The most traded commodity in the world is petroleum, but its close second will likely be no surprise. Coffee is grown in over fifty different countries across the gobe that range from Latin America to Asia. But, the biggest coffee growers in the world will be found within what is known as the “Bean Belt", between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, and is where the best climate to produce the maximum amount of coffee is found.
Top Coffee Producing Countries (as of 2014)
1. Brazil (2,720,520,000 kilograms of coffee beans)
As the leading coffee producer and exporter, Brazil accounts for 40% of the world’s total coffee supply. The three main coffee growing areas in Brazil include Mogiana, Sul Minas, and Cerrado, all of which feature moderate sunshine and rain, and a steady temperature that suits both Arabica and Robusta coffee.
2. Vietnam (1,650,000,000 kilograms of coffee beans)
80% of Vietnam’s coffee production is concentrated in the central highlands, where the majority of its plantations are led by small farmers. Widely used to make instant coffee, Robusta is mostly produced in the southern half of the country, and is known for its light acidity and good balance.
3. Colombia (750,000,000 kilograms of coffee beans)
Colombia’s rugged landscape provides the ideal natural environment for the growth of a consistently good, mild coffee, with a well-balanced acidity. As the second largest supplier of Arabica coffee, the beans vary depending on the location, but are recognized by their full flavor. The ideal conditions for its cultivation in Colombia are between 1.200 and 1.800 meters above sea level, with temperatures between 62°F and 73°F, which are frequently the case in the country.
4. Indonesia (540,000,000 kilograms of coffee beans)
Focusing on growing Robusta beans, Indonesia places as one of the top five coffee producing countries in the world. As its climate is less suitable for the mass production of the higher quality Arabica beans, it has centered its coffee economy on the growth of Robusta beans and specialty coffees, such as luwak, Toraja, Aceh, and Mandailing coffee. The production of these coffees are incredibly labor-intensive, which accounts for its scarcity within the international market and causes the expensive prices that favor the Indonesian economy. Indonesia’s coffee plantations consist mostly of small-scale plantations and cover over 3 million acres, 2,300 of which are specifically for Robusta plantations.
5. Ethiopia (397,500,000 kilograms of coffee beans)
Generating over 60% of Ethiopia’s total export earnings, coffee production flourishes in the country’s high mountain ranges. The tropical forests found in these mountains make Ethiopia one of the leading producers of Arabica, the most sought after coffee variation.
6. India (344,760,000 kilograms of coffee beans)
The hilly tracts of the South Indian states and monsoon rainfall conditions make India a diverse region highly suited for both Arabica and Robusta coffee production. One of the best known products produced by India is its spices, which when grown alongside coffee trees, provides the coffee with spicier flavors and scents. Even so, the taste is mild and not too acidic. India is unique in that it is the only country in the world that grows all of its coffee under shade trees, of which there are 50 different types. These shade trees are essential to coffee plantations because they prevent soil erosion on India’s sloping terrain, enrich the soil with recycled nutrients, and protect the plants from fluctuations in temperatures.
7. Honduras (279,000,000 kilograms of coffee beans)
The coffee beans produced by Honduras are mainly used in blends, and have a sweet and mild taste that make it pleasant for drinking throughout the day. Honduras stands out for organically produced coffees as the rainforest land where it is grown is loaded with natural nutrients provided by decaying vegetation.
8. Mexico (240,000,000 kilograms of coffee beans)
Mexico is one of the leading exporters of coffee beans to the U.S. The nation produces high quality Arabica beans in the southern states of Veracrux, Oaxaca, and Chiapas on small, high altitude coffee farms. Its pronounced sharpness makes it a favorite for dark roasts and blends.
9. Uganda (240,000,000 kilograms of coffee beans)
Being one of the world’s major Robusta producers, the production of coffee in Uganda averaged 3.3 million bags between 1996 and 2001. Arabica is grown in some areas near the slopes of Mount Elgon on the border with Kenya, but it only accounts for 8 to 10% of the total coffee production.
10. Guatemala (210,000 kilograms of coffee beans)
Guatemalan coffee is best grown at temperatures between 60 and 90°F, and altitudes between 500 and 5,000 meters above sea level. This coffee is sought after due to its rich flavor, which is set apart by its complexity of taste that borders between either spicy or chocolatey. The rich volcanic soil found in Antigua, Coban, and Huehuetanango make these the three main growing regions in Guatemala.
What Goes Into Creating Great Coffee
Dry vs. Wet Process
Everyone loves a good cup of coffee. But, not everybody knows that coffee starts off as a cherry, and has to undergo one of many processes in order to be turned into that routine morning blessing.
The most common coffee processing method is the dry-cure process. which involves leaving the cherries out in the sun to dry for approximately two weeks. Several times a day so to prevent mildew, the berries are raked and rotated until the cherries are dry enough for the pits to be removed and moved on to the hulling machine. Countries that have very little rainfall with lots of sunshine use this method to produce coffee that is large, sweet, and smooth in flavor.
Following as a close second to the dry-cure process, the wet-processing method is a common method of removing the four layers that surround the coffee bean. After being picked, the coffee cherries have their thick, bitter skin and sweet pulp removed by a wet processing machine that presses the cherries in order to literally squeeze out their seed. The leftover pit is set aside in order to ferment. The fermentation allows for the pit to be fully cleaned of the unwanted skin and pulp bits. Small farmers will sun-dry their coffee pits after having them washed and drained, but larger plantations will use a mechanical dryer for mass production. The wet-processing method results in very clean coffee taste that is noted for its perceived acidity.
Types of Coffee
Coffee beans have over 100 variations, but only two are mass produced. 100% Arabica and 100% Robusta aren’t just fancy words to get you to buy more coffee, they’re actually the two most sought after beans.
Referred to as gourmet coffee, Coffea Arabica’s higher quality beans provide less caffeine (1.5%) than other variations, but have more pleasing flavors and smells. It contains 60% more lipids and twice the amount of sugar than the Coffea Robusta. While these beans can withstand low temperatures, they can be killed by frost, and in turn the best areas to grow are those at high elevations, with moderate rainfall and sunshine, and at temperatures that average 70°F.
Coffea Canephora, more commonly known as Coffea Robusta, are grown at lower elevations, which makes them easier to grow than the Arabica variation. It contains 2.7% of caffeine content, and thus carries a bitter taste that makes it less sought after when compared to Coffea Arabica.
Why Does It Taste So Good?
More than just the decision between Coffea Arabica and Coffea Robusta, the flavor of coffee is determined by a variety of conditions.
Coffee companies have been known to brag about coffees produced in high elevations, but what does this really mean? Higher altitudes have lower air pressure and lower air pressure, which has been suggested to affect the taste of coffee grown in different elevations. Coffee grown in higher elevation are known to be harder, acidic, and complex. Within the Bean Belt, high elevations of above 3,000 to 6,000 feet are ideal for the growth of Arabica coffee, as the resulting longer maturation process gives way to a coffee bean with more complex sugars, and thus sweeter taste. Meanwhile, lower elevations are more ideal for the growth of Robusta beans, as the harsher conditions at lower altitude results in smaller beans that have a higher caffeine concentration in comparison to those grown at higher altitudes. Higher altitude specialty coffees are priced higher in the market because of their higher quality flavor and vibrancy, paired with the lower yield it observes.
Due to the Robusta bean being grown at lower temperatures, it is more tolerant to warm conditions than Arabica coffee. Arabica beans thrive in subtropical regions at an average of 70°F, where the fruit’s development and ripening is not yet accelerated by high temperatures. Continuous exposure to temperatures above 86°F result in lower quality beans. In addition to temperature,100 to 200 cm of rainfall is ideal for the growth of coffee beans, as it determines the main harvesting period, and the size and quality of the bean.
One of the best soils to grow Arabica beans on is volcanic soil found in areas like Hawaii, Brazil, and Guatemala. The nutrients gained from the volcanic ash in this soil is significant in attaining a rich taste from the coffee beans. Rain forests are ideal for the plantation of coffee plants because of the natural nutrients the soil attains from decaying vegetation above and below the soil where the plant is. These areas provide soil which is rich and moist, and also soil which is capable of storing large amounts of water rapidly, but at the same time draining any excess water that might be harmful.
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