Just like fine wines, the flavor of coffee beans depends on the soil, climate, and weather of their home country.
Even though there are only two main kinds of coffee (Arabica and Robusta), their flavors can range from nutty and chocolatey to fruity and crisp to earthy and musty depending on their region.
Because coffee must be grown in warm, tropical climates, areas like Latin America, Africa, and the pacific islands are most famous for their coffee.
If you want to take a tour of the world right in your own kitchen, single-origin coffees are your best bet (stay away from blends to get the full experience). Here are a few regions we recommend.
Popular Latin American coffees include Columbian, Brazillian, Guatemalan, and Costa Rican. These tend towards the sweeter side and can have nuances of chocolate, spices, or even caramel.
Ethiopia and Kenya both export significant amounts of coffee. Many Ethiopian coffees are characterized as light and dry with fruity or herbal notes, while Kenyan coffees are considered more acidic with notes of citrus.
Sumatra, Java, and Kona coffee all come from the Pacific. Kona coffee, grown in Hawaii on the slopes of the Hualalai and Mauna Loa Mountains, has a rich flavor with undertones of wine. Look for more spicy, musty, or smoky flavors in coffees from Java and Sumatra.
To learn to distinguish coffees from different regions the next time you brew a cup, first take a good, long sniff. See if you can identify some of the scents – does it smell like wine or citrus?
Are there deeper notes like nuts or chocolate?
Then try at least a sip of it without any cream or sugar to pick up on underlying flavors. With practice, you’ll find yourself picking up subtle flavor notes that can make your coffee-drinking experience even more enjoyable – regardless of how you normally take your drink!
Read more on how to properly tasting and “cup” coffee or what to look for in a top quality cup of coffee.
About Mike Quinn
Mike Quinn spent 20 years in the US Army and traveled extensively all over the world. As part of his military service, Mike sampled coffee and tea from all virtually every geographic region, from the beans from the plantation of an El Salvadorian Army Colonel to "Chi" in Iraq to Turkish Coffee in the Turkish Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan. He spent nearly a decade in the Republic of Korea where he was exposed to all forms of traditional teas. Mike formerly owned and operated Cup And Brew, an online espresso and coffee equipment retail operation.