The coffee bean belt

The coffee bean belt

Coffee is grown in a vast region known as the bean belt. This term is appropriate since this area is like a belt that wraps around the globe at the equator. Coffee is grown just above and just below the equatorial zone. Within that bean belt area, there are many regions or origins. The terms region and origin refer to where the plant is grown in the world or at times within a country. 

Coffees from diverse regions of the world – and micro-regions, too – can all taste different. Why are there different tastes? Well, there are a lot of factors that go into it. 

Each region within the coffee bean belt has a unique altitude, climate, and soil conditions. Another factor is processing traditions. These processing methods dictate how the beans are harvested and what happens to them after they are removed from the plant. Just those traditions can mean huge differences in your cup.

What can you expect from beans from different regions? As you try coffees from around the world, you’ll see that some regions produce beans with more body, while other beans have more acidity. 

Some taste sweeter, and others taste fruity. Some coffees can even be spicy or smoky! Let’s take a quick coffee tour around the world to see the different regions, from Africa and the Middle East to Latin America. This will give you an idea of what you can expect from each area of the bean belt.

Going from north to south, countries that grow coffee in Central America include Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Costa Rica, and Panama. We can include Mexico in this general region. In South America, Colombia, Brazil, and Peru are the main producers.

Coffee beans produced in Central American countries can be spicy, complex, fruity, and have a good body. 

Many countries in Central and South America have had their share of drama and tragedy producing coffee as growers have dealt with natural disasters and outbreaks of leaf rust.  In Central America, the country that produces the most amount of coffee is Honduras. 

That wasn’t always the case, though. Just 50 years ago, the coffee industry in Honduras was in its infancy. About 100,000 growers produce mostly shade-grown coffee beans on small-scale farms. The mountainous landscape and soil in the six coffee-growing regions are ideal for growing specialty coffee. 

You’ll find lots of diversity in tastes because of the many varieties, processes, and microclimates. Guatemala was once a top producer in Central America, and now 500,000 people work in the coffee sector. Guatemalan coffees are grown in rich volcanic soil and are a bit spicy with chocolate notes.

The coffee industry in Nicaragua started off with a bang, and within just twenty years, it became the most important export crop. Now, about 15% of the country is involved in coffee in some way. 

To differentiate their product in the market, they focus on growing high-quality beans. Nicaragua’s washed coffees are known for their delicate floral notes but also their bright citrus tastes.

Known for producing excellent coffee with sweet chocolate notes, Costa Rica produces less than some of its neighbors, but these Arabica coffees are highly appreciated. Panama has impressed the specialty coffee world with its unique Geisha variety that has floral notes and a delicate body. In Mexico, over 500,000 producers make a living on small coffee farms less than three hectares. Mexican coffee is known for being medium-bodied, and they excel at producing organic coffee.

Brazil has not only been growing coffee for a long time, but they’ve been producing huge amounts of it. They’re the largest coffee-producing country in the world, and coffee is grown on almost 1.8 million hectares of land. 

About 40% of the world’s coffee, and 70% of all Arabica coffee, come from Brazil. Coffees grown in Brazil tend to be low-acid, medium-bodied coffees that can often be sweet with chocolate notes. In South America, Colombia comes in second to Brazil in the amount of production. About 555,000 coffee growers farm on 2.3 million acres of land. 

Colombian coffee is generally sweet with notes of caramel or raw sugar, and in the south of the country, citrus notes are common.

Peru shines as an organic producer of washed coffee beans. The more than 100,000 coffee producers work on small farms of about 3 hectares each. Peruvian coffee is known for being mellow with mild acidity. Of the 12 coffee-producing countries in Africa, most of them produce small amounts of coffee beans. 

Coffees from some African countries, like Kenya or Ethiopia, are prized for being quite fruity and bright. Ethiopia is the original birthplace of Arabica coffee and is the largest producer in this region. Trademark varieties of Ethiopian coffee, such as the Arabica Yirgacheffe bean, are prized in the specialty coffee industry.

The washed coffees of Yirgacheffe have floral notes and a pleasing acidity. Over 12 million people make a living from the coffee sector, but Ethiopian coffee isn’t just about business. 

The coffee culture in this country not only stretches back more than a thousand years, but is also rich in traditions and social connections. The Ethiopian coffee ceremony, an important social tradition, is a remarkable gesture of hospitality that unites the community. 

In Uganda, coffee tops the list of export products. The country mainly focuses on growing Robusta (87%), with just 13% of coffee production coming from Arabica. But the fact that Uganda is the largest exporter of Robusta on the continent shouldn’t surprise us since Robusta is native to this region. So expect coffees from Uganda to have sweet, fruity notes.

Yemen, in the Middle East, was once an important country for the coffee industry, but production is now so low that it’s hard to get your hands on a bag. If you do get to taste some from Yemen, you’ll enjoy the lively flavors of spices such as cinnamon.

Southeast Asia is an extensive region that has huge importance to the industry. Countries growing beans in Southeast Asia Include Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, and Papua New Guinea. For the purposes of this article, I’ll also include India. Growing regions in Southeast Asia have rich coffee-growing traditions and unusual tastes in the cup.

A newcomer to global coffee productionVietnam started producing beans in the 1990s. It is now the second-largest producer in the world. Most of Vietnam’s production is the less appreciated Robusta coffee, which is why a lot of coffee from Vietnam is used in blends or to make instant coffee. Back in the 17th century, as the coffee bean left Africa and the Middle East, the first country where plantations were established was in the Indonesian islands. 

Indonesia is now the fourth country in the world in terms of coffee production. Most of this coffee is Robusta, but Arabica coffee beans still play a part, representing about 25% of all the beans grown there. Indonesian coffees are bold yet have mild acidity and are sometimes smoky.

India, in the nearby South Asia region, has been growing coffee since the 1600s, when coffee started to expand beyond Yemen. Most of the 210,000 coffee producers in India are small-scale growers who plant both Arabica and Robusta coffee beans. Indian coffees are known for their low acidity and bold, spicy flavor.

There are other countries that produce coffee beans, but time doesn’t allow us to examine them all. Get to know where the coffee in your cup is grown and learn what you can expect from major coffee-growing regions. 

This knowledge will expand your horizons and delight you as you experience new flavors and exotic tastes. Coffee lovers can tour the world atlas with these specialty beans in a never-ending journey of discovery.

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