Coffee is not just a drink, it’s one of life’s necessities, for us and millions of others across the world.
A Monday morning without that caffeine fix to kickstart the day would be almost unbearable, and coffee shops, both giant chains and independents, are now a common sight in highstreets the world over.
Over 70 countries, spread throughout the tropics, now grow coffee beans commercially, and growing conditions, weather, soil, processing methods and the species of the coffee grown all have a significant impact on the brew that ends up in your cup.
Have you ever asked yourself the question, where does coffee come from? If you have, here’s our guide to some of the world’s top coffee-producing countries.
#1. Brazil Coffee
Brazil is by far the world’s largest coffee producer, a position it has held for around 150 years.
The country accounts for around 30% of global production, more than twice as much as second-placed Vietnam.
It is estimated that the country has 27,000km2 of coffee plantations shared between around 300,000 individual farms (1).
Most coffee grown in Brazil is arabica, although some of the hardier robusta variety is also grown.
The main harvest is usually between June and September.
Brazil is the only significant coffee producing nation susceptible to frost, and a recent ban on a commonly-used pesticide has led to an increase in berry borer beetle infestations (2).
Coffee production is so large in Brazil that a poor harvest can lead to a global increase in coffee prices.
Brazil has a very attractive combination of perfect growing conditions and low labor costs.
Brazilian coffee has traditionally been seen as high-volume, lower grade coffee, but now growers there are producing some of the world’s finest beans.
Brazilian coffee has a low acidity, making it highly sought after, especially in the USA, the largest importer of Brazilian beans (3).
#2. Vietnam Coffee
Since the 1990s, coffee production has increased to such an extent in Vietnam that it is now the second largest coffee producer in the world (4).
Most of the coffee grown there is the less sought-after robusta variety, but coffee yields in Vietnam are the highest in the world, making it profitable to grow.
Vietnam is the world’s largest producer of robusta beans (5).
Some fear that coffee production in Vietnam faces an uncertain future due to climate change (6).
As temperatures rise and dry seasons become longer, areas suitable for coffee production may be reduced.
Another problem is that many of the coffee trees in Vietnam are very old and need replacing.
The government is now taking action to ensure the Vietnamese coffee industry remains viable.
Growers are being encouraged to plant more arabica and to invest in more specialist coffees such as kopi luwak – “cat poo coffee” – more on this later.
The Vietnamese themselves have developed a unique way of brewing and serving their coffee.
The coffee is placed in a special filter which drips down into a cup below. The drink is then usually consumed with sweet condensed milk, either hot or iced.
Watch this video to find out how to make Vietnamese coffee.
#3. Colombia Coffee
The world’s third largest producer of coffee is Colombia, a country with a long history of growing this crop.
Coffee cultivation is so integral to Colombia’s national identity that in 1995, the country opened a theme park devoted to the beverage.
Conditions in Colombia are so suited to growing coffee that it is possible to harvest beans twice a year, the primary harvest and the secondary harvest (7).
The combination of the climate, the soil and the elevation found in the country mean that Colombia is able to produce some of the world’s highest-quality coffee beans.
Like elsewhere, climate change threatens Colombia’s ability to continue producing high volumes of coffee in the long term, and production has already dropped over the past decade (8).
Colombia has five main coffee-producing zones.
The flavor of the product varies from zone to zone, but in general, Colombian coffee is traditionally mild and well-balanced, making beans from this country highly prized.
#4. Indonesia Coffee
The world’s fourth most important coffee producer and exporter is Indonesia.
Coffee was first introduced to the country by Dutch colonials, and for a time, the country was the world’s largest producer of coffee before being supplanted by Brazil in the 19th century (9).
Coffee is grown on many of the islands of the Indonesian archipelago, including Sumatra, Sulawesi, Java, Bali, Sumbawa, Flores and Papua.
Coffee grown on each island – and even different parts of the same island – has its own distinct qualities (10).
Sumatran coffee is considered to have an intense earthy flavor, with notes of cocoa and tobacco, Javan coffee has a good body and gives a lasting aftertaste, Balinese has the sweetest taste of Indonesian coffees and coffee from Sulawesi is sweet with a hint of spices.
Most of the coffee grown in Indonesia is robusta, with significant arabica plantations in northern Sumatra (11).
Indonesia is also the home of kopi luwak. This specialty coffee is produced by allowing Asian civets, a cat-like animal, to eat the cherries.
When the civet excretes the beans, they are collected and cleaned.
It is said that the enzymes in the animal’s stomach break down the acidity of the coffee, creating a smoother drink.
Kopi luwak is known as “the most expensive coffee in the world” and can sell for hundreds of dollars per kilo.
#5. Ethiopia Coffee
Ethiopia is the country that gave us the arabica coffee plant, and it is now the world’s fifth largest producer of coffee beans (12).
The cultivation and export of arabica is vital to the country’s economy, and the coffee industry provides employment to around 15 million people there, 16% of the population (13).
Depending on the whether the coffee beans are processed using the dry method or the wet method, Ethiopian coffees broadly fit into two flavor profiles (14).
Dry processed beans tend to give a chocolatey, fruity drink, while wet processed coffees are lighter, with stronger acidity.
Ethiopian coffee has far more genetic diversity than anywhere else in the world, and there are many different varieties of coffees in Ethiopia, each producing its own distinctive brew.
Two of the most famous Ethiopian coffees growing regions are Sidama and Harar.
Coffee production in Ethiopia is already being negatively impacted by climate change.
Increasing droughts have resulted in a decrease in the overall volume of coffee from the country.
In some areas, production has already fallen by up to 20%, and it is estimated that the country could lose between 39% and 59% of land suitable for coffee cultivation by the end of the century (15).
#6. Honduras Coffee
Honduras has risen swiftly in the league table of coffee-producing countries and is now the top producer in Central America (16).
Honduras is one of the world’s leading exporters of arabica beans, recently overtaking Ethiopia to claim third spot, behind only Brazil and Colombia.
There are thought to be around 110,000 farms in the country, of which around 92% are small producers (17).
For a long time, coffee from Honduras was considered of inferior quality when compared to that of its Central American neighbors, but those days are long gone, and coffee connoisseurs around the world are now taking note of the improved beans coming from the country.
Honduras has six distinct coffee-growing regions, each producing coffees with different profiles.
Copán coffee is sweet-smelling with notes of chocolate, caramel and citrus, Opalaca has complex, fruity flavors, Montecillos is sweet-tasting, Comayagua is rich and citrusy with a rich body, El Paraíso is sweet and smooth, and Agalta has a complex profile with hints of tropical fruit, chocolate and caramel.
#7. India Coffee
We may usually associate India with the cultivation of tea, but the country is also one of the world’s largest coffee producers.
Around 70% of Indian coffee is grown in Karnataka state, followed by Kerala and Tamil Nadu (18).
Coffee cultivation in India grew rapidly in the 1950s, with robusta beans making up 70% of the national crop and arabica accounting for 30% (19).
Most of India’s coffee is destined for export, while the domestic market for the drink is also beginning to grow (20).
Italy is the number one importer of Indian coffee.
Coffee in India is grown in the shade and is often cultivated alongside spices such as cardamom, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg, and this is said to add a note of spice to the coffee itself.
While robusta coffee is generally less desirable than arabica, India is considered to produce some of the finest robustas in the world.
A small amount of kopi luwak is now also being produced in Karnataka.
#8. Uganda Coffee
Robusta coffee is native to Uganda and is grown commercially; arabica was also introduced from Ethiopia, and Uganda is now a major producer and exporter of beans.
Robusta accounts for around 80% of Uganda’s production, arabica around 20%.
Coffee is Uganda’s most important export crop.
Traditionally, much of Uganda’s robusta crop went into making instant coffee, but now Uganda’s arabica is also making a name for itself.
In only the last ten years or so, arabica production has begun to take off, and one of the most famous varieties is known as Bugisu, named after the region where it is grown on the western slopes of Mt Elgon.
Bugisu is a sweet coffee with hints wine, fruits and citrus.
However, some still contend that the coffee produced in Uganda is inferior to that produced in Kenya, Zimbabwe or Tanzania (21).
While robusta coffee in Uganda is normally dry-processed, arabica is usually processed using the wet method.
#9. Mexico Coffee
Mexico is a major coffee-producing nation and the world’s largest producer of organic coffee.
Mexican coffee production has suffered in recent years through a combination of bad weather, disease and economic issues.
The 2015-16 harvest was the worst season for Mexican coffee production in 20 years (22).
The future is looking brighter, however. 2017-18 saw increased production and the prediction for output in the 2018-19 growing season is over double the amount produced in 2015-16.
This is good news for coffee lovers everywhere as Mexico is capable of growing some excellent coffees.
Most production is in the south of the country, and the best-known regions include Veracruz, Chiapas and Oaxaca.
Mexico remains the largest exporter of coffee beans to the US.
#10. China Coffee
China is a relative newcomer to the world of coffee production but is now racing up the list of the world’s largest producers.
While some robusta coffee is produced in Fujian province and on Hainan island, 95% of China’s coffee output is arabica grown in the southern province of Yunnan.
Of course, China is traditionally a tea-producing country, and for the moment, the expertise and infrastructure are still not in place (23).
Chinese coffee can vary greatly in quality and is still considered inferior to coffee produced in more established coffee-growing countries.
This situation is unlikely to last, however, and investment by major companies such as Nestlé and Starbucks show that some people are beginning to take notice of China’s potential.
As better coffees are grown in the country, China is surely destined to become an ever-more important player in world coffee production, both for the burgeoning domestic market and for export.
#11. Kenya Coffee
Although not in the top ten coffee producing nations by volume, Kenya deserves a mention due to the excellent quality of the coffee produced there.
The combination of the soil and climate are ideal for coffee cultivation, and Kenyan beans are highly prized.
Part of the reason for Kenya’s success in growing high-quality coffee is the auction system, which incentivizes the cultivation of a quality product.
Some go as far as to claim that Kenyan arabica is the finest in the world (24).
Kenyan coffee is usually wet-processed.
While there is great variation, Kenyan coffee is characterized as being a clean, crisp drink with notes of berries or even lemon.
A long journey
So as you sit there enjoying another delicious brew, you can consider the long journey the coffee beans have taken from the grower to your cup.
In knowing the answer to the question we asked at the beginning:
where does coffee come from?
you can begin to understand more about the typical qualities associated with coffee from each country, and you can seek out beans with different origins to see which ones you love the most.
Did you enjoy our list?
Perhaps you love coffee from one of the many countries we didn’t include.
Which country produces your favorite coffee?
Why not leave us a comment to let us know – and if you enjoyed this article, please don’t forget to share!
My name is Kathy Gallo, Editor of Daily Cupo, a Coffee buff. The guide you find here is designed exactly for you, and it is our hope that you find it not only interesting but also actionable.