How the Region of Origin Affects the Flavor of Your Coffee Beans
How do you like your steak cooked? Do you prefer dry or sweet white wine? Do you like spicy Mexican food, or do you prefer things on the milder side?
We all eat pretty much the same foods and drinks, but how we take them can differ substantially.
And the same goes for coffee. Some people prefer a bold, intense flavor, while others prefer something acidic and sharp.
No doubt you already have a preferred coffee flavor. Maybe you add more water than most people for a less intense experience. Or perhaps you need extra sugar in your morning joe to make it palatable.
But the simple truth is this: Choose your coffee from the right growing region of the world, and you won’t need to make major changes to the flavor. There are four main coffee-producing areas on Earth, and each of them delivers its own unique drinking experience.
Central America is a coffee-producing powerhouse, as well as the region of the world almost solely responsible for coffee’s mass appeal in the modern world. Guatemala and Honduras in particular supply North America with the coffee bean that seems to satisfy the broadest range of consumers.
Central American coffee is what you might describe as middle-of-the-road in terms of flavor. It’s not too sharp, yet it doesn’t deliver the intense earthiness you might find from Indonesian beans.
Typically, Central American coffee is acidic, and doesn’t linger too long on the palate after drinking. Mexican coffees are often described as cherry-like, while Guatemalan beans deliver an apple-like flavor — topped off with hints of caramel and chocolate.
If you’re looking for an easy-to-drink, versatile coffee, try something from Central America.
South American coffees are usually a little bolder, and deliver added body for drinkers who like a more intense coffee experience. They’re still decidedly acidic, but they also tend to offer added sweetness — akin to caramel, some say.
There are two coffee-producing powerhouses in this part of the world: Colombia and Brazil. Colombian in particular is hugely popular in the West, as it’s balance of sweetness and body is perfectly suited to Western palates. Brazilian coffees tend to deliver more body. They’re generally heavier than their Central American alternatives, which is why Brazilian beans are often used in espresso blends.
South American coffees deliver the perfect balance of acidity and body. But if you like your coffee to linger in your mouth for a while, go with beans from Brazil.
There are several coffee-growing nations in central Africa, but two of them could be called producing-regions in their own right. This is because both Ethiopian and Kenyan coffees deliver flavor and aroma profiles that are unique to their regions.
It is widely believed that Ethiopia is the home of coffee. Indeed, it still grows wild in this part of the world. The flavor spectrum for coffees from Ethiopia is a large one, but the overriding characteristic is one of fruit. Some compare a good coffee from this part of the world to vine-ripened tomatoes, blueberries or ripe strawberries. There are also usually hints of perfume, with many people describing flavors similar to jasmine and lemongrass.
Kenyan coffee beans deliver the boldest and most intense flavors you’re likely to find. Most of the coffee in the country is grown without any shade, which makes for a complex and heavy flavor profile. The same fruity undertones that exist in Ethiopian coffees are present in Kenyan beans, but they’re coupled with a savory (almost beefy) taste that lingers in the mouth for quite a while.
If you need a coffee that cuts through strong flavors such as dark chocolate or cheese, choose something from Kenya.
Indonesia is a country comprised of many islands, and many of them have proud coffee-growing traditions. But it’s probably the island of Sumatra that is most closely associated with coffee. The intensely hot and humid growing conditions create a deep, dark bean that delivers an earthy flavor many people describe as mushroom-like. The robustness of the Sumatran bean means it can be roasted for longer, delivering a smoky bitterness that is the perfect accompaniment to savory foods.
Indonesian coffees — particularly those from Sumatra and Java — are what most people would describe as “very strong.” And while that might simplify the flavor profile, it’s true in relation to the other coffees on this list. If you’re eating something meaty and earthy like a rare filet steak or a mushroom risotto, wash it down with a mug of piping hot Javan coffee.
If you’re not sure which coffee is for you, do some taste tests with coffees from all four regions. Taste them together, always starting with the mildest first. Taste with suitable food pairings, and at different times of the day. You might discover a favorite, or you may struggle to make up your mind. But one thing’s for sure — you’ll have lots of fun along the way!