You may not put much thought into the origins of the coffee beans in your cup when you’re reaching for that cup of joe in the morning.
The history of how that cup of coffee came to be goes pretty deep, though, and you might be surprised by all that goes into making it happen.
Where does coffee come from?
Most of the world’s coffee today comes from 5 top coffee producers: Brazil, Vietnam, Colombia, Indonesia, and Ethiopia. Brazil alone produces about a third of the world’s coffee beans.
All 5 of those countries are part of what’s known as the “bean belt.” The Bean Belt is a stretch of ideal coffee-growing conditions between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn.
SOURCE: Bibium, 2021. Retrieved from https://bibium.co.uk/bean-belt-infographic/
From there, countries within the bean belt in Central America, South America, and Africa produce their own coffee varietals. Success is often linked to a country’s relationships with coffee houses, coffee roasters, and specialty coffee brands around the world.
Every region or continent is known for distinct flavor profiles, too. African coffee from Kenya, Ethiopia, and Uganda is known for a higher level of acidity. Countries in Latin America like Guatemala and Honduras are known for spicy, nutty roasted coffee.
Turkish coffee doesn’t come from Turkey, by the way. It refers to the way that cup of coffee is prepared: unfiltered, highly caffeinated, and sweetened. Arabic coffee is similar, with the addition of the spice cardamom giving it the unique flavor it’s famous for.
Where does coffee come from in the United States? Coffee in the United States is imported from several different countries in South America and Asia. Brazil and Colombia are the top importers.
There are a few areas across the country and its territories that grow coffee beans more locally. Hawaii is known for its Kona coffee. Puerto Rico is another growing market, but natural disasters in recent years have slowed down that growth somewhat.
California growers have been experimenting with coffee there, but overall, the continental United States just doesn't have a suitable climate for coffee. The arabica plant, responsible for most of the coffee beans grown worldwide, likes tropical, mountainous regions at altitude.
Types of Coffee Plants
There are two main types of coffee plants: arabica and robusta. Liberica and excelsa are also recognized as coffee bean types, but they’re much harder to find on the market.
What do coffee beans grow on? Coffee beans grow on coffee plants, which look like a hybrid between a shrub and a tree. These “coffee trees” can grow over 30 feet tall if left untrimmed, with flowering branches of waxy leaves and coffee cherries.
Coffee cherries are the fruits harvested for the beans (technically, seeds) inside. They start out green and turn shades of red and purple once they’re ripe and ready to go.
Green coffee refers to arabica or robusta coffee beans that haven’t seen a roasting process. You’ll sometimes see green coffee beans as an extract, but their grassy, bitter taste doesn’t work all that well in a traditionally brewed cup of coffee.
Ripe coffee cherries are harvested and then picked either by hand or machine.
Most growers have one major harvest each year. Some countries have a secondary crop depending on how their coffee plants were initially planted. The beans are processed using a wet or dry method, depending on where they’re grown.
The two primary coffee plants differ in where they grow, their flavor, and caffeine content. Both can live for decades if they’re taken care of, and both have conditions that are more favorable for their signature bean flavors.
Arabica coffee accounts for about ¾ of coffee production around the world. Ethiopia, India, Guatemala, Colombia, and Brazil, the world’s top coffee producers, all grow arabica coffee.
Most specialty coffee brands will use some version of arabica beans in their roasts, especially those who produce blonde roasts.
The arabica coffee plant grows at high elevations starting at 2,000 feet above sea level and is more vulnerable to pests than the robusta plant. That makes arabica more challenging to cultivate and, as a result, more expensive to produce.
The flavor of arabica coffee makes it the preferred option for many coffee enthusiasts.
The beans harvested from arabica plants are milder than robusta. If you like your coffee black (or from Starbucks), you’re probably sipping on smoother-tasting arabica beans.
One downside is that you’ll get less caffeine from arabica coffee, but that’s where the roasting process comes in. Lighter roasts like gold coffee are higher in caffeine compared to darker roasts.
Robusta beans come from the plant Coffea canephora. Vietnam is the top producer of robusta coffee, but Brazil is also growing robusta today and is eager to catch up.
Though it’s used in less coffee worldwide, robusta is much less expensive to produce than arabica. The plant is hardier and more disease-resistant, grows quickly, and is easier to cultivate than arabica.
Robusta coffee plants grow in tropical rainforests and lowland valleys, so the coffee cultivation is usually a simpler process.
That said, it can be difficult to find a high-quality robusta coffee. Despite how seemingly easy it is to grow, robusta plants prefer a particular temperature range of 75-80 degrees to fruit and require pretty wet conditions.
Outside of those conditions, the flavor can become off-putting and even more bitter than its natural bitterness. That’s why some people who don’t like bitter coffee go for arabica beans instead.
Robusta’s higher caffeine content makes it a popular choice in some preparations. You’ll see it in instant coffee and espresso.
Most coffee shops that use robusta in their espresso will blend it with arabica coffee beans to add that caffeine kick but keep flavors smoother. It’s also popular in flavored coffee.
Does coffee come from poop?
There is a coffee out there that comes from the feces of the Asian palm civet, a cat-like creature native to Southeast Asia. It’s called kopi luwak, and you’ll find it mostly on Indonesian islands like the popular tourist hub Bali.
Kopi luwak, or civet coffee, isn’t a type of coffee. It refers to the way the coffee is processed.
It’s made of coffee cherries from arabica plants that have been partially digested and then defecated by the civets. The coffee cherries are fermented in the process as they move through the animal’s digestive tract.
While coffee plants are part of the civet’s regular diet, there is some concern about how this kind of coffee is produced for the masses. It’s no longer all wild-sourced. Civet farms have cropped up to meet the demand of what’s become known as “the most expensive coffee in the world.”
There’s also evidence out there that the civets actually prefer a lesser-known coffee type: liberica. This would mean that most of the exotic coffee out there comes from animals fed in captivity.
It’s probably just best to stick to delicious, ethically-sourced coffee roasts.
Where did coffee originally come from?
There is some dispute over the origins of coffee. Some stories talk about a Sufi monk who discovered caffeine’s properties after observing some highly-caffeinated birds.
Others talk about an Ethiopian goat herder named Kaldi who noticed his goats would get jumpy after eating coffee cherries. Most scholars agree that coffee first originated in the Ethiopian Highlands of northeast Africa.
The first people to roast and brew coffee beans similar to the process we currently use were likely people from the Arabian Peninsula and the region where the Republic of Yemen sits today. Their methods, including their version of white coffee, date back to the 15th century.
By the 16th century, the steaming elixir had taken over the Middle East. Europe followed. Today, coffee lovers around the world swear their own allegiances to their favorite coffee beans.
The best coffee for you may just be the one that makes you feel the best.
Life’s short. Drink better coffee.
Starting with a high-quality coffee will give you the best coffee experience. At Golden Ratio, our coffee beans are ethically sourced from three main places: Nicaragua, Brazil, and Ethiopia.
We take great care in knowing precisely what we’re offering you: a delicious cup of low-acid coffee that’s as gentle as a tea (even brewed like one, too) with the caffeine kick of a strong coffee.
Our coffee tastes like the smooth styles you love without any of the bitterness of stronger types. Try our variety pack to discover your favorite flavor or go for the Original Gold to taste gold coffee at its best.