The Coffee Belt, situated between the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, spans over 50 countries. It circles the globe, covering a huge range of distinct topographies and environments. That geographic diversity leads to an almost infinite number of variables, all of which can have an impact on a coffee tree’s behavior and contribute to shaping the flavor potential of the coffees grown in a particular place.
When considering the generalized impact of geography on coffee flavor, there are a few meaningful factors that lead to expectations for how a coffee is likely to taste. One is merely a result of historical circumstance; the way in which coffee cultivation was initiated and propagated in different parts of the world has left imprints that are still reflected in the heavy concentration of distinct coffee varieties in broad geographic zones. Another has to do with tradition: the way farms are planted and managed, and approaches to the post-harvest handling of coffee are often a function of convention and shared knowledge that has been passed down through generations. These practices can also be traced to specific protocols advocated by local coffee authorities in a particular country, like the National Federation of Coffee Growers in Colombia or ANACAFE in Guatemala.
The third — and most quantifiable — is Latitude, which is important because of its moderating effect on solar radiation and temperatures. We have divided countries into groups based largely on latitude but there is also some relevance to these arrangements that stems from the impact of proximity. When countries share borders or are separated by short distances there is naturally some crossover influence that takes place over time. People, seeds, and traditions tend to migrate, and nearness has a way of amplifying that phenomenon.
Noting some of the fundamental differences between each continental region can help identify flavor patterns that distinguish coffees from particular parts of the world. At the same time, you’ll come to see that the diversity within each group is enormous, which is among the reasons why coffees will always elude our efforts to box them in by any single category. We’ve aggregated these countries together in a very broad stroke for one simple reason: to draw attention to the fact that where a coffee farm is located in the world has a meaningful effect on the coffees it begets. This is only the beginning of an exploration into a vast web of factors that together play a role in determining the way a coffee tastes. It is the tip of the iceberg, and the world of detail beyond geography is where the most useful and reliable variables reside.
Central America & Mexico (North)
13°N - 25°N
The coffeelands of Central America (North) are still dominated by the offspring and descendents of cultivars that were first propagated in the 1800’s. The long history of coffee production and well established coffee farming traditions that date back generations are still very visible here, and some of the farms we work with were originally founded over a century ago. Much has changed since then, but there are echoes of that time that persist today. The three largest producers in this group — Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras — have a very distinct individual growing regions due to their extensive land area and varied topography. El Salvador stands out as the only country in the Americas where the majority of its production is heirloom bourbon.
Central America (South)
7°N - 15°N
This region includes Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama. Costa Rica is a global leader when it comes to across-the-board sustainability in coffee, with an impressive track record for environmental conservation initiatives and a well-regulated local industry. Panama doesn’t produce a high volume of coffee but has a thriving community of boutique, well-resourced coffee farms doing exceptional and creative work with post-harvest processing. Nicaragua is perhaps best known for its pioneering contributions to the cooperative movement in Latin America.
South America (North)
5°S - 11°N
Colombia is probably the most recognizable of all the Latin coffee countries, in no small part due to its status as the 2nd most prolific producer of Arabica coffee in the world. Located just above the equator at the head of the Andean mountain chain, Colombia is the only country on the continent that touches two oceans. Cool winds from the Pacific and warm Caribbean influences from the East create dynamic weather conditions, and the three mountain ranges that divide the country foster a vast number of unique microclimates, contributing to its stunning regional diversity. It is one of the few countries in the world that produces coffee nearly year-round. Just to the south is Ecuador, a tiny producer with huge quality potential that has recently begun to plant more coffee and engage with the specialty sector.
South America (South)
0° - 32°S
The countries in this group are a study in contrasts. Brazil, the largest producer of coffee on the planet. It is home to some of the most technified, professional coffee farming operations in the business, and is well-known for its production of semi-washed and natural coffees. In general the altitudes in coffee zones are somewhat lower than those in other parts of the continent. On its Western border sits Bolivia, the smallest exporter of coffee in the Americas with some of the Highest Elevation farms in the world. Peru is a country that is many ways is still searching for its coffee identify, and with an enormous range of microclimates, stunning landscapes and an abundance of heirloom varieties in the ground it has tremendous latent potential.
East Africa (North)
4°S - 15°N
There is magic here. Ask our baristas or roasting team which coffees they find most exhilarating and these two countries will top nearly every list.
Ethiopia is the only place on Earth where a huge population of coffee varieties grow wild. It’s got the most exciting and longest standing consuming culture on the planet. The microclimates and topography found there are as near to ideal as it gets for coffee production. Ethiopia is the planet’s third largest producer of Arabica coffee (trailing only Brazil and Colombia) and has a multi-century head start on the rest of the producing world. As the birthplace of coffee, it has some serious advantages over all other countries, and is responsible for some of the most magnificent coffees you’ll ever taste.
Kenya, the other East African heavyweight, is the only origin that could challenge Ethiopia’s crown as producer of the world’s most breathtaking coffees. Kenyan post-harvest traditions are especially suited for coffee quality, and its internal auction system remains one of the most effective mechanisms in the industry for recognizing and rewarding quality with premiums. When we talk about juicy coffees, those from Kenya are exhibits A, B and C.
East Africa (Central)
0° - 18°S
Part of the celebrated Great Lakes region, Rwanda is a relative newcomer to the specialty coffee scene. Recent improvements to infrastructure and investments in coffee washing stations has allowed the intrinsic beauty of its coffees to emerge, and today it is producing some of the cleanest, most carefully processed coffees on the continent. Its neighbor to the South, Burundi, got a head-start in the seventies but years of political turmoil held it back and it is just now beginning to reassert its position as one of the top quality origins in the the zone. Tanzania and Zambia round out the East Africa (Central) grouping. Tanzania has a long history of coffee production with distinct micro-regions and an established coffee economy. Not much coffee is grown in Zambia, in part due to the comparatively arid climate, making its offerings both scarce and intriguing.