Coffee comes in different forms and cups but you know what? It’s more than how you take it or what you make of it. Here, we’ll explore coffee production in the world and take you on a trip beyond the streets going to your favorite café or even the grocery’s aisle. Let’s explore a brief history and story behind the coffee beans and cups you enjoy. Oh, don’t forget to wear your curious hats on.
Imagine. As you’re enjoying your cup of coffee, someone in another part of the globe is also enjoying his or hers. A mom and dad in Portland, enjoying their latte and americano coffees while waiting for the kids to wake up, a writer cramming for her deadline in the Philippines late at night with a cold brew to wake her up, two friends enjoying a conversation over espresso in a StreetSide café in Italy. You get the picture. There’s always someone out there drinking coffee.
Coffee is one of the most consumed beverages in the entire world. Recent statistics showed by the International Coffee Organization projects that global consumption for coffee for 2020-2021 will be at 166.3 million bags. That’s an increase of 1.3% compared to 2019-2020’s 165.2 million bags. In addition, the World Economic Forum (WEF) stated that there would be an expected surge in global demand for coffee beans, with global consumption reaching 200 million bags by 2030. WEF released an average annual growth rate of 5.32% between 2020 and 2024 alone, with younger generations driving most of the demand for high-quality coffee.
Safe to say, coffee is something most humans love and will continue to do so.
This coffee dependency or fascination dates back to the 1500s. It has been part of the history of various cultures across the globe – from Constantinople to Italy to France to the forming of the United States of America to Africa, Asia, and others more. Coffee has been with us a long time, and it has been part of changes (even revolutions!) and innovations that had and continue to impact cultures around the world.
Much like different cultures, coffee has gone from being a status symbol, a socializing staple, and of course, everyone’s usual morning pick-me-up drink. Why know all this? It simply justifies the fact that with coffee being part of society and culture, it is only suitable that demand and consumption continue to be constant.
Even with all these, and even if there is no clear origin story of the first ever coffee, it is important for us to simply look at the “now.” The question is, with such high demand, where, might you ask, does all this coffee come from?
The Cradle of Coffee and Coffee Production In The World
Also known as where the popular kids of coffee are
Now, you might have seen many different countries in the packaging of your regular beans in the coffee aisle of your favorite grocery store or maybe in specialty coffee shops that you frequent during your daily coffee run. More often than not, you probably also noticed how most of them are from Colombia, Brazil, Ethiopia, and Indonesia. Of course, there’s a reason why.
There’s something we call the Coffee Belt or Bean Belt. It is located between the Tropics of Capricorn and Cancer – a horizontal strip along the equator. In plain terms, this is the cradle or area where most of the coffee in the world is cultivated and grown. Over 50 countries, which span from Africa, parts of the Americas, and Asia, have the tropical climate and topography ideal for coffee production. Some of the coffee-producing countries within the Coffee Belt are also located within the Pacific Ring of Fire, which contributes to the richness of the soil in which the crops are cultivated.
Coffee plants thrive in conditions with rich soil, varied altitudes (primarily high), and both wet and dry seasons. So going back to the countries a few sentences earlier, you guessed it, these are locations within the coffee belt.
Whether it is for mass consumption or specialty, coffee origin dramatically affects how the coffee you drink is produced and plays a role in the taste of the coffee; when done right, it lets you experience a plethora of flavors that go beyond the dark and bitter.
Ready? Let’s explore.
Africa – Coffee Production in the World
Welcome to Africa. South of the coffee belt, Africa is considered a top producer of some of the best coffees globally. Its top producing African countries are Ethiopia, Uganda, Cote d’Ivoire, Tanzania, Kenya, Madagascar, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, and Rwanda. Coffee from Africa accounts for around 12% of the global production of coffee beans, led by Ethiopia and Uganda. Secure your curiosity hats because we are going to explore these countries that will get you those sought-after African coffee beans and see the effects it has with coffee production in the world.
Interestingly, even if Africa produces premium beans, Africans are more akin to drinking tea. Whether coffee tops tea in the drink list of Africans is something we can find out together in the future
Africa produces both Arabica and Robusta coffee, both of which are highly regarded across the globe. Although most regions have commodity coffee (simply put, these are coffee for mass consumption. Think instant coffee or the ones from groceries), many cultivate beans that evoke various aromas and flavors, unique to the different countries. Hence, coffee beans from Africa are recognized globally by coffee connoisseurs.
Ethiopia – Coffee Production in the World
For instance, Ethiopian coffee beans have high acidity with fruity citrus flavors and floral notes reminiscent of tea. Depending on how it is processed, exquisite and elegant flavors are sure to come out.
How they’re produced/standard processes per country
Ethiopian coffee beans are produced in a number of ways, summed up into three:
- Forest coffee – common in the southwest of the country, coffee from this area is from wild coffee trees and terrain of mixed natural shade.
- Garden coffee – most of the coffee from Ethiopia is grown through this method. Much like a home garden, the conditions around this are managed by the farmers closely.
- Plantation coffee – as the name suggests, a massive number of coffee trees are grown in plantations under strict practices.
Uganda – Coffee Production in the World
Uganda produces both Arabica and Robusta coffee, but the latter is more prevalent. Groups or cooperatives across the country usually make coffee from Uganda and these are grown almost all year round.
The history of Ugandan coffee is bittersweet, with quality being a significant issue that the country faced for several years. Through development and assistance from the West, who recognize the potential of the topography and climate of the land, Uganda can produce high-quality Robusta coffee beans and Arabica beans, albeit a slow increase.
When produced right, coffee from Uganda gives off a sweet, satin, clean finish with fruit tones of red and dark berries.
Kenyan – Coffee Production in the World
Other than Ethiopian coffee, probably the next revered coffee from the Africa’s is Kenyan coffee in our tour of coffee production in the world.
Kenyan coffee focuses on a solid quality rating and produces excellent beans commonly grown in both plantations and smallholders. With high altitudes between 1400 and 2000 meters above sea level and rich volcanic soil that provides many nutrients, the coffee from Kenya is a delight to those who try it.
Kenyans are also known to put premium importance on cultivating their land to protect and further develop the quality of their coffee. A lot of research and innovation are placed as well for the welfare of the producers and farmers. Throughout the years, Kenya can produce excellent quality coffee beans that are famous worldwide. With Kenyans’ meticulous passion, the country offers the most significant grade E (elephant) and AA beans.
(Side note: Coffee beans are graded according to size, and even though it is not directly correlated with quality, it is considered an international standard. Hence, the larger the bean, the more expensive it can get for trading or the global auction system.)
When you hear about coffee from Kenya, you will often come across SL-28 and SL-34. These are famous coffee bean varieties that were introduced by Scott Labs back in the 1930s. These variants are prized and known to have an intense fruit flavor of blackcurrant or tomatoes.
Coffee from Kenya has a distinct delicate taste that’s bright and sweet with high levels of acidity. It has berry flavors that notably resemble wine. Other flavors that are present in Kenyan beans are that of blackcurrant, honey, and lavender.
Tanzania – Coffee Production in the World
Close to Kenyan coffee when it comes to taste is that of Tanzania. Coffee beans from Tanzania produce bright, even juicy fruit and berry flavors, with high acidity levels comparable to wine.
Tanzania is the third-largest producer of coffee in Africa, with production coming primarily from small farmers and cooperatives. Larger estates constitute about 10% of the output. Careful production considerations are also in place across the country to ensure the quality of Tanzanian coffee beans. With this, the country produces high-quality graded AA coffee beans.
From volcanoes to hills, let’s take you to Rwanda. Known as the ‘land of a thousand hills,’ it is apparent that with the country having the topographical and climate conditions that are ideal for producing high-quality coffee beans, Rwandan coffee beans are highly prized.
Rwanda is known to be the first country in Africa to host the Cup of Excellence (COE) competition back in 2018. The national winner at that time was Twumba Coffee, which Yandagiye Marthe represented. Winning is determined with a scoring of 84-85.99 points, and the winner got a score of 90.53.
The Cup of Excellence is a premier coffee competition that has “pioneered integrity and transparency in the coffee industry.” For over 20 years, the organization has kept strict high standards for coffee quality. Participating lots or lands of coffee are graded by a scrutinizing international jury.
Although not as popular or not commonly seen in groceries or even some specialty cafes as the coffee beans from its neighboring countries in Africa, Rwanda is continuously gaining international attention and recognition.
Rwandan coffee is mostly Bourbon or derived from it and washed Arabica. It gives a clean, crisp mouthfeel and its flavors are exquisite, commonly with berries and floral notes. Other varieties of coffee from Rwanda give hints of apples, cherries, apricots, plum, and even chocolate and a rich caramel finish.
More than a source of economic growth in the country, it is also notable that Rwandan coffee is considered a symbol of resilience and rebirth. After the Rwandan genocide back in 1994, organizations gathered to help develop agricultural projects and research to support the entire populace recover. Of course, with coffee as one of the country’s most prized crops, significant investment also followed.
Other African countries likewise have a rich history and culture of coffee. Even with all this information on just some of them, we can say that we’ve only had a sip on the cup of this wonderful continent that produces some of the best coffee a person can ever taste in his or her entire lifetime. We’ll be sure to revisit this in the future.
Central America and South America – Coffee Production in the World
Traveling along the Coffee Belt, you arrive at Central America and South America another place for coffee production in the world .
Let’s begin at the center.
In the Central Americas, the top coffee-growing regions are Guatemala, Costa Rica, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Panama.
How about we start in Honduras?
Honduras is the 6th top producer of coffee globally in 2020 and the largest one in Central America. Honduras produced a little under six million bags of coffee beans in 2011 alone, more than the yield of its neighboring Central American countries, Costa Rica and Guatemala, combined. This number is expected to grow throughout the next couple of years.
However, it goes to say that even as a top producer of coffee, Honduras went through difficult times when it comes to coffee farming and production. In addition to the slow development of the country’s agricultural infrastructure, the challenge of climate greatly affected the production of coffee beans. Imminent rainfalls make it challenging for farmers to dry their crops. The industry even got hit hard when Hurricane Mitch destroyed most of the farms back in 1998. Another challenge came back in 2012 and 2013 when the leaf rust damaged the coffee crops to the point that the country declared a national emergency.
Through national collective effort and assistance, Honduras was able to get back up in the game, producing its usual millions of coffee bags. Although it started that most of the coffee made is for commodity, or should we say, for the common kitchen, the country already has a lot more potential for specialty coffee. Both global and national eyes have placed more consideration and attention on growing specialty coffee beans as well.
Honduran coffee – mostly Bourbon, Caturra, Typica, and Catuai, which are all Arabica varieties – comes from Copan, Opalaca, Montecillos, Comayagua, Agalta, and El Paraiso. The topographical and geographical landscape of these regions is well suited to produce tons of export quality coffee across the continents. These areas are also well supported by the national Honduran Coffee Institute / Instituto Hondureno del Cafe (IHCAFE), which provide resources like technical assistance and training for coffee farmers, pest management and control, financial aid, and even coffee tasting or cupping laboratories to improve quality to produce the well desired Honduran coffee beans. There are multiple processes and systems now in place that help coffee farmers and the industry.
From commodity to specialty, there is a wide range of flavors that provide experience from Honduran coffee beans. The best of which are complex, bright, fruity, and juicy. Other flavors are chocolate and nuts and come with a sugary sweetness.
Another Central American coffee-producing country that you usually see in coffee bags is Guatemala. Even though it is a relatively small country, it is the second-largest coffee bean producer in Central America. Small farmers, cooperatives, or producer groups make up most of the coffee supply. Guatemala has produced high-quality coffee beans throughout history because farmers are equipped with the tools and trade, like wet mills, to process their crops.
Coffee producers in Guatemala have long cultivated the rich volcanic soil, combined with a steady subtropical climate and an elevation of between 4,600 to 5,600 feet above sea level. It is simply a country that has the ideal conditions and environment to grow top-quality beans. In fact, the coffee that comes from Guatemala is known for its complex flavors.
Guatemalan coffee beans have a spectrum that ranges from light, sweet, and fruity flavors to heavier, smoky, spicy, with nutty, chocolate, and caramel tones.
From one coffee-producing giant to another, let’s check out Costa Rica.
Costa Rican coffee has had an excellent quality reputation as well as good value for money. It was actually illegal to produce anything but what the country considers the best, which is 100% pure Arabica coffee. The government puts a prime on high-quality coffee beans and farming, thereby passing a law back in 1989. (Yes, Robusta beans were illegal in Costa Rica once upon a time.) When you go through history, the government even gave away land to those who wanted to go into coffee farming. The Institute for the Defence of Coffee, an institution organized to protect the plight of the farmers, was also formed – that’s how much importance the country gives its farmers and its prized coffee.
A lot of research and investments flow into the Costa Rican coffee industry. 1948 saw the birth of the official government body, the Oficina del Cafe, which worked closely together with the Department of Agriculture. Now, it is known as the Instituto del Cafe de Costa Rica (ICAFE). All efforts were and always will be for the development of the industry and the well-being of its farmers.
Probably one of the places you think of when you want to go for a getaway, this tropical paradise has coffee ingrained not just plays a crucial role in its history and culture but also in tourism. Ecotourism is incredibly popular in the country, wherein tourists can visit and explore the different coffee farms. It provides an insight into the process and story behind how Costa Rican coffee becomes so good!
Fun fact. Did you know that Costa Rica means “rich coast?” Guess it says a lot about the conditions here, especially for coffee. Costa Rica has the climate and high altitudes, plus volcanic soil, that makes the country primed to produce what the world considers some of the best coffee beans you can buy. As part of their heritage, generations of coffee farmers take care of the land with their skillful hands. Only the best coffee cherries are plucked and processed to produce the best flavors inherent to the fruit. Labor-intensive as it may be, Costa Rican coffee farmers take pride in their effort into their craft and crop.
With such a rich history and seeing all the effort into growing coffee, what exactly does Costa Rican taste like?
Well, the flavor profile of Costa Rican coffee is very varied. It is usually clean and sweet, with red fruit notes, dark chocolate nougat, and either brown sugar or honey notes. Flavors are brought out by the different roasts and processes the beans went through.
Costa Ricans take their coffee seriously. Hence, the whole world follows.
Let’s continue our Central American coffee journey, shall we?
Let’s now go to El Salvador. Ever since coffee’s introduction to the country back in the 1950s, El Salvador turned to coffee as one of its biggest crops and has since been one of the biggest producers of coffee beans worldwide. That period between the 1920s and 1930s was all good, with coffee being the top crop that drove the country’s economy. The world looked to El Salvador for high-quality coffee beans. That is, until the 1980s wherein the country went into civil war. The coffee industry took a hit and experienced a decline in production, and the world started to set its sights elsewhere.
However, it was not all bad. The coffee industry did not let the country finish with a sad story. From heirloom coffee varieties to more high-yield varieties, the shift allowed El Salvador and its farmers to continue, albeit having its quality slightly suffer. The high-yielding types did not match up to the heirloom ones. However, El Salvador continues to develop its coffee crops to still put its mark on the coffee map — which, of course, still does.
Numerous efforts by the government and the Salvadoran Coffee Council set a plan to drive the industry back up and forward.
With the new developments in place, the farmers can produce high-grade coffee beans known to have a famous complex flavor, sweet, and has fruit, brown sugar, chocolate, and caramel notes. El Salvadoran coffee beans have a balanced profile, sought after, especially in the specialty coffee scene. So the next time you come to a cafe, you can try some and experience it yourself.
Much like other Central American countries, well, much like the rest of the coffee-growing countries, Nicaragua has coffee as a massive part of its culture, history, and economy. Similarly, the government of Nicaragua gives importance to cultivating its land for the production of high-quality coffee beans. We mean, yay, government, right? Now, most coffee from Nicaragua can be traced to single estates, producer groups, or cooperatives.
With subsidy laws from 1879 and 1889 encouraging land use for farming and other policies, coffee became one of the, if not the top crop in Nicaragua; and it has long been so for a hundred years. Although it had its political and environmental setbacks, the coffee industry continues to be resilient and flourish. With ample support from the government and non-government organizations, farmers are now being taught to focus more on the quality of the produce. This goes not just for higher altitudes but also lower altitudes, which is seen to have untapped potential in farming coffee.
With favorable growing conditions, the coffee produced in Nicaragua boasts of a slightly milder acidity than other Central American origins and fruity, citrus, floral notes. Some have chocolate notes too.
Let’s cap off our Central American coffee tour as we land in Panama.
Let’s go straight to the fact that some of the world’s most sought-after Geisha variety comes from Panama.
Geisha coffee might be famous in Panama, but it is not the only claim to fame of Panama. Of course, this coffee-growing country has both the geography and many highly skilled farmers who grow excellent coffee at relatively high prices.
Other coffee varieties grown in Panama are Typica, Bourbon, Catuai, and Caturra. All of which are produced and processed for stunning cups of coffee.
You can only expect to get top-notch coffee beans from Panama. The specialty coffee industry has its eye out for Panamanian coffee beans, especially with its distinctive flavors that are an experience on its own.
That wraps it up for Central America. With its broad spectrum of flavors and history, it’s the home of some of the best coffee out there.
Now, things are heading South – in a good, caffeinated way. Let’s run down to Southern America.
South America – Coffee Production in the World
South America cradles popular coffee-growing countries like Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and Venezuela. We’re pretty sure that these countries ring a bell. Let’s start our travel strong, shall we?
Brazil. The top producer of coffee production in the world. The country has owned the crown for over a hundred years and now still accounts for one-third (that’s over 2.5 million metric tons) of the world’s coffee. It grows more than the combined production of Colombia, Ethiopia, Vietnam, and Indonesia for scale. But, the rise of Brazil to the top was not a steady one, especially when you shed light on the politics and labor within the industry. Earlier, we have gone through countries that use manual, intensive work for coffee production – from cherry-picking to harvesting to packaging. Brazil, however, was heavily reliant on slave labor up until the 19th century. The country also turned its eyes to migrant labor.
Albeit being tinged with much politics, the Brazilian government and organizations supporting the coffee industry continue to push coffee beans’ production. With focus more on quantity, there were even policies and quotas for import and export, thereby putting less importance on quality. High yields drive economic trade, but there is undoubtedly room for high-quality specialty coffee beans from Brazil.
The 90s brought reform in the industry, rerouting the focus more on quality.
Generally cultivated at an altitude between 900 to 1,200 meters, which is considered low compared to other American coffee-producing countries, the plants and beans grown from Brazil are reasonably considered average. This will see another turn, with more people getting into the specialty coffee scene.
The best Brazilian coffee beans are profiled to have low acidity, with nutty and chocolatey flavors.
Next up is Colombia. Again, this is probably a country that you mostly see in several commodities and specialty coffee packaging. It is the third top coffee-producing country globally, contributing around 13.6 million sacks of 60 kilograms of coffee beans per year.
Colombia is home to “Mountain Grown Coffee.” You’ve probably also heard of “‘100% Colombian Coffee, making you think that “Oh wow, this coffee must be exceptional and good.” Although this is a Marketing strategy by the Federacion Nacional de Cafeteros (FNC), there is truth to its claims. The Federacion also launched the Juan Valdez campaign to elevate the status of the coffee farmers of Colombia. The FNC is not just concerned with marketing, but also in the protection of Colombian farmers and the country’s product quality.
Colombia is also known to grade the size of its coffee as Excelso and Supremo, again thanks to the FNC. The previous is 14-16 in length, while the latter is 16-18 and above. Excelso produces a softer and acidic cup while Supremo gives a delicate finish. This, however, is not directly correlated to the quality of the beans. It plays a role, yes, but remember that altitude is just part of the whole equation when bringing out the flavors and determining the quality of the coffee beans.
Colombia is an ideal place to grow Arabica with an extraordinary microclimate and good farming practices to back the altitude. The coffee produced here is profiled to have a wide range of flavors. It can go from rich and chocolatey to light, caramel sweet, and even with jam-like fruit notes.
Throughout the years, Colombian coffee is a staple on the shelves of cafes and homes. Its popularity can be owed to the taste and consistency of its quality. You can be sure that getting Colombian beans is a better bet to put your money where it’s at.
Now, we’ll head to one more South American country, which is Peru.
Peru is the 9th largest coffee-producing country in the world and the biggest fair trade exporter. A little less known than its neighbors in the Americas, Peru is creating its mark in the fair trade and organic sector. After political disputes that greatly affected the coffee industry, Fair Trade stepped in to fill the gaps and help increase the capabilities of Peru to produce excellent quality coffee.
Fairtrade and organic are great to know, but what does Peruvian coffee taste like?
Coffee from Peru is mild and has a medium body, with light nuts and chocolate undertones and a juicy aftertaste.
Asia – Coffee Production in the World
From Africa to America, let’s go back to the other side of the world. Time to put the spotlight on and visit Asia – the fastest growing coffee market in the world.
We have established that those cradled by the Coffee Belt have the ideal conditions for growing the best coffee. Here in Asia, these include countries like Vietnam, Indonesia, and India.
First off, Vietnam.
Vietnam is the top coffee-producing country in Asia and the second-largest exporter of the crop in the world. It produces an average of 1.4 million tons of coffee beans per year. The increase in production was the result of a global oversupply that made coffee prices drop dramatically. Although most of the coffee from Vietnam is Robusta, recent developments in the industry are bringing more attention and care to the production of Arabica.
According to an ASEAN briefing, big international chains like Starbucks, Gloria Jeans, and Dunkin Donuts are interested in getting coffee production in the world shares from domestic chains. Hopefully, there can be more to discover with more developments and investment, especially in the specialty coffee scene.
The following Asian country we go to is Indonesia, the third-largest Robusta producer in the world. You likely heard the term “java” when referring to some coffee. Java is actually an island in Indonesia known to produce coffee, along with the islands of Bali and Sulawesi.
When we talk about Indonesia and coffee, several interesting notes make the country distinct.
One is Kopi Luwak or Civet Coffee, dubbed to be the most expensive coffee in the world. Coffee cherries are eaten by the Asian Palm Civet, semi-digested, and defecated. The droppings are then processed and dried.
Another is Giling Basah, a traditional post-harvest process that combines elements of washed and natural methods. This is known to decrease the coffee’s level of acidity and increase its body. This also brings more savory flavors to the coffee, which can be described as earthy, spicy, and woody.
Fun fact. Traditional Indonesian coffee is not Kopi Luwak. It is Kopi Tubruk, which is a blend of different robusta beans. This is commonly brewed in a cloth pouch that is used multiple times without washing to add to its distinct savory flavor.
Finally, let’s cap off our Asian coffee production in the world tour with India.
When you think of India, it’s Tea that comes to mind. However, the country is one of the largest exporters of coffee beans, ranking 6th in the global list, with Robusta as its majority contribution.
This will come as no surprise because India’s climate and low-altitude topography make it more ideal for growing Robusta. Contrary to other top producing countries in the West, the industry puts more effort and care into farming Robusta.
One of the most popular Indian coffee beans is Monsooning Indian coffee or Monsoon Malabar. As the name suggests, ‘monsoon’ in this sense refers to the process of subjecting the coffee cherries to extremely wet conditions. The moisture absorbed by the fruit will then affect the taste of the beans, giving it an intense wild flavor that’s debatably good or otherwise.
Another notable Indian coffee is the Indian Mysore coffee, known to have a subtle but full-bodied flavor. This is the common name for high-quality, wet-processed coffee beans originating in Karnataka, a region located in the South of India.
As you can see, the Asian countries we visited have different profiles than the rest of the world. That doesn’t mean it’s not as good. It’s just different. As history suggests, we have yet to see how much more the coffee industry – not just here – but across the globe, can grow and produce different yet delicious cups of coffee that we can enjoy and experience.
In conclusion of the coffee production in the world,
We all need to realize that there are different stories behind every bean from across the world. There’s so much history to know, giving us a glimpse of what the global coffee industry was, what it is, and what it can be. It is astonishing to learn that there are conversations beyond the ones we talk about over a cup of coffee – from the plant itself, its origin, the farmers who work tirelessly in taking care of the coffee crops, the middlemen who imports and exports, the baristas who make your cup; everything and everyone have something valuable to share. And, these are stories that you experience whether you drink your coffee in a cafe or recreate it at home with your beans.
So the next time you drink your favorite cup of coffee, wherever you are, we hope you take a moment to appreciate the coffee production in the world and say a simple ‘thank you to the stories, to the love that’s put in every bean that you enjoy. We hope you get to pass this on too.
In the meantime, tell us your favorite part of this journey. Is there any country or coffee bean you want us to explore more? Let us know on the first ever coffee social network Roast Society Home Page or on our social media!
Tell us what you think!