Travel The World With Coffee
- Central America (Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Panama)
- The Caribbean (Blue Mountains, Haiti, Dominican Republic)
- South America (Colombia, Brazil, Peru, Bolivia)
- Africa and Arabia (Yemen, Kenya, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Burundi)
- India (Mysore, Malabar)
- Indonesia (Sumatra, Bali, New Guinea, Java, Timor, Sulawesi)
A Little GeographyCoffee grows best in what we call “The Bean Belt.” This region roughly follows the equator, spanning 25 degrees latitude north and 30 degrees latitude south. The climate here is tropical with hot and humid days. Rainfall is typically around 79” per year. To put that into perspective, here in Georgia, we receive around 60” annually while California’s average is around 23”. The temperature ranges from 78F to 82F during the wet seasons and rising to 91F when it’s dry. At night, due to cloud cover, it stays around 72F.
In case the term terroir is new to you, it means the natural environment in which something is grown. It primarily refers to vineyards and wine but has been adopted for other foodstuffs recently. So, the ideal soil for coffee? Volcanic red earth and deep sandy loam seem to produce the best coffees. In essence, coffee needs a well-draining environment for its roots.
In addition to soil, altitude also plays a part in the flavor profile and all-around growth of the coffee. While arabica does best at altitudes of 4,000 feet and higher, robusta does better in lower altitudes of sea level to 2,500 feet.
Finally, most coffee grows in shaded conditions. Typically, the shade is produced by other trees but sometimes continual cloudy or misty weather conditions can have the same shading effect. Until the mid-70s, coffee was considered a shade plant. In order to counteract fungal disease as well as to grow production quantities, sun-tolerant coffee plants were developed. Benefits of shade-grown trees are lower need for pesticides, fertilizers, and a smaller workforce.
Flavor ProfilesWe will go into more detail of each of the coffees as we visit the regions, but before we do, here are some basics:
- Arabica – This coffee varietal makes up approximately 70% of global production of coffee. It is known for its sweet flavor and smoothness. Because it grows at higher altitudes, arabica matures more slowly allowing more nuanced flavors to develop. You will see descriptions of chocolate, fruit, and nuts when talking about the aroma and flavor profiles of arabica coffees.
- Robusta – This varietal makes up a majority of the remaining 30% of global coffee production. With a strong and often bitter taste, robusta is used in many of the top commercial blends. It is also the coffee bean most often used for American espresso blends. Robusta tends to be a hardier plant, able to withstand higher temperatures of 75-85 F. Because of this, the plants can be grown at lower altitudes. It also has about 50-60% more caffeine than arabica.
Coffee BeansCoffee doesn’t really grow like beans. The plants grow what is called a “cherry.” These cherries mature and produce a seed which is what we call the bean. Each cherry typically holds two beans, however, occasionally you will find a cherry with just one bean. They call this a peaberry. Peaberries are often manually sorted out as they are believed to be sweeter and have more flavor than regular beans.
Harvesting and ProcessingCoffee cherries can be harvested in a couple of ways.
- Strip Picked – this can be by machine or by hand. In either method, all the cherries are pulled off the branch at the same time.
- Selectively Picked – this method is only by hand. Cherries are picked based on their ripeness.
- Dry Method – This is the predominant method for processing. The cherries are spread out to dry in the sun. They are raked and turned often throughout the day and covered at night or when it rains to keep them dry. This process can take several weeks.
- Wet Method – In this process, the pulp of the cherry is removed and the beans are dried with only the parchment skin. They are then passed through water channels to separate the ripe beans from the unripe beans. They are then separated by size and passed on to water-filled fermentation tanks. This causes a thin film called the parenchyma to be removed from the parchment. Once this is complete, the beans will be rinsed then laid out for drying similar to the Dry Method. In some cases, they will be tumble dried in large machines.