easy to mix single-origin beans; putting the wrong types together can lead to an unpleasant or bland taste.
About one-third of all of the world’s coffee comes from Brazil, making it the leading grower and exporter.
You may be familiar with Santos-grade coffee, but this label isn’t actually an indication of bean quality. Much of the country’s premium coffee comes through Port of Santos, which is where the beans get the Santos label.
The best Brazilian coffees have mellow, nutty flavors and relatively low acidity. Often, they’re bittersweet and sport a sweet, chocolate-like roast taste. The mildness helps balance out more intense flavors, making the Brazilian bean an excellent foundation for a blend.
Brazilian Bean Characteristics:
- Flavor: Mild, nutty, medium-bodied, low acidity. Most Brazilian beans end up in espresso blends due to their soft, mild flavor.
- Elevation: 2,000 to 4,000 feet. Most Brazilian coffee is grown under the sun on large fields at low altitudes. This environment accounts for the mild, nutty flavors and the low acidity in the bean.
- Processing: Mostly natural, dry processed. Most Brazilian beans are naturally processed, leading to a medium body and a sweeter flavor typical of Brazilian coffee.
- Common Roasts: Light, medium, dark. These versatile beans feature different characteristics depending on the roast level. Light roasting a Brazilian bean highlights its unique flavors while dark roasting is ideal for espresso blends. Take care with these soft beans, though.
- Common Brews: Espresso, cold brew, French press. You can always use your usual brewing method, but nutty Brazilian beans work well for espresso and cold brew.
Vietnam is the world’s second-largest coffee producer. Second only to rice, coffee is a highly valued commodity in Vietnam, accounting for more than 18 percent of global coffee exports.
Most Vietnamese coffee is grown in the Central Highlands with volcanic soil, creating a perfect environment for growing coffee, pepper, and cacao. This country primarily produces bitter and highly-caffeinated robusta coffee.
Vietnamese Bean Characteristics:
- Flavor: Smoky, chocolate, sweet berry, mildly acidic. Most coffee from Vietnam is robusta, but you can occasionally find blends that include homegrown arabica beans.
- Elevation: 1,600 to 4,000 feet. Because of the low elevation, Vietnamese coffee beans tend to be sweet and mild.
- Processing: Mostly natural, dry processed. Like Brazilian beans, Vietnamese beans can feature fruit-like berry sweetness due to dry processing.
- Common Roasts: Medium, dark, very dark. Vietnamese beans may be sweet, but they’re also bold; they’re best roasted to medium or darker. Because they don’t taste particularly bright, these beans don’t benefit from light roasting.
- Common Brews: Phin, French press, or drip. Robusta beans and blends are traditionally brewed with a Vietnamese Phin, but you can also try a pour-over if you find an Arabica bean.
Colombian coffee sports a rich, medium-bodied taste with citrus-like acidity. The highest-grown Colombian beans exemplify the fruity flavor typical of classic Latin American roasts. The country’s high volume of crops grown means that its arabica beans are a natural base for blended roasts. Colombian beans also tend to be aggressively priced.
Colombian Bean Characteristics:
- Flavor: Well-balanced, mild, tropical fruits, medium-bodied, floral, medium to high acidity. Thanks to the country’s well-developed coffee industry, there are several types of specialty-grade Colombian beans. Each Colombian bean has its own unique flavor, but most have one of the listed characteristics.
- Elevation: 4,000 to 6,000 feet. Colombian coffee fields are a higher altitude than Brazilian farms, which leads to stronger floral and fruity notes and greater acidity levels.
- Processing: Mostly wet processed. High-quality Colombian beans get the wet method treatment, meaning they’re washed.
- Common Roasts: Light, medium, dark. Because Colombian beans come in such a wide variety, you’ll find batches suitable for most roast profiles. However, you probably shouldn’t go beyond a dark roast, especially if you’re not working with a blend.
- Common Brews: Espresso, French press, Aeropress. Again, the wide range of Colombian bean variety makes them versatile for any brewing methods. The listed methods always deliver great results, but you can feel free to use your preferred equipment.
Indonesian coffees are usually full-bodied with a somewhat dry aftertaste. Regions around this country are typically included in the category because they share geographic proximity and characteristic flavor.
The region has fertile, rich soil amid a tropical climate, which is ideal for growing vibrant, fully-flavored coffee beans with gentle acidity and a long aftertaste. Certain coffees have more earthy flavors, which can be overpowering for those who aren’t expecting it; these beans can take a few samples to get used to and fully appreciate.
Indonesian Bean Characteristics:
- Flavor: Region-dependent. Indonesia is a highly bio-diverse country, and the coffee proves that fact; Indonesian coffee tastes differently depending on the region it comes from. For example, Sumatra coffee has low acidity, a heavy body, and spicy flavors, while Sulawesi coffees are more woody, fruity, and smooth.
- Elevation: Over 4,000 to 5,000 feet, depending on the region. Indonesian Arabica beans come from the highest elevations, but the exact amount depends on where.
- Processing: Mostly semi-washed. Most of the climate in Indonesia is fairly humid, so most of the beans go through the wet hulling process. This method imparts a unique earth flavor that Indonesian beans commonly feature.
- Common Roasts: Medium, dark. Again, the wide variety of beans available from Indonesia means you have plenty of freedom in your roast. High-grown and high-quality beans benefit the most from medium roasts, but the bolder, smokier Javan beans should get more time.
- Common Brews: Espresso, drip, Aeropress, Moka pot. Your preference will do fine, but the listed methods enhance Indonesian beans’ spicy, earthy tones.
For hundreds of years, Ethiopia has produced highly-rated single-origin premium coffee beans. Generally speaking, enthusiasts describe Ethiopian coffees as complex with a distinct spice, a wine-like quality, and a healthy acidity.
The top three Ethiopian regions that produce coffee grow beans with their own distinct flavors. The southern Gedeo bean is known for its wet processing and spicy fragrance with a floral aroma. They’re often more expensive than Jamaican Blue Mountain or Konas, but they consistently rate highly among coffee lovers.
Ethiopian Bean Characteristics:
- Flavor: Wine-like, bright, floral, fruity, citrus, medium body. As mentioned, Ethiopian coffees are famous for their bright acidity and floral scent. Some are so light that drinkers consider them to be tea-like. Regardless of what part of the country they’re from, Ethiopian beans are always complex.
- Elevation: 3,500 to 8,000 feet. Ethiopian beans get their signature floral scent and citrus flavor from their high-altitude growth. Varying altitude among regions means different levels of acidity in Ethiopian coffee.
- Processing: Dry and wet processing. Most small farms use the dry processing method, but the largest coffee farms use the wet processing method to highlight its beans’ features.
- Common Roasts: Light, medium. The citrusy, floral nature of Ethiopian beans benefits most from a light roast, but you may prefer a medium roast to accommodate the high acidity. Once you start reaching dark levels of roast, Ethiopian beans start to suffer from flavor loss.
- Common Brews: Drip, cold brew, pour-over. The pour-over technique best supports Ethiopian coffee’s light, bright body, but any of the listed methods works well.
Historically, coffee grown in Honduras was unremarkable and used as a base for blends. Due to poor structure, growers typically sent Honduran coffees to Guatemala to fetch a better price.
However, in just a few short years, Honduran beans emerged as a strong contender highly sought after worldwide. Thanks to government investment and repair, Honduran coffees have become world-famous.
Honduran Bean Characteristics:
- Flavor: Chocolate, caramel, berries, fruity, nutty, medium-bodied, robust, balanced acidity. Honduras features a diverse array of growing conditions, like Indonesia, so different regions produce unique flavor profiles. For instance, Agalta coffee contains hints of chocolate and caramel, but Opalaca coffee tastes like grapes, berries, and other tropical fruits.
- Elevation: 3,200 to 5,200 feet. Honduran coffee beans are grown in somewhat high conditions, though the elevation is not as great as Ethiopia. These conditions lead to a more balanced acidity that doesn’t pierce through, allowing for a softer coffee.
- Processing: Mostly washed. Though some coffee beans go through the dry and sen-washed processes, most growers from Honduras use the wet method. Washing Honduran beans highlights their iconic characteristics.
- Common Roasts: Light, medium, dark. With such a wide variety of bean types available, Honduras produces something for all roast profiles. Caramel and chocolate notes flourish in a dark roast, but a light roast is better to appreciate the fruity acidity.
- Common Brews: Pour-over, drip, espresso, French press. Honduran beans are likewise suitable for all kinds of brewing methods.
Indian coffee beans are grown in the southern part of the country and exhibit a moderate acidity and body. The best Indian coffees are similar to Indonesian coffees — especially the Java Arabica, whose fuller body and sharpness are also reminiscent of a Guatemalan brew.
The spiciness of Indian coffee may include pepper, cardamom, nutmeg, clove, and a few hints of tropical fruit. Most Indian beans are exported to Asian and European markets; American customers may be unfamiliar with them.
Indian Bean Characteristics:
- Flavor: Balanced, sweet, mild, spicy, nutty, chocolate-like. Indian coffee beans trend towards earthy, sweet, and spicy taste profiles, but certain specialty-grade beans sport a bright acidity. It’s essential to take good care of these tender beans, though; neglect can lead to flavor loss.
- Elevation: 1,500 to 5,000 feet. Most Indian coffee grows at a low elevation, which is a more suitable environment for Robusta beans. A few high-elevation farms now produce special Arabica beans.
- Processing: Dry and wet processing. Growers commonly use the dry processing method on the low-elevation Robusta beans, but the Arabica beans are subject to either choice. In some cases, you’ll also find semi-washed Indian beans.
- Common Roasts: Medium, dark, super dark. The flavor of Indian beans doesn’t really pop in a light roast, except for rare specialty micro-lots. For the most part, the mild and sweet flavors will come through in a medium or darker roast.
- Common Brews: Espresso, South Indian filter, Moka pot, French press, Aeropress. Indian beans are versatile, but the best methods are the ones that both highlight their mild nature and through in a splash of boldness. Indian coffee is often brewed through a South Indian filter and taken with milk and sugar.
Coffee from Uganda may be less famous than Kenyan and Ethiopian beans, but they’re still a force not to be reckoned with. The country is the eighth-largest coffee producer globally, growing more than 282m kilos of coffee in 2018 alone.
The country’s coffee-growing regions are:
- West Nile: Okoro, bordering on Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo
- Northern Region: Gulu, Lira
- Eastern: Bugisu bordering on Kenya, Mbale
- Central and Southwest: Masaka by Lake Victoria, Mukono, Jinja, Kampala
- Western Region: Mbarara bordering Democratic Republic of Corgo, Kasese
Ugandan Bean Characteristics:
- Flavor: Peach, chocolate, berries, apricot, citrus, medium-bodied, light-bodied. Though it is not as complex as Ethiopian coffee, it has a light body and a sweet, citrusy, fruity flavor. Beans that come from the Mount Elgon region have a distinctly different profile, producing a winey coffee.
- Elevation: 4,200 to 7,500 feet. Beans grown at a lower altitude embody the spice and chocolate characteristics. Higher-altitude farms that grow Arabica beans have a flavor profile more like berries, fruits, and citrus.
- Processing: Both dry and wet processing. Like with any beans, these coffee flavors depend on the processing the plant underwent. Wet processed Ugandan beans have a satin-like body with stone fruit notes, and unwashed beans have a fuller body with a berry flavor.
- Common Roasts: Medium, dark. Ugandan coffee beans are best taken to the fullest. Again, beans from the Mount Elgon region are flavorful even under a light roast.
- Common Brews: Aeropress, espresso, French press. In general, these beans are best with the listed methods, but it ultimately depends on the nature of the roast. If you know what you’re doing, pour-over could be a creative method.
Mexico produces a wide variety of high-quality coffees that are typically wet processed. Some of Mexico’s finest coffees come from small organic farms in Chiapas, Oaxaca, and Coatepec. Though high-elevation farms aren’t typical for Mexican beans, the large and continuously-growing industry ensures there will be a steady supply of good coffee from Mexico.
Agriculture may make up 5 percent of the Mexican GDP, but its employees are nearly a fifth of the total workforce. It’s no wonder that Mexico comes in ninth for world coffee producers.
Mexican Bean Characteristics:
- Flavor: Spice, delicate fruit, nutty, light-bodied, mild, low acid. Arabica beans grown in Mexico are often mildly sweet, spicy, and earthy with a medium body. Higher-quality specialty-grade beans have a gentle sweetness, a lighter body, and a dryness and acidity much like white wine.
- Elevation: 2,500 to 5,500 feet. Mexican beans grow in lower elevations, unlike more common coffee-growing regions in Central America. Because of this growing environment, Mexican coffee is less acidic and sports a milder flavor.
- Processing: Mostly wet. Mexican beans get the wet processing treatment to help generate a lighter body and cleaner flavor tones. You may find dry-processed lower-grade beans, but they’re not nearly as common.
- Common Roasts: Medium, dark. Mexican coffee is mostly dark roasted, but you can find the occasional medium roast too.
- Common Brews: Drip, cold brew, espresso. The low acidity and mild sweetness of Mexican coffee make its beans perfect for creating an espresso blend. They are also pleasant in a cold brew or as a drip coffee.
In 2018, Peru became the 10th largest coffee producer globally, growing more than 250m kilos of beans. Nearly all of Peru’s volume of beans are Arabica, so they’re generally considered to be high-quality plants.
Good Peruvian coffee is flavorful, aromatic, and gentle with a light acidity thanks to its growing climate. These conditions are also great for growing cacao: rich soils, high altitudes, and a tropical climate. Most varieties come from the Amazon rainforest.
Peruvian Bean Characteristics:
- Flavor: Chocolate, nutty, floral, fruity, light-bodied, medium-bodied, light acidity. Peruvian coffee embodies the iconic concept of great South American coffee with hints of nuts and chocolate. These high-quality beans have pronounced floral acidity and fruity tones, but they don’t overpower the cup.
- Elevation: 3,200 to 5,900 feet. Beans grown at higher altitudes demonstrate stronger sweetness, a floral aroma, and bright acidity. Lower-elevation beans also have a floral flavor, but the acidity is lighter and contains notes of nuts and fruit.
- Processing: Some wet processing, mostly dry processing. Large-scale commercial operations use the dry method to process Peruvian beans, but a few farms use the wet way for their specialty-grade beans. In Peru, wet-processing availability is on the rise thanks to the money specialty Peruvian blends fetch.
- Common Roasts: Medium, dark. Sweet, mild Peruvian beans handle a dark roast well, but it ultimately depends on what flavor you want to come through in your cup. Peruvian beans don’t overpower the palate even if you prefer darker roasts.
- Common Brews: Pour-over, drip, espresso. Peruvian coffee tastes great as a drip coffee or an espresso. The higher-quality specialty-grade beans are also good as a pour-over drink.
What About The Coffee Beans From Other Countries?
In this post we covered the top 10 coffee producers. Of course, there are coffee ‘gems’ in other parts of the world, as well, eg. the Kona coffee beans from Hawaii or the Blue Mountain coffee from Jamaica.
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