According to the Internation Coffee Organization (ICO), we drink 1.4 billion cups of coffee per day around the world. Nearly 45% of that number, or 400 million cups of coffee a day, are drunk in the United States alone.
That’s a lot of coffee! But have you ever thought about coffee from a deeper perspective? Where does it come from? Is it from plants, or does it grow on trees? How does it get from bean to cup? Follow us through this article to discover the inner workings of our beloved bean!
Where Do Coffee Beans Come From?
Coffee originated from the continent of Africa in the country of Ethiopia.
From there, coffee beans migrated to South East Asia and Central and South America.
Today, Brazil, Vietnam, Colombia, Indonesia, and Ethiopia are still the world’s top 5 leaders when it comes to growing and producing coffee.
Brazil alone produces over 5 billion pounds of coffee every year and has been the top coffee producer for more than 150 years.
What Are the Different Types of Coffee Plants?
There are two different types of coffee plants that coffee beans grow on.
The first is Robusta, otherwise known as Coffea robusta or Coffea canephora. Robusta coffee is known for its earthy notes. It’s bold and starts off bitter and a bit grainy but ends with a smooth peanut butter-like aftertaste.
The second type is Arabica or Coffea arabica. For those who don’t like the harsher taste of Robusta beans, the sweeter and softer flavor of Arabica beans is a great alternative to Robusta beans.
The flavor profile for Arabica has notes of sugar, berries, and fruit. Their acidity is also higher, with that wine-like taste that characterizes coffee with excellent acidity.
How Do Coffee Beans Grow?
Did you know that the coffee bean is actually considered a seed, known as a coffee cherry? It usually takes a newly planted coffee tree anywhere from two to four years to grow beans that are ripe enough to harvest.
So, do coffee cherries grow on plants or on trees?
A mature, well-grown coffee plant can usually grow to a height of between 30-40 feet tall. Since a tree is considered anything larger than 20 feet tall with a trunk bigger than 3 inches in diameter, a coffee plant clearly starts off as a plant but later qualifies as a tree.
Once the berries, otherwise known as coffee cherries, turn a ripened red color, they are harvested.
What Is the Coffee Growing Process?
After the newly planted coffee plants have grown, the harvesters will check the coffee cherries for ripeness.
Once the coffee beans are ready to be harvested, the crops are then picked by hand in a difficult labor-intensive process. However, in places like Brazil, where the landscape is relatively flat and the coffee fields immense, the process has been mechanized.
After the beans are harvested, they go through one of two types of processes- the dry method or the wet method.
The dry method is commonly used in countries where water resources are limited.
First, the freshly picked cherries are spread out on huge surfaces to dry in the sun.
The harvesters will then try to prevent the cherries from spoiling by raking and turning them throughout the day. Lastly, they will be covered at night or during rainfall to prevent them from getting wet.
The wet method removes the pulp from the coffee cherry after harvesting, so the bean is dried with only the parchment skin left on the coffee bean.
After completing one of the two methods mentioned above, the bean continues on its journey to us!
How Do Coffee Beans Arrive in Stores?
Coffee beans go through a mulling process before being shipped to us as customers.
This includes a technique called hulling, where the parchment layer from the wet-processed coffee is removed. It is then sometimes sent to a polishing process to get rid of any excess skin.
Finally, the beans are graded and sorted according to size and weight.
After any defective coffee beans are removed, the bags of coffee beans are then exported to their respective buying countries.
Upon arrival, coffee tasters, usually called cuppers, will then test the beans repeatedly to ensure the quality of taste.
An expert cupper can taste hundreds of samples of coffee in a day and still taste the subtle differences between them.
These tests include a visual test to make sure the beans look good. Then, the coffee beans will be immediately roasted, ground, and submerged into a temperature-controlled boiling cup of water so that the cupper can judge the aroma of the coffee.
Once the coffee has had time to rest, the cupper will quickly slurp a spoonful before spitting it out. The purpose of this action is to spread the coffee as evenly over the cupper’s taste buds as possible, allowing the cupper to weigh the coffee on their tongue.
They do this not only to determine the characteristics and flaws of the coffee but also to analyze the potential of blending different beans or the ability to create the proper roast.
Once the beans have been thoroughly tested, they go through the roasting process. This is usually done in the importing country, as roasted coffee needs to reach its consumers as quickly as possible.
The coffee beans are usually put through a roasting machine that turns the green coffee into the brown beans that we purchase from our favorite coffee shops/companies.
Coffee From Around the World
Coffee comes from just about every part of the world, although it’s primarily grown in warmer climates. Here’s a complete list of coffee from around the world and what makes it different:
Producing primarily Robusta coffee, Vietnam is known for having deep and rich undertones in its beans. They are often roasted dark and will give you a sweet, low-acidic, and chocolate-tasting brew.
Vietnam is also well known for its different and unique styles of brewing and serving, like this yummy combo of iced coffee with sweetened condensed milk!
Grown at high altitudes in the mountains, coffee from Taiwan is delicious and has low-acidic levels. Although flavor profiles vary depending on processing and roasting methods, you will note themes of earthy and nutty in most Taiwanese coffee beans.
There are many fun coffee drinks that are traditional to Taiwan and are oh-so-yummy. Check out the recipes we have here to enjoy any Taiwanese coffee you come across!
Nigerians primarily drink instant coffee from Nescafe. Producing mostly Robusta coffee beans, these are perfect for the instant coffee world.
However, Nigeria has begun dipping its toes into specialty coffee and producing high-quality arabica beans in certain states of the country. Check out Kaldi Coffee for a fantastic look at the leading source of specialty coffee in Nigeria!
The Philippines is best known within the coffee industry for producing four different types of coffee – Arabica, Robusta, Excelsa, and Liberica.
They also heavily produce instant coffee and have a thriving coffee community of local café chains. Learn more about the uniqueness of coffee consumption and production in the Philippines here.
Zambia only began exporting coffee in the 90s and has a coffee industry that seems to wax and wane for a variety of factors. The coffee is low in acidity and tends to have a less-robust flavor profile, making it an enjoyably mild brew.
Coffee from Bolivia is known and exported around the globe. Run primarily through cooperatives, Bolivia is also showing the world how you can equitably and responsibly grow, cultivate, and produce coffee and still give everyone fair wages and living conditions. Learn more about this amazing coffee community here.
Being in the top ten coffee producers, Mexican coffee is exported all over. Its light and mild body taste makes it great for adding flavor or to use in blends. These beans often have a dry-acidity level and are great for pour-overs to get the full benefit of their sweet taste profile.
Republic of Malawi
Malawi coffee is some of the most ethically and sustainably sourced coffee in the world, thanks to the union and democratic model set up in their coffee industry.
Their beans are often smooth and chocolaty while also giving citrus and fruity notes.
With 7 different growing regions, El Salvador produces a huge amount of coffee per year for the size of the country.
Because there is such a wide range of regions, there is a lot of coffee bean variety from El Salvador. But similarities we see through most of the beans they use are lower acidic levels, a sweet and fruity aroma, and tasting notes ranging from chocolate to citrus!
Timor has its own unique coffee growing and harvesting processes as well as its own barriers to coffee production. However, it is one of the world’s largest single-source organic coffee producers.
Timor is also known for having produced a new hybrid type of coffee bean that can better withstand common coffee plant diseases and pests. Research on this hybrid is still ongoing, but it has the potential to significantly change the coffee game.
Coffee is a huge part of Madagascar’s economy and culture. Run by many smaller farms, it produces some high-quality coffee that is known around the world as the farmers rely on traditional farming methods over using pesticides and other more modern forms of farming.
This creates a well-balanced and full-bodied flavor coffee that is delicious and gives large flavor profiles depending on roast levels.
Coffee is one of the biggest exports of Burundi and involves over 800,000 families in its production. These beans are primarily arabica and go through wet processing and fermentation, giving them a bright and sweet flavor profile.
Known for having ideal coffee growing conditions, Nicaragua produces high-quality and delicious coffee beans!
There’s a strong community of coffee co-ops that are all certified Fair Trade, so not only are you getting some good coffee, but you can drink it in confidence, knowing it was brought to you in a sustainable and equitable way.
See our top recommendations for roasts from Nicaragua here.
Responsible for well over half the coffee production coming from China, Yunnan is quite a coffee bean powerhouse. However, with little to no quality standards and regulations in place, farmers are still learning and honing their craft of coffee growing.
Therefore, there is some inconsistency in coffee originating from Yunnan on occasion. But more often than not, you will get a sweet and highly acidic cup of coffee that is pleasant and has flavor profiles ranging from dark chocolate to spices to dried cherries!
You can’t easily find Belize coffee in the US as it’s not a mass-producer of this product. However, that doesn’t mean they don’t produce high-quality coffee.
If you are ever in that part of the world, treat yourself to some of this extremely well-nurtured, cultivated, and harvested coffee, and enjoy the labor of love that goes into nurturing such delicious sips!
Having so much high altitude areas with nutrient-rich soil, Nepal is an ideal growing location for coffee. Although the coffee plant has been there for less than 100 years, coffee production has come far, and you will get a deliciously sweet and fruity cup of joe with low acidity from these beans.
No one does coffee quite like Australians. Not only is it a fundamental part of their daily lives, but they don’t play around with the quality of coffee down under.
Australian coffee is well-grown, harvested, processed, and roasted, making it some of the most delicious and sweet coffee in the world!
Papua New Guinea
Exporting primarily to European countries, you won’t find Papua New Guinea beans very easily outside of Starbucks blends.
Although this country has a large amount of its population dependent on coffee production, the majority of its coffee gets exported rather than enjoyed locally.
Find our best recommendations for finding authentic PNG roasts.
Trinidad and Tobago
Primarily growing Robusta beans, there has been a long and extensive history of coffee production that ebbs and flows in Trinidad. Cafe Vega is the most well-known roaster there, and you can see their products here.
No longer playing a big part in the world’s coffee economy, Venezuela keeps almost all its coffee productions for domestic use. Brewing in a pour-over method way, Venezuela’s coffee is deeply sweet with balanced acidity levels that can’t quite be replicated anywhere else in the world!
With some of the best Robusta cherries in the world, Laos coffee truly is a delight!
However, with the history of this country, the coffee industry has been through all sorts of shifts and changes. Due to warfare and certain environmental factors, the booming coffee industry Laos once had has been significantly affected.
Fortunately, production is on the rise right now, with small-sharecrop farmers in Laos growing some of the world’s tastiest volcanic soil coffee!
Primarily growing Robusta coffee, Cameroon offers a vast variety of flavor profiles thanks to the varying altitudes that are found across the seven growing regions in this country.
Cameroon also is home to the Boyo coffee variety, which is cultivated and grown in dark, nutrient-rich volcanic soil at high elevations.
With an ideal climate and nutrient-filled soil, Uganda’s coffee scene is perfect for creating delicious, complex-tasting coffee.
Growing primarily Robusta, Uganda also grows and harvests different types of Arabica as well as its own unique Bugisu bean.
Try some of the complex and full taste profiles of Ugandan coffee with our top suggestions here.
The history of coffee in Yemen is long and extensive. In fact, it is still widely debated if coffee originated in Yemen or Ethiopia.
Yemen’s coffee farming industry has taken many a blow in its history, but as recently as 2015, it has picked up again more strongly and has been expanding ever since.
If you’re looking for active volcano coffee, then Vanuatu is the place for you.
With many active volcano’s that help give nutrients to the soil, Vanuatu’s coffee industry is just starting to produce large amounts of coffee that are all certified organic, thanks to the active volcano’s that help give the coffee plants everything they need!
Being very new to the coffee scene, Chilean coffee beans are not found globally quite yet. However, this tea-obsessed country is beginning to love and appreciate specialty coffee!
Once a leader in the coffee industry, Haiti has gone through many changes and setbacks in its coffee scene.
With its large mountain ranges, Haiti has great coffee growing conditions, and although its growers don’t produce as much as they used to, Haitian coffee is still quite a treat with a delicious flavor profile!
With a coffee history of more than 400 years, Indonesia has quite a thriving coffee scene run by small, family-owned farms. These farmers practice their own method of coffee production, which is quite unique to the rest of the world.
This process, called Giling Basah, is similar to both the natural and washed processes of harvesting coffee cherries.
Coffee from Indonesia has quite an array of flavor profiles, but common themes are dark chocolate, earthy, and smooth.
Being fairly new to the coffee specialty world, Honduras is making quite a name for itself since its government made things more promising and lucrative for coffee farmers.
Involving over 100,000 family-owned and operated coffee farms spread across its six growing regions, flavor profiles can range and differ from region to region, but all Honduras coffee is high quality and delicious!
See some of our top recommendations here.
With many coffee farmers growing their coffee plants next to and alongside citrus trees, coffee from Bali has its own unique flavor profile and taste that is citrusy and delicious.
Bali is also where the infamous “cat poop coffee” can be found and harvested. This is quite a process that involves having cats eat the coffee cherries and poop the beans out to be further processed and washed.
Known primarily for its production of cocoa, Ghana is now making a name for itself in the coffee sector. With the ideal coffee growing conditions, Ghana predominantly grows and harvests Robusta coffee, which thrives in the lower altitude ranges across the country.
Although Robusta is not usually considered as good quality as Arabica, Ghana is altering that viewpoint for many coffee lovers. Farmers are learning how to better grow and harvest Robusta coffee, creating their own little niche in the coffee market in the process!
Although production of coffee drastically reduced in the ’90s and early 2000s, Zimbabwe has found a new interest in growing and harvesting this product. This is largely due to the interest of Nespresso teaming up with TechnoServe to help breathe new life into the Zimbabwe coffee scene.
Grown at altitudes of 4,500 feet, the Arabica coffee beans coming from Zimbabwe are incredibly good quality and oh-so-delicious!
What was once the world’s leading coffee powerhouse producer, Puerto Rico is no longer able to produce the mass amounts of coffee it once boasted.
This is due to the relentless way hurricanes continue to wreak havoc each season, along with certain political movements that are halting production.
However, Puerto Rico is still a large contributor to the American coffee scene and produces some of the best coffee in the world.
Grown in an ideal harvesting environment, coffee from Puerto Rico is low-acidic, mild, and has delicious chocolate undertones!
Known around the globe for having some of the most authentic flavored coffee beans, Kenyan coffee is delicious and has a very robust aroma.
Kenyan coffee is well-balanced and often medium-bodied with wine-like acidity. You can find some of our favorite Kenyan blends and single origins here.
Being one of the first South American countries to begin growing coffee, Peruvian coffee is now known and loved around the world and is the top 11th biggest coffee producer in the world.
With all exports being Arabica coffee, this mild-acidic coffee often has mellow flavor profiles that are sweet and bright.
Using wet processing exclusively, coffee from the Dominican Republic is delicious and known around the world.
With six primary growing regions, each has its own unique flavor profile. You can learn all about each region and its distinct features here, as well as get our top recommendations for Dominican coffee.
Known for being strong, full-bodied, and mildly acidic with complex flavor profiles, the coffee coming from Guatemala is top-notch.
With growing regions that are high in altitude, these Arabica coffee plants are getting long seasons to develop their sweet and complex flavor profiles that can’t be replicated quite anywhere else.
Check out our top 8 recommendations for some of the best coffee coming from Guatemala.
Being one of the larger island groups in Indonesia, Sulawesi has its own unique flavor profile when it comes to growing and processing coffee.
Being grown around volcanoes always gives coffee a more robust flavor profile, as the ash from the volcanoes is rich in nutrients and helps the beans develop a full flavor profile.
For some of our best recommendations for finding Sulawesi coffee, check out our buying guide here.
Although Kenya and Ethiopia are the top players when it comes to coffee from Africa, Rwanda also has a strong coffee community that produces some excellent quality coffee.
With flavor profiles ranging from fruity to earthy tones, Rwanda Arabica coffee is truly delicious and bright. See some of our top recommendations here.
Being the birthplace of the coffee plant and its discovery, Ethiopia continues to be a powerhouse within the coffee community.
These bright and bold brews have different flavor profiles depending on how the beans were grown, harvested, and processed, but across the country, Ethiopia offers high-quality coffee beans that are truly amazing to taste.
See the different beans you can try for yourself here!
Being the third-largest coffee producer in the world, Colombian coffee is often used for dark roasts and espresso, thanks to its bold flavor profiles.
Producing primarily Arabica coffee varieties, coffee from Colombia is delicious and sweet and has a mild-acidic level. See some of our favorite roasts from Colombia here.
Growing exclusively Arabica coffee, Costa Rica takes great pride in the quality of their beans. Having an even-tempered environment that is the ideal weather for coffee growing, Costa Rica’s coffee farmers have gotten their growing techniques down to an exact science that they can replicate year after year.
With soil rich in nutrients from volcanic ash, Costa Rica coffee has complex and bold flavor profiles that vary from region to region, thanks to altitude and humidity changes.
See our top favorite beans from Costa Rica here.
Where Do Starbucks Coffee Beans Come From?
Which beans do you think Starbucks uses for its world-famous coffee?
If you guessed arabica beans, you are correct! Given its more refined taste, Starbucks uses coffee Arabica exclusively.
Starbucks sources its Arabica from three key growing regions: Latin America, Africa, and the Asia-Pacific. However, their signature coffee blends are mostly from the Asia-Pacific region.
According to the website, Starbucks also has a rich history of sourcing coffee beans from Guatemala, Rwanda, and Timor for their coffees.
Starbucks Reserve, the new hybrid version of a regular Starbucks coffee shop, boasts blends from Uganda, Kenya, Vietnam, Brazil, and Colombia.
After a public relations disaster around a decade ago, Starbucks committed itself to both fixing its image and also improving practices in the coffee industry.
They achieved this by investing more than $100 million in supporting coffee communities and collaborating with farmers through programs such as Coffee and Farmer Equality (C.A.F.E.).
You can read more about their commitment to fair trade and ethically sourced coffee here.
That ladies and gentlemen, is how coffee travels from trees to your cups at home. Next time you walk into your local coffee shop and buy your favorite coffee, you can truly appreciate the labor of love that went into that single bean, bag, or cup!