Coffee As A Commodity
Coffee is unsurprisingly one of the top commodities traded in the world, in fact it is second only to oil. Coffee is after all the third most consumed beverage and as such millions of kg of coffee beans are harvested each year. To be precise, 143.37 million bags were produced in 2015-16. But what are the largest coffee growing regions of the world?
Figures from December 2015 show that Brazil continues to top the list of coffee producers followed in order by Vietnam, Columbia, Indonesia, India, Honduras, Uganda, Mexico, Ethiopia and Cote d’Ivoire. Let’s look at the top producing coffee nations in a bit more detail.
What Explains The Different Tastes Of Coffee Beans?
In a nutshell, pardon the pun, the reasons behind the different tastes of different coffee beans can be explained by looking at the processing methods used as well as the climate. High or low altitude growing regions for example can explain a lot about the prevalence of acidity in a coffee bean. In addition the roast itself can create the different flavours.
Brazil remains the largest producer of coffee beans in the world. What Brazil doesn’t have is high altitude but its fields are able to produce both Arabica and Robusta coffee beans. About 80% of the crop is Arabica, the more premium coffee bean. The majority of coffee farms in the country are small and are situated in two main growing regions-Serra Abaixo below the mountains and Serra Acima above the mountains.
Most coffee beans are processed using wet, dry and semi washed processes. In Brazil most beans are processed using the natural drying method. Coffee beans are dried while still in the fruit bringing out a very sweet flavour. As such Brazilian beans are known for their sweet, smooth and complex flavour.
The best beans that Brazil has to offer are the Brazilian Santos (Bourbon Santos) so look out for that. Overall Brazilian coffee beans, due to the low altitude, are known for their low acidity and smooth sweet flavour.
Columbia traditionally only grows Arabica beans on over 500,000 small farms. Columbia is bisected by the Andes Mountains which split into 3 mountain ranges as they run south to north. Much of the nation’s coffee is grown here. The majority of coffee beans are grown under shade which is unique to Columbia. The rainforest, altitude and soil produce an ideal environment for coffee trees. Some farms are situated at altitudes of 6,400 feet which creates a really superior bean with great acidity.
Coffee beans from Columbia tend to be classified as of medium body, slightly sweet and with a subtle tinge of acidity. Columbian coffee is quite easily identified by its dark colouration and walnut aftertaste. You will often see the term ‘Columbian roast’ which refers to coffee made from beans that have been grown in the high altitude of the Andes.
There are three main growing regions here-Java, Sumatra and Sulawesi. Java is renowned for its Arabica coffee beans and produces one of the finest aged coffees in the world-Old Java, a really full bodied coffee. The most famous coffee from Sulawesi is from Toraja and is known for its full bodied taste with hints of caramel. This coffee is really sought after and due to is low yield is even more valued.
Two of the world’s most famous coffees-Mandheling and Ankola are from Sumatra. Both are dry processed and are known for their rich flavour. Sumatran coffee is described by those that like it as smooth and full bodied.
Known as the birthplace of coffee Ethiopia has to feature in any list of great coffee producing nations. Its climate and growing conditions make it ideal for coffee. Political and social upheaval have really affected Ethiopia over the years but coffee production has continued. Coffee farmers here cultivate coffee in four different systems-forest, semi forest, garden and plantation.
It can be very hard to summarise Ethiopian coffee as the beans from here have such different profiles. There are local variations in soil and processing but there are also just so many varieties of coffee bean here. This is after all the only place in the world where Arabica coffee is indigenous.
The main growing regions are Yirgacheffe and Harar. Harrar coffee beans are grown on the eastern part of the country, they are dry processed and have a strong edge, rich aroma and heavy body. Some of the best coffee beans from Harrar have an aroma similar to blueberries or blackberries.
The Yirgacheffee coffee bean is a popular bean, grown in southern Ethiopia. It is more mild than Harrar and more aromatic. You may see this coffee bean labelled as Sidamo.
Kenya may be down the list of coffee exporters (it currently ranks 18th in the world) but we had to list it due to its amazing quality. Most coffee grown here is in the High Plateaus where the rich volcanic soils are excellent for coffee growing. Kenyan coffee beans are all about quality. In fact no other coffee growing nation pays such strict attention to quality of production and grading. The Arabica coffee bean is grown at heights of 1400 to 2000m,this makes for a bright, acidic coffee.
Almost all of the coffee produced here is washed Arabica coffee and the majority of coffee is produced on small cooperative farms.
The key to Kenyan coffee is that it is for those who like their coffee bold and acidic, its complex with lovely fruit flavours of berry and citrus. When it is roasted more darkly it can take on a caramel favour when lightly roasted it is more fruity in favour.