In a previous article we explored how, with perseverance and a polytunnel, it can be possible to cultivate a few coffee plants in the UK. But with the climate of the UK wholly unsuited to coffee growing in any substantial way, we now set out to answer, where is coffee grown?
As a thriving coffee culture continues to take root and flourish in every corner of the globe, it has become increasingly clear that human beings are a species of coffee aficionados. More and more people are falling in love with this versatile beverage, and as demand soars, we turn to the coffee-growing regions of the world to provide us with the beautiful beans that lie at the genesis of every delicious cup of jo.
It may be difficult to believe, but coffee beans are the second most traded commodity in the global market, pipped to the top spot only by crude oil (which we imagine is pretty hard to beat). Coffee growing isn't suitable in every environment, however, and with coffee plants being notoriously picky about temperature, these plants do best in a tropical climate.
The Coffee Belt: Where Our Coffee Comes From
Originating in the forests of the Ethiopian plateau (and discovered centuries ago, according to legend, by a curious goat farmer), coffee plants have been exported across the world to be grown in what's known as the "coffee belt" - a series of countries across the Equator in Asia, Latin America and its native Africa. This coffee-growing expanse lies between 25 degrees north of the equator and 30 degrees south, with differences in climate, altitude and soil composition all contributing to distinctive regional flavours.
More than 25 million farmers are involved in coffee production across both large and small farms, with Latin America particularly reliant on this agribusiness as the source of 70% of the world’s coffee beans. However, coffee is consumed in the largest quantities by countries which don’t grow it. Finland comes out on top for the most coffee drunk per person, with the other Scandanavian countries of Norway, Iceland and Denmark close behind - perhaps those cold winters and long nights have something to do with it!
For coffee enthusiasts, the country of origin is of great interest when choosing their coffee beans, and with over fifty countries producing the crop, there is a refreshing amount of diversity on offer.
Africa & The Middle East
The ancestral home of the coffee plant, Ethiopian coffee beans are today as popular as they have ever been, with 60% of Ethiopia's foreign income generated by the export of coffee. Yet Ethiopia is far from the only African country to grow coffee beans. Africa is a vast continent that contains dizzying multitudes in both climate and cultures, and coffee is grown across a very large region sweeping central Africa.
The countries where coffee is cultivated in Africa include Uganda, Kenya (with the slopes of Mount Kenya famous for producing a full-bodied bean), the Democratic Republic Of Congo, Rwanda and relative newcomers Burundi and Tanzania. While these are all very different countries and the coffee from each area has its own distinct character, generally speaking, coffees from the African continent are known for being particularly fruity, with bright berry and floral flavours that shine with acidity.
Central & South America
We can credit the Americas for giving the rest of the world tomatoes, corn and potatoes (things that it’s rather hard to imagine living without!) but coffee - one of the continent's most famous crops - is an import. The coffee produced in Columbia is especially renowned, although Brazil takes the crown as the largest coffee producer in the world.
As in Africa, Central and South American coffees vary from country to country and region to region, with the surrounding environment varying from lush, misty rainforest to dryer, sunnier areas. On the whole, however, American coffees are known for being mild and balanced. Central America tends to produce more acidic and vivid coffee than further South, which produces sweeter beans with a pleasant “mouthfeel”, and Brazilian coffee is often a little chocolatey.
The Polynesian island archipelago of Hawaii (which is the only US state located in the tropics) also produces coffee beans, which are grown on Hawaii’s mineral-rich volcanic mountain slopes.
After Brazil, Vietnam is the second biggest exporter of coffee, while Indonesia comes in fourth. China and India (countries we may associate more often with tea leaves) also grow a huge amount of coffee, with both countries among the top 15 producers worldwide. Sumatra, a large and beautiful Indonesian island west of Java and south of the Malay Peninsula, is particularly well regarded for its rich, chocolate-flavoured coffee, while Indonesian coffees, in general, are bold and earthy in character.
Chinese coffee beans, on the other hand, are more reminiscent of those produced in South America, with the quality of the beans improving as the domestic coffee market continues to soar. In Thailand, arabica beans (a sweeter, more subtle coffee from the Arabica plant) are generally grown in the north and robusta beans (a stronger coffee with higher caffeine content) in the south, while Laos-grown coffee serves as the main export commodity and significantly boosts the economy.
Sourcing Coffee Responsibly
At Coffee Bean Shop, we are committed to ensuring our coffee is responsibly sourced. As a commodity that is mainly produced in the global south while going on to be processed in the global north, it is important that roasters like us do everything we can to ensure everyone in the supply chain is well treated and well-compensated for their work.
With this aim in mind, we have visited most of the farms that we source our coffee from, making sure our beans are not only good to drink but good to those who grow them.