What can you expect from different specialty coffee origins?
Across the world, third wave coffee culture has kickstarted a consumer focus on provenance. More than ever, coffee drinkers are starting to take an interest in where their coffee comes from, why it tastes the way that it does, and the journey from seed to cup.
While a coffee’s flavor depends on a whole range of different factors – including its roast profile, how it was processed, and how you brew it – origin does have an impact on the final cup profile.
To give you an idea of how it does affect the flavors in your cup, we put together a list of a few high-profile specialty coffee origins and what you can expect from each. Read on to learn more about each of them, from the bright and floral flavors of Ethiopian beans to the bittersweet chocolate notes in Brazilian coffee.
Brazil is the world’s largest producer and exporter of coffee, and is responsible for about one-third of all coffee in the global market. Traditionally, Brazilian coffee has been described as having chocolate, malt, and nutty flavors, with a full, rich body and low acidity. This is because Brazilian coffee is often grown at lower altitudes in comparison to other producing regions in Latin America. Most Brazilian coffees are processed using either the natural or pulped natural method. Natural processing (also known as dry processing) is when coffee cherries are picked, cleaned, sorted, and dried without removing the fruit or skin. This gives the coffee a sweeter flavor and smoother body in the final cup, but can produce undesirable flavors if it is not dried with care.
Pulped natural processing, in contrast, is where the skin is removed but the pulp is left on the beans as they dry. This improves both acidity and sweetness, and is often less “risky” than standard natural processing.
The exact flavor of your beans will vary depending on the region of Brazil that your coffee comes from. For instance, beans from Sul de Minas are often described as being citrusy and fruity, whereas Minas Gerais coffee is more representative of the “traditional” chocolatey and nutty Brazilian flavor profile.
It’s hard to pinpoint an exact cup profile for Colombian coffee because of the sheer diversity across the country’s coffee-growing regions.
Colombia is responsible for roughly 10% of all global coffee production. The south is home to regions like Huila and Cauca, which offer bright, complex cup profiles, often with notes of caramel or fruit. In the northern regions, however, such as the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain range, the coffee often has a heavier body and a rounder flavor.
Unlike in Brazil, washed processing (or wet processing) is the method of choice in Colombia. This is where the skin and flesh of the coffee cherry is washed off before the beans are dried. Washed coffees often have a brighter, “cleaner” cup profile, and allow you to taste more of the origin itself – rather than a flavor created by the processing method.
Ethiopia is generally recognized as the birthplace of coffee. The country is renowned for producing fruity and floral coffees, with common tasting notes including berries, lemons, jasmine, and bergamot. Ethiopian beans generally have a bright acidity, and a light, pleasant, tea-like body which shines in filter coffee brewing methods.
Two of the most well-known coffee-growing areas in Ethiopia are Sidama (the alternative name “Sidamo” is often used on bags of coffee) and Yirgacheffe. Sidama coffees often have a range of berry flavors in the cup, including raspberry and blueberry. In contrast, Yirgacheffe beans are complex and floral, with delicate tea-like notes.
Washed and natural processing are both common in Ethiopia. Alongside these, honey processing – when coffee is dried with a varying amount of sticky, honey-like “mucilage” on the bean – is becoming more popular with producers in the country.
There are seven countries in Central America, and six of them are well-known specialty coffee origins. However, because the microclimates and terrain in each country are so unique, there is no “common” flavor profile across the region.
The largest coffee producer in Central America, Honduras offers a broad variety of flavors, but its beans are commonly described as complex and fruity. The best often have a bright and juicy body.
Guatemalan coffee is often sweet, with common flavor notes including cocoa and caramel. At higher altitudes, it becomes more complex and fruity, with citrus and berry notes.
Panama has become a prized origin in recent years, and grows some of the most expensive coffee in the world. From 2014 to 2020, a Panamanian coffee has broken the world price record every year at the Best of Panama auction.
Today, Panama is often associated with the Gesha variety (also spelled Geisha). Rare, exclusive, and expensive, Panamanian Gesha is aromatic, floral and citrusy, with a delicate and light body.
Nicaraguan coffee boasts a range of different flavors, but tasting notes of fruit are common. It is often balanced and smooth, with a clean, bright acidity.
Costa Rican coffees are often described as having a clean taste, thanks to the common use of washed processing. This leads to a light and well-balanced cup profile. However, in recent years, farmers have started to branch out.
The volcanic soil in El Salvador is naturally nutrient-rich, which means Salvadoran coffee is often sweet and well-balanced.
Almost all Salvadoran coffee plants are grown under shade; the majority are of the Bourbon variety, while the more exclusive Pacas and Pacamaras are the second and third most popular.
Indonesia is the fourth-largest coffee producer in the world. It offers a complex range of flavor profiles across its different growing regions – Sumatra, Java, and Sulawesi are three of the most popular for coffee.
However, in the wider coffee community, Indonesia is perhaps most famous for the unique “giling basah” processing method, which is also known as semi-washed or wet hulled processing.
In this method, the beans are depulped and washed, before being dried for a short period of time (two to three days). At this point, the parchment (a papery inner skin around the bean) is removed while the bean is still wet. With other processing methods, the parchment isn’t stripped (or hulled) until the bean is completely dry.
This alters the taste of the coffee dramatically, giving it a thick, syrupy body but almost no sweetness and very low acidity.
Indonesian coffee is known for having earthy, smoky flavors, with tasting notes of tobacco and spice.
With beans available from countries all around the world, specialty coffee offers so much breadth and diversity in flavor, from Latin America to Africa and Asia.
So, when you’re picking a bag of beans, take a moment to think about what you’re looking for. Maybe even speak to a barista or a roaster about what you’d like in your cup. A pulped natural Brazilian? Perhaps a floral Ethiopian? Or even a smoky, spicy Sumatran wet hulled coffee?
Next time you go out to buy coffee, consider trying something new. It’s important to be open to trying new origins and processing methods. Each different coffee you try will have something unique to offer. You never know – you might just be pleasantly surprised.