The Bean Belt Major Coffee Growing Regions of the World

The Bean Belt

Ever wonder where the coffee you had this morning came from? The Bean Belt is comprised of the major coffee growing regions of the World tucked between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. From Africa where it originated, the cultivation of coffee has expanded to the East and to the West to form what is known as The Bean Belt.

While Brazil dominates the market in quantity (nearly 3 million metric tons), coffee growing regions cover the subtropical and equatorial territories around the globe. In fact, coffee cultivation was reintroduced in the mid 1980s in Vietnam, the country is now the second largest exporter of coffee.

Coffee Growing Regions in the Americas

In North America, Mexico is the 9th exporter of coffee in the world. Production is mainly concentrated in the south central to southern regions of the country and grows particularly well in the coastal region of Soconusco, Chiapas, near the border of Guatemala.

In Central and South America, coffee growing regions like Guatemala and Colombia have the rugged landscapes and rich volcanic soil favorable to growing coffee. Colombia’s coffee, famous for the quality and flavor of its beans, is the 3rd largest exporter of coffee in the world behind Vietnam.

But the world’s largest supplier of coffee is Brazil – with plantations covering around 10,000 square miles, mostly located in the southeastern states – a title the country has held for the last 150 years.

The map would be incomplete without mentioning Peru, Honduras and Costa Rica. While the volume doesn’t even represent 4% of the production from Brazil, Costa Rica has earned a reputation for some of the best coffee in Central America. The majority of coffee production takes place on small farms, or fincas.

Coffee Cherries The Bean Belt Coffee Growing RegionsAfrican Coffee Growing Regions

Legend has it that Ethiopia is the mother land of the coffee plant. A Goatherder named Kaldi noticed a rush of energy in his flock after they nibbled on red berries. Intrigued, he tasted some himself and was quickly convinced he had found a valuable source of energy.

Ethiopia is Africa’s first coffee growing region (and first consumer as well). The production reaches up to 860 million pounds, still mostly cultivated and dried by hand and falls under the strict watch of The Coffee and Tea Authority, determined to avoid market concentration.

Interestingly, Ethiopia’s neighboring country, Kenya, was introduced to coffee-growing by the French Holy Ghost fathers, at the turn of the 19th century. While Kenyan production may be considered confidential, with only 51,000 tons per year, it is a major actor of the coffee scene and is much sought-after worldwide.

Coffee Growing Regions of Asia

Continuing our travels along the Bean Belt, let’s visit Asia and its two major coffee growing regions: Vietnam and Indonesia.

Vietnam was on the coffee cultivation map in the 19th century and had established its plantation system as an economic force. The Vietnam war interrupted the production which eventually resumed, though fairly low. In the mid 1980s, the permission to privately own coffee farms again gave a boost to the industry. Ever since, Vietnam production has been growing steadily, up to 3 billion pounds in 2014, right behind Brazil.

But the mention of coffee naturally evokes exotic names like Java and Sumatra, Indonesian Islands famous for the quality of their coffee. The production of coffee in Java started in the 17th century, initiated by the Dutch who began to export it to the rest of the world. The success was such that to this day, we all know and use the term a cup of java.
Indonesia coffee production amounts to roughly 6% of global exports, but provides the world with uncomparable “aged coffee”. Much like wine and cheese improve with age, coffee beans held for a while in the warm and damp climate bear a distinctive deep body and less acidic flavor.

Many countries produce coffee, even the United States (mainly on the Big Island, in Kona). More than half american adults drink coffee everyday. However, according to this article in The Atlantic, the U.S. doesn’t even make it in the top ten countries for consumption. The Netherlands tops that list at 2.4 cups a day. From major coffee growing regions like Brazil, Vietnam or Colombia, to smaller producers like Peru or Kenya, we are fortunate to enjoy a broad spectrum of flavors from coffee around the world.

Coffee Cultivators of Papua New Guinea

Coffee Cultivators

Papua New Guinea is a popular coffee cultivator in the specialty coffee world. Coffee from Papua New Guinea, PNG, as roasters refer to it, have a bright and delicate acidity. PNG’s typically have a less earthy profile than other Southwest Asian Archipelago coffees such as Sumatra and Sulawesi. The country predominately uses wet washing processing methods. Additionally, Papua New Guinea creates a standard for the fermentation process that follows washing. This makes for a highly unique flavor. With coffee production up to over 1 million 60-kg bags a year, Papua New Guinea has maintained itself as a high profile coffee cultivator.

Multi-influenced Coffee Culture

In the 1800s, the German administration introduced coffee to Papua New Guinea for experimental and botanical observation. However, Arabica coffee production for export in Papua New Guinea only began to emerge later in the 1930s. Seeds were imported from Jamaica’s Blue Mountain region for cultivation. Therefore, these seeds created the first plants for export production in Papua New Guinea. Geographically, Indonesia is within close proximity to the country. Indonesia and the island of Sulawesi, both coffee producers, have had great influence on the bean profile in coffee from Papua New Guinea. Moreover, nearly half of households in rural areas are involved in production of coffee. Therefore, making coffee a huge part of the country’s economy.

Profiles of PNG

Within Papua New Guinea’s 19 provinces, 15 of them cultivate coffee. The major growing regions of Papua New Guinea include Morobe, Eastern, Simbu and the Western highlands province. These few regions all cultivate at high altitudes and account for about 90% of production in Papua New Guinea. With the country being so small, the regions produce similar characteristics such as rich soils and ideal coffee-growing climate. Moreover, the size of the country is actually beneficial creating consistency in the beans. Traditionally, coffee from Papua New Guinea has moderate acidity with a smooth, but robust flavor. This comes from the mix of influence from Indonesian Sulawesi coffee and Jamaican beans.

Cultivating Sigri PlantationAchilles Coffee Roasters Coffee Cultivators of Papua New Guinea

Achilles Coffee Roasters uses green beans sourced from the Sigri plantation in Papua New Guinea. Located in the Wahgi Valley in the Western Highlands, Sigri is considered to produce high quality gourmet coffee. All coffee at Sigri plantation grows at an elevation of 5000 feet and undergoes an intensive wet factory processing method. Papua New Guinea maintains a standard for the fermentation process in all coffee. Producers allow the beans to ferment for three days following depulping. However, Sigri allows a full extra day of fermentation, making a highly distinctive cup of coffee. Sigri plantation is profound for their esteemed quality control concerning each, individual bag of beans.

Quality Control in Wet Processing Methods

Concerning coffee production, Papua New Guinea focuses on their processing methods. For this reason, they export 99.9% in green beans alone, with Germany and the United States being the largest buyers. After coffee cherries are hand selected, they are depulped using a wet processing method. Following the wet washing, the fermentation process takes three days. Within fermentation, cultivators wash the beans every 24 hours. Enhancing flavor, beans dry out in the sun for different periods of time. The green beans are then sifted through and graded with distinctions as AA, A, and X. All coffee within the country follows the specific standards for the wet washing and fermentation processes. This ensures quality control within all green beans throughout Papua New Guinea.

Coffee cultivators such as Papua New Guinea have perfected the perfect bean profile through quality control. Through high quality plantations such as Sigri plantation in Waghi Valley, Papua New Guinea will continue to hold a top spot in the world of coffee production.

Costa Rican Coffee – An Introduction for Coffee Lovers

Introduction to Costa Rican Coffee

Coffee drinkers worldwide recognize Costa Rican coffee for robust flavor profiles created from a mixture of favorable growing factors. Following natural gas, coffee is the second most traded good in the world. As of 2011, over 45 different countries export coffee. Surprisingly, Costa Rican coffee beans makes up only 1% of the global coffee trade. 


Origins of Costa Rican Coffee

All coffee has origins stemming from Ethiopia where Arabica was born. Through trade in the 1700s, coffee began to make its way into Europe and then the rest of the world. As far as Costa Rican coffee, a naval officer in 1723 obtained a seedling from a coffee plant from King Louis XIV of France. Amazingly, this single seedling made the voyage to the Americas and has since parented every coffee tree in Central America.

Although now, there is a lot more variation due to different growing regions. Seeing how quickly the coffee industry was growing, The Costa Rican government gave farmers free seeds to help boost the economy. As well as seeds, the government also gave plots of land to anyone willing to cultivate the plants. Because of the government’s push in the industry, farmers throughout Costa Rica began to harvest coffee. Of the entire population of Costa Rica, 10% is involved in coffee production and coffee makes up 90% of produce from the country.


Major Coffee Growing Regions of Costa Rica

There are 8 different coffee growing regions throughout Costa Rica that comprise the small 1% of the global coffee trade. The regions include: Tarrazu, West Valley, Central Valley, Tres Rios, Brunca, Guanacaste, Orosi, and Turrialba. Growing in such diverse regions of the country, each coffee creates a very distinct flavor profile. These profiles are variable depending on factors like latitude, altitude, soil type, rainfall, temperature, and processing methods. Of the different regions, coffee from Tarrazu and West Valley account for approximately half of Costa Rica’s coffee production. 

Achilles Coffee Roasters Costa Rican Coffee

Favorable factors

Grading all green coffee beans within the global trade is important to maintain high quality. In Costa Rica, green beans are primarily graded by altitude, which affects the hardness of the bean. Higher altitude regions produce harder coffee beans, which are viewed as more preferable. The Costa Rican grading system uses the classifications: Strictly High Grown(SHG), Good Hard Beans(GHB), and Medium Hard Beans(MHB). Strictly High Grown beans grow at an altitude higher than 1,200 meters above sea level. Good Hard Beans grow between 1,000 and 1,200 meters above sea level. Lastly, Medium Hard Beans grow at an altitude between 500 and 900 meters. The Tarrazu region produces 95% of its harvest graded as Strictly Hard Bean, the highest quality grade.


Costa Rica at the Forefront

Throughout Central America, coffee from Costa Rica is known to have some of the best flavor profiles due to the high altitudes. Another reason why Costa Rican coffee is of a higher standard is because it is illegal to produce Robusta beans. Achilles Coffee Roasters uses beans grown in the Central Valley region which has an altitude of about 900 to 1500 meters above sea level. In addition, the Central Valley is where coffee was first introduced to Central America, making the coffee plantations some of the oldest within Costa Rica. Beans grown in this region create a profile influenced by the soil’s tropical acidity creating a bright, citrusy flavor with nutty undertones. You can get some of our very own single origin Swami’s roast of Costa Rican coffee beans here.

How Altitude Affects the Flavor of Coffee

Much like wine, beer, and tea, the way in which coffee beans are grown can drastically affect the flavor of the cup that you eventually drink. There are many factors that affect the quality of a coffee bean, but none more important than the altitude it’s grown at.

To understand why altitude has such a large impact on the flavor of a coffee bean, we have to dig into a little bit of plant biology. As a general rule, the higher the altitude, the harder it is for a plant to thrive. While this seems like a bad thing on its face, it’s actually beneficial for the plants that survive. They produce high altitude coffee beans that are more dense and hard, packed with the sugars and flavors sought after by coffee buyers (and drinkers) around the world.

How Altitude Affects the Flavor of Coffee Achilles CoffeeHigher Altitude Has Effects on Coffee Plants

Beans mature slower in the harsher climate, giving the sugars more time to develop
The angled growing surface of mountainous regions promotes runoff, meaning plants get less water and the coffee cherries are denser

Because most plants that we eat are grown at sea level, you might be wondering exactly what high altitude is when it comes to coffee. Generally, coffee grown over 4,000 feet above sea level (1200m) is considered “high altitude” coffee. However, coffee is grown at a range of altitudes around the world, each of which affect the flavor of the bean in different ways.

Coffee Grown at < 2,500ft

Coffee grown below 2,500 feet is less complex in flavor, mild, and often a bit bland. The coffee plant isn’t subjected to much stress at these altitudes and has an abundance of water, meaning the coffee cherries get nice and fat, which dilutes their flavor. The only exception at this altitude is the famed Hawaiian Kona coffee, which thrives at 2,000 feet.

Coffee Grown at 3,000ft (900m)

At 3,000 feet, coffee begins to take on both sweeter and smoother flavors. The climate is slightly harsher at this altitude and that begins to bear itself out in the flavor of the harvested beans.

Coffee Grown at 4,000ft (1200m)

At 4,000 feet, we are getting into the realm of some of the finest coffees in the world. This is the altitude at which the best arabica beans in the world are grown at. Another factor in the quality of beans at this altitude, especially arabica beans, is that they’re often grown in exceptionally nutrient-dense soil.

The flavor profiles of beans grown at this altitude are varied. You can pick up notes of citrus, nuts, vanilla, and chocolate.

High Altitude Coffee Grown at 5,000ft (1500m)

Coffee grown at around 5,000 feet (1500m) is known as very high altitude coffee. The flavors imparted in these beans are fruity, spicy, floral, and even reminiscent of wine.

Now that you’re aware of the drastic differences that altitude can have on the flavor of a coffee bean, you’ll know which beans to purchase when you head over to your local roaster. Understanding the fundamentals of coffee elevationand what makes a bean taste a certain way are the first steps in becoming a more discerning coffee drinker.