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Geography of Coffee

The Geography of Coffee Production and Enjoyment

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Updated April 28, 2014
Every morning, millions of people around the world enjoy a cup of coffee to get a jump start on their day. In doing so, they may not be aware of the specific locations that produced the beans used in their latte or "black" coffee.

Generally, there are three primary coffee growing and exporting areas throughout the world and all are in the equatorial region. The specific areas are Central and South America, Africa and the Middle East, and Southeast Asia. National Geographic calls this area between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn the "Bean Belt" as nearly all of the commercially grown coffee in the world comes out of these regions.

These are the supreme growing areas because the best beans produced are those grown at high altitudes, in a moist, tropical climate, with rich soils and temperatures around 70°F (21°C) - all of which the tropics has to offer.

Similar to fine wine growing regions however, there are variations on each of the three different coffee growing regions as well, which affects the overall flavor of the coffee. This makes each type of coffee distinct to its particular region and explains why Starbucks says, "Geography is a flavor," when describing the different growing regions around the world.

Central and South America produce the most coffee out of the three growing locations, with Brazil and Colombia leading the way. Mexico, Guatemala, Costa Rica, and Panama also play a role here. In terms of flavor, these coffees are considered mild, medium bodied, and aromatic.

Colombia is the most well known coffee producing country and is unique because of its exceptionally rugged landscape. However, this allows small family farms to produce the coffee and as a result it is consistently ranked well. Colombian Supremo is the highest grade.

The most famous coffees from Africa and the Middle East originate in Kenya and the Arabian Peninsula. Kenyan coffee is generally grown in the foothills of Mount Kenya and is full bodied and very fragrant, while the Arabian version tends to have a fruity flavor.

Ethiopia is also a famous place for coffee in this region and is where coffee originated around 800 C.E. Even today though, coffee is harvested there off of wild coffee trees. It mainly comes from Sidamo, Harer, or Kaffa- the three growing regions within the country. Ethiopian coffee is both full flavored and full bodied.

Southeast Asia is particularly popular for coffees from Indonesia and Vietnam. The Indonesian islands of Sumatra, Java, and Sulawesi are famous around the world for their rich, full bodied coffees with "earthy flavors," whereas Vietnamese coffee is known for its medium bodied light flavor.

Additionally, Indonesia is known for its warehouse aged coffees that originated when farmers wanted to store the coffee and sell it at a later date for a higher profit. It has since become highly valued for its unique flavor.

After being grown and harvested in each of these different locations, the coffee beans are then shipped to countries around the world where they are roasted and then distributed to consumers and cafes. Some of the top coffee importing countries are: the United States, Germany, Japan, France, and Italy.

Each of the aforementioned coffee exporting areas produce a coffee that is distinctive of its climate, topography, and even its growing practices. All of them however, grow coffees that are famous around the world for their individual tastes and millions of people enjoy them everyday.

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