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Flavourful Origins—How Origin Impacts the Flavour of Coffee, and How to Choose the Right One for You.

Posted by Coffee Curator on 20th Apr 2021

Travel the world with Coffee.

Choosing coffee is like choosing toothpaste.

You find yourself staring at a shelf of 99 options, each of them with alluring packaging and subtle differences.

So which one do you choose?

There are many things to consider when selecting the right coffee for you. Light or dark? Blend or Single Origin? Washed or Natural?

In this post we’ll give an overview of each major origin, with two country examples, and explain the most common flavour profiles of each.

You will finally be able to eliminate some of that decision-fatigue, gain an appreciation for what each origin has to offer, and try out coffees you know you’re going to love!

It’ll no longer be a matter of, “Oh I like the colour of that packaging, I’m just gonna pick that one”, but:

“Hmm, I feel like something delicate and fruity, how about an Ethiopian.”

What is the Coffee Belt?

‘The Coffee Belt’ is coffee industry lingo for the area between the Tropic of Cancer, and the Tropic of Capricorn. Spanning across roughly 70 different countries, this large area is where you’ll find the rich conditions where coffee naturally thrives.

In general, this belt covers three general coffee producing regions: Central and South America, Africa and Asia.

It’s important to remember that origin only accounts for some of a coffee’s natural flavour. There’s also altitude, soil conditions, processing methods, etc. to consider. But there’s something to be said for the fact that each origin has gained a strong reputation over the years for producing their own recognisable flavour profiles.

Central and South America—Clean and Sweet

Costa Rica

Costa Rican coffees are mostly grown at high altitudes, resulting in dense coffee beans that offer up a complex, sweet and bright flavour.

As a bonus, the country as a whole tends to value transparency and has high standards for their produce. This makes it easier for buyers to form relationships and trace beans back to their origin.

Guatemala

Ahh, Guatemala! The land of nutrient-rich, volcanic soil within a mild subtropical climate.

Guatemala’s unique conditions create an ideal environment for growing some of the most delicious, crowd-pleasing coffee beans on the market. Think chocolate, nuts and toffee. Perfect for milk-based drinks or as a full-bodied base for a blend.

Fun fact: Culturally, Guatemalans are proud of their coffee farming work. Coffee growing is a family tradition and a way of life, not merely a cash-crop.

Africa—Fruity and Complex

Ethiopia

Say hello to the birthplace of coffee. Coffee has been growing in Ethiopia for more than 1000 years, which is impressive in itself.

Ethiopian brews are known to be fruit forward, with elegant floral notes.

Fun fact: you might notice that a lot of coffee roasters won’t disclose the varietal of an Ethiopian coffee. This is because Ethiopian coffee trees exist in backyards and on mountains where natural mutation is always occurring. The term ‘Ethiopian Heirloom’ is used to cover the potential thousands of undiscovered varietals!

Kenya

Kenyan coffees are known to have a red apple and orange-like acidity, with a toffee sweetness. Kind of like a caramel apple?

Fun fact: until recently, Kenya was known to only produce washed coffees. This was a nation-wide decision of theirs in order to avoid spoilage during the coffee processing stage.

Asia—Earthy and Delicious

India

India is known for their rich, low-acidity arabica. Perfect for those dark Italian espressos!

The widespread use of inter-cropping in India means that Indian coffees are often informed by the various spices and fruits growing around them: cardamon, vanilla, orange and bananas.

Fun Fact: Coffee was apparently introduced to India in the 1600s, when an Indian pilgrim to Mecca smuggled seven unroasted beans across borders and planted them in the Chandragiri Hills of Karnataka. And the rest… is history.

China (Yunnan)

According toYunnan Coffee Traders, Yunnan coffee can be summarised as balanced and sweet, with some obtaining a unique fragrance reflective of region and processing methods, and some obtaining complex acidities if they are grown at higher elevations.

Fun Fact: China is an emerging specialty origin. In fact it was only given the single origin ‘seal of approval’ in 2018, when roasters such as Irving Farm, La Colombe and Square Mile began adding China single origin coffee to their offerings with some outstanding feedback!

As you can see, each origin brings a very unique set of offerings to the coffee table.

But before you go on your way and purchase a bag of Kenyan beans in the hopes that it will taste identical to those caramel apples you loved as a kid, a small disclaimer:

you can never expect a coffee to be completely reflective of its country. After all, origin is only one tiny piece of the flavour-profile puzzle.


But more on that another day.