Coffee Varieties

Coffee is grown in many areas of the world, in various altitudes and climates. The origin of the coffee bean is yet another component that influences the quality and taste of the coffee. Factors include the variety of the plant, the soil, weather, altitude, and how the cherries are processed after they are picked.

The best beans are grown on high altitudes, in an area with a tropical climate and rich soil. Outlined below are the characteristics of coffee grown in different regions.

Ethiopia

  • Coffea arabica originated in Ethiopia, and the country is Africa’s top coffee producer.
  • Ethiopian coffee is one of the world’s most varied.
  • Most beans display flavors of wine and fruit.
  • Coffee beans originating in Ethiopia are named after the region where they were grown. These varieties include: Sidamo, Yirgacheffe, Harar, and Limu.
  • Sidamo: acidic, floral, with notes of chocolate, spice, citrus
  • Harar: fruity, medium acidity, full body
  • Yirgacheffe: one of the finest varieties of coffee, citrusy and floral notes
  • Ethiopian coffees can be purchased as “natural” or “washed”. The two different styles give the beans unique flavors; naturals are more fruity, while washed coffees are more floral.

Kenya

  • Kenyan coffee is known for it’s high quality.
  • It is grown in high altitudes, and the main growing area is on the foothills of Mount Kenya.
  • Coffee is balanced and complex.
  • Medium body, rich fragrance, berry and citrus flavors

Guatemala

  • Guatemala Antigua: Complex, floral, spices, smoky, acidic, chocolatey
  • “Softer” Guatemalas: Cobán, full body, gentle profile; Huehuetenango; and San Marcos coffees.
  • Coffees from south central Guatemala (Atitlan) are as complex as Antiguas but are lighter bodied.
  • Strictly Hard Bean (SHB) is the highest grade of Guatemalan coffee.

Brazil

  • First in global coffee production.
  • Usually dry-processed
  • Grown in lower altitudes
  • Full-bodied, sweet, low-acidity
  • Beans: Bahia, Bourbon Santos

Colombia

  • Second in global coffee production.
  • Varieties are identified by grade, such as Supremo and Extra.
  • Rugged landscape provides a good environment for the growth of coffee plants.
  • Medium body, light notes of fruit, slightly acidic.

Indonesia/Sumatra 

  • Grown in clay-covered plateaus
  • Complex, rich, acidic
  • The finest varieties are Lintong and Mandheling

    Beans processed by the Asian palm civet. Source: McKay Savage/Flickr.

  • Uneven tastes due to varied processing; some Sumatras can taste earthy, others musty.
  • Aceh coffees (Gayo Mountain Washed) are lighter-bodied, sweet
  • Kopi Luak: a distinct form of coffee processing–the coffee beans are obtained after their digestion by the Asian palm civet, a small catlike animal. Coffee processed in this way is thought to be the most expensive in the world.
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