Today, coffee grows in around 70 countries across Africa, the Americas and Asia.
The coffee growing lands lie between the Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn, which is often referred to as ‘the bean belt’. The geographical area that the coffee belt covers provides a very specific set of climate conditions in which coffee trees grow and thrive.
In recent years we can hear more often about the term ‘terroir’ when speaking about coffee and conditions which affect the taste of it. The term ‘terroir’ is French and until not long ago it was only used to refer to a wine production.
Coffee terroir means everything that surrounds the tree, the composition of the soil, temperature - elevation, rain, micro and macro climate. The specific characteristics of the environment gives coffee its unique flavour and aroma.
Colombian hills covered with coffee plants
As we already know from the previous blog post, the specialty coffee industry is dominated by Arabica varietals. Arabica coffee plants grow at relatively high altitudes: 1000 - 2000 MASL and thrive at temperatures between 18 - 21 Celsius degrees.
Some of the best quality Arabica grows in volcanic soil, which is rich in nutrients like phosphorus, potassium, calcium, zinc, magnesium and iron. These minerals directly benefit the coffee plant. Due to the young age of the volcanic soil, its fertility is high as well as its drainage, which is super important when it comes to the rainy season.
Coffee production happens in specific climate conditions along the Equatorial zone called The Bean Belt, where dry and rainy seasons are very distinctive.
In the subtropical regions there is one major period of rainfall which results in one harvest, while in the equatorial regions we see more rainfalls, which causes continual flowering and results in two coffee harvest seasons. The dry season should come during and after harvest, where it allows the cherries/ coffee seeds to be dried on patios, otherwise the drying process will have to happen with the use of the special machine to avoid the beans gaining any extra moisture from the air.
The altitude coffee grows at also has a direct impact on the flavour profile.
You’ve may already heard about the coffee elevation and that the higher coffee grows the better it gets. Well, higher you go, the cooler it gets. Due to the cooler temperatures the coffee cherries are maturing longer which results in more intense acidity and sweetness of the fruit.
A high altitude coffee farm in El Salvador.
Terroir is what makes your coffee unique, it separates the Colombian coffee from Ethiopian and Kenyan from Indonesian. Coffee is seasonal and depending on the time of the year you will find different origins in the offering although the riming of harvests is very dependent on the weather conditions.
African coffees are recognised for their unique qualities, delicate tea-like body and refreshing acidity. From explosive notes of citrus and flowers from Ethiopia to berry notes and silky mouthfeel of Burundi, over the crisp and clean acidity of Kenyan coffees this continent has a lot to offer.
Lush coffee plants in southern Ethiopia.
The harvest season varies, and you may expect Burundi, Rwanda and Congo entering the market from September through to December, while Ethiopia or Kenya are coming up in Spring/ Summer time.
For some of us, a cup of coffee brings to mind one of the countries of South America. One of the largest coffee producing countries, Brazil, supplies almost ⅓ of the world coffee market. With low acidity, thick texture and chocolatey notes, coffee from Brazil will comfort most caffeine lovers.
A large coffee farm in Brazil
The diversity of the farming elevation in Colombia creates a variety of flavour qualities. Clean brightness and fruity notes, or chocolate and balanced sweetness will make you want to explore coffee from across this country.
You are most likely to see Colombian coffee all year round, as the geographical set up split the country into two spheres with distinctive climate conditions. So on the northern Colombian coffee is usually introduced around Winter time and southern regions are up on offer in late Summer/Autumn.
Brazil and Peru are entering the market between September - December.
Coffee blossom and fruit in Colombia.
Central America covers Costa Rica, Guatemala, Mexico, and many more coffee growing countries. These origins comfort your taste buds with mellow sweetness, cocoa notes and hints of stone fruits. Central America can also surprise you with citrusy and bright coffees from Honduras and allspice cup from Nicaragua.
Central American coffees are up on the market usually around Spring - Summer time.
Asia offers a lot of diversity in coffee species, from one of the largest robusta producers - Vietnam, to the developing specialty arabica coffee market in Myanmar and the less usual Liberica coffee in the Philippines.
Take a trip to Indonesia and find some very distinctive flavours and aromas.
Indonesian coffee is known for its smokey, heavy bodied, earthy characteristics with hints of dried fruits profile. Indoinesian coffee enters the market in the late Autumn - Winter time.
A coffee plantation in Vietnam.
The Bean Belt offers diversity in soil, climate and topography which create unique conditions for growing coffee. The distance from the equator, the altitude, micro and macro climates directly impact the quality of coffee. So even within one country the neighbouring regions will produce unrepeatable and distinctive coffees.
Of course, growers are always innovating by growing different varietals and experimenting with processing methods and so we are increasingly seeing coffee that is not what we typically expect from a particular region - it’s one of the elements that makes speciality coffee so exciting.
Logistical issues at origin can also affect how quickly we see the coffee arrive in the UK. For us as roasters, this can sometimes make things a little difficult when we are trying to plan our coffee offering but again, it definitely keeps things interesting!
I am kindly inviting you to taste coffees from across the globe and experience how different and special they are.