Coffee Flavor by Region
How many times have you picked up a bag of coffee from the shelf and read the name of a far-flung country in big, bold letters on the front of the package? While this may mean something to some, many people probably don't realize that this plays a massive role in the flavor of the coffee they're about to drink. Many accept that French wine can taste drastically different than wine from the United States. Coffee is no different in this regard. The origin of a bag of coffee can significantly determine how the coffee smells, tastes, and ultimately reacts to hot water pouring through it.
Each region has different altitudes, climates, soil types, and processing methods. Some countries even have coffee plant varieties that only appear in a few places worldwide. These regional differences help make coffee so interesting!
The following coffee-growing regions make up most of the specialty coffee you'll see on the shelf at your local café!
Where is Coffee Grown?
Bet you didn't see this one coming, right? Coffee-growing in this part of the country is still in its earliest stages and has only started to yield usable coffee beans over the past few years. The central growing regions are in Southern California, based mostly between Santa Barbara and the Mexico border near San Diego.
What Does California Grown Coffee Taste Like?
California-grown coffee is typically high quality. This quality premium reflects in the price—most bags fetch upward of $50. Overall, one can expect Californian coffee to have some similar attributes to Mexican coffee, but with more of a floral, tropical fruit-forward twist and a silky-smooth finish.
Commonly thought to be the U.S' only coffee-growing region, Kona coffee comes with brand recognition and a price tag to match. Since Kona's coffee boom almost 30 years ago, Maui, Kauai, and some of the state's other mountainous regions have followed suit.
What Does Hawaiian Coffee Taste Like?
The nutrient-rich volcanic soil found around Hawaii and the low altitude of its growing regions contribute to its signature taste. A well-roasted Hawaiian coffee will have rich notes such as rose, honey, molasses, berries, and sometimes even some floral notes. They tend to have a silky-smooth mouthfeel, low acidity, and a bit of a heavier body.
With over 200 years of coffee-growing history, Costa Rica's infrastructure allows small farms to get their names onto roasters' wish lists around the world. A unique processing method, the honey process, and is unique to Costa Rica. Honey-processed coffee can fetch a high price and is highly sought-after for its sweet, honey-like profile.
What Does Costa Rican Coffee Taste Like?
Costa Rican coffee is typically clean and sweet, with a light body. As with many Central and South American coffees, Costa Rican coffee usually has delicious chocolate, floral, and stone fruit notes.
Due to a considerable amount of rainfall, high humidity, and various volcanic regions, Guatemalan coffee makes for a great cup any time of day. The coffee infrastructure of Guatemala is such that many coffee farms are equipped with mills to produce coffee without using a shared community mill. Milling coffee on their farm benefits these farmers and the final consumer since we can trace the coffee back to its source!
What Does Guatemalan Coffee Taste Like?
Guatemalan coffee has many of Central America's key profile notes, such as chocolate, nutty richness, sometimes with bright citrus acidity, and a full body.
As Mexico's most important trade partner, the United States buys a great majority of its coffee. Because of this, many roasters State-side are very comfortable using their coffee as single-origin filter coffees or as an interesting addition to espresso blends.
What Does Mexican Coffee Taste Like?
Mexican coffee is pretty versatile but tends to have a light body with low acidity. Typical flavors are chocolate, toffee, brown sugar, toasted nuts, and even rich sweet fruit notes.
Nicaraguan coffee, known in recent years for its traceability, has played a significant role in the country's whole economy for over 100 years. Despite some problems with quality and drought in the later part of the 20th century, local producers and farmers have stepped up their game, and it's paying off.
What Does Nicaraguan Coffee Taste Like?
Nicaraguan coffee tends to be fruitier and sweeter than Mexican coffee, with a pleasant, light acidity and medium body. You can expect stone fruit, chocolate, and rich caramel-like notes.
As the largest coffee producer in the world for over a century, Brazilian coffees have become mainstays on most coffee roasters' seasonal roster. Due to high production, roasters worldwide need to keep an eye out for lower quality batches.
What Does Brazilian Coffee Taste Like?
Due to its traditionally heavy body, low acidity, and rich chocolatey and fruity profile, Brazilian coffee is one of the most popular choices for espresso—both as a single origin and as a base in espresso blends. For many coffee drinkers, this flavor profile embodies "real" coffee.
Whoever was the first marketer for the Colombian coffee industry deserved a raise. For over 100 years, Colombian coffee has been a global powerhouse and has the quality to prove it.
What Does Colombian Coffee taste Like?
With high-quality growing regions all around the country, there's a wide range of profiles found in Colombian coffee. They tend to be moderately acidic, with a heavy body—perfect for espresso—, and chocolate, berry, fruit, and nutty flavor notes.
If you look at a map of Peru, you'd be hard-pressed to find a part of the country that isn't close to a mountain range. Peruvian coffee is grown almost from its Northern border with Colombia to the Southern border near Bolivia and Chile. Many in the coffee world praise Peru for its organic farming practices.
What Does Peruvian Coffee Taste Like?
Peruvian coffee has a very muted sweetness, low-medium acidity, and a clean cup. It has the perfect heavy body to make it a great espresso blend coffee. If you're lucky, you can get some tropical fruity notes such as mango and other classic South American flavors such as dark chocolate, nuts, and honey.
Burundi, Rwanda, and Tanzania
This trio not only shares borders but flavor profiles as well. Although Tanzania gets most of the global fame, all three benefit from the high altitude, mountainous regions across the three countries, similar soil type, and climate. After the 1994 Rwandan Civil War that sent the country into turmoil, the coffee industry helped re-establish the whole economy. All three countries now benefit from improving infrastructure and more brand recognition around the world.
What Does Coffee Burundian, Rwandan, and Tanzanian Coffee Taste Like?
Burundian, Rwandan and Tanzanian coffee tends to have fruity, floral, and chocolatey flavor notes, with a silky-smooth mouthfeel and bright acidity. Some exciting flavors are red apple, grape, tropical fruit, and even smoky notes such as tobacco for Tanzanian coffee.
Often noted as the birthplace of coffee, Ethiopia is one of the world's top coffee-producing nations. The two main processing methods in Ethiopia are the washed and natural processes.
What Does Ethiopian Coffee Taste Like?
Washed coffees usually have a much more muted—but still delicious—balanced flavor profile, moderate-high acidity, and a clean mouthfeel. Naturals end up having a whacky, almost fermented taste to them and can have some unique fruity notes, such as blueberry or raspberry pie, but with not as clean of a mouthfeel.
Ethiopia is a unique coffee region in that it has its own "Heirloom" varieties of coffee plants. Since hundreds or even thousands of varieties fit into the "Heirloom" category, there's almost no way to categorize them individually.
Many specialty coffee roasters worldwide will have Kenyan coffee on their roster at least a couple of times per year. The prevalence of Kenyan beans isn't a fluke, and the reason is simple: Kenyan coffees pack a flavor punch! Kenya has the golden combination of rich volcanic soil, high altitude, good infrastructure for transportation of coffee, and experienced coffee farmers.
What Does Kenyan Coffee Taste Like?
Kenyan coffee brings incredible fruity, berry sweetness and a unique acidity that discerns it from almost any other coffee in the world. Look out for the SL28 and SL34 varietals, which originate from Kenya.
As one of Asia's fastest-growing specialty coffee regions, China is making its way onto café menus across the globe. Yunnan is China's primary coffee region. Yunnan has a slightly higher altitude and colder temperatures than other coffee-growing regions.
What Does Chinese Coffee Taste Like?
Because of the high altitude and cold temperatures, Chinese coffee tends to be sweet, with a strong body and low acidity. You can expect some dark chocolate, earthy black tea, and decadent sweet fruit notes.
If you know India, you know how much the country's agriculture and economy revolve around the monsoon season. For coffee, this phenomenon gives it one of the world's most note-worthy terroirs—but also means that the line between a well-produced coffee and a poor one is very fine.
What Does Indian Coffee Taste Like?
Well-produced Indian coffee has a heavy body and a low acidity. Much like tea from this part of the world, Indian coffee has some excellent herbal and spicy notes, such as jasmine, nutmeg, cinnamon, and clove. It can even have tropical fruit notes like passion fruit.
As the world's largest archipelago, you can expect the vast range of coffee-growing regions to yield a variety of different profiles. Although each area does have some more unique attributes, most Indonesian coffee does fall into a similar profile category.
What Does Indonesian Coffee Taste Like?
The main reason for Indonesia's unique profile is Giling Basah, a processing method that blends the natural and washed process. This traditional processing style gives the coffee a heavy body, earthy, spicy flavor notes, and low acidity. Because of this, many roasters around the world use Indonesian coffee as a base in espresso blends.
Papua New Guinea
Just North of the Australian coast lies one of the most misunderstood coffee regions in the world. Since Western New Guinea is part of Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Indonesian coffee tend to get lumped together.
What Does Papua New Guinea Coffee Taste Like?
Papua New Guinea coffee is generally sweeter, with rich chocolatey and fruity notes, Indonesian-type earthiness, and a heavy body, with a cleaner finish.
Unbeknownst to many coffee drinkers, Yemen was the first country in the world to commercially grow and export coffee. Although it has over 500 years of experience in the field, Yemen has had its struggles in recent years, especially throughout Civil Wars and famine that ravaged the country. Despite this, you can still look around and find an excellent—but expensive—bag of Yemeni coffee from time to time.
What Does Yemeni Coffee Taste Like?
Yemeni coffee tastes like no other coffee on Earth. With tropical fruit acidity, a silky body, and a complex flavor profile, it's no wonder coffee roasters are turning to Yemen once again. You can expect baker's chocolate, tropical fruit, rich berry with a nutty finish.
Although the profile of a coffee (or, ultimately, the way we perceive how it tastes) is entirely subjective, there are general features that help us distinguish one from another. Where coffee beans are grown and how they are picked and processed affect many characteristics in your cup. These characteristics include the body, mouthfeel (how heavy or light the coffee feels in your mouth), size and shape of the bean, acidity, and even taste. It's for this reason that it's preferable to have beans that aren't over-roasted. Over-roasting burns the beans, which prevents us from tasting the unique regional attributes that help us tell the difference between an Ethiopian natural and a Costa Rica honey-washed coffee.
What's your favorite coffee region?