Your Guide to Regional Coffee Flavors
Everything from the temperature at which a batch of coffee beans is roasted to how long the grounds steep in water can change the taste in your cup. However, one factor that can make a huge difference in the way coffee tastes is out of anyone's hands. Coffee can grow in any tropical, humid climate, but the beans produced in one region can taste vastly different from those grown in another. The region where a bean is grown is just one factor that determines how it will taste when it's brewed, but it's an important enough factor to examine in more detail.
There are two species of coffee plant used to make beverages today: arabica and robusta. Arabica beans are considered to be of higher quality than robusta and, according to Food Service Warehouse, go into about 70 percent of the coffee consumed in the world. Robusta is generally only used in instant coffee and packaged grounds. This type of coffee is much hardier, and can grow in more diverse regions and produce larger crop yields. However, arabica beans are what most serious coffee drinkers will be concerned with.
The Best Bean for You
The variety of beans only gets greater from there, however. Generally grown across the world in equatorial regions, coffee's flavor can vary greatly depending on where it was grown. However, as Todd Carmichael, host of Travel Channel's "Dangerous Grounds" and owner of La Colombe roaster, told Men's Journal, these flavors can be broken into three groups: "Bitter chocolate, nutty sweet, and acidic fruit."
Within these clusters, there's plenty of room for more subtle flavors, but they can be useful as a guide to finding the right bean for you. Once you know which category suits you best, you can start digging down to find the perfect bean for you. Similarly, Serious Eats broke regions down into the flavors their coffee most often contains, but since everything from soil conditions to the way a farm dries its beans can affect their taste, these descriptions won't apply to every coffee from a given area.
Beans Around the World
Central and South American coffees are likely the most familiar to American consumers, and tend to be more balanced than those from other regions. They generally blend smooth chocolaty taste with fruity acidity, and Colombian coffee often has nutty tones as well.
Indonesian coffee, Sumatran especially, tends to be savory and usually ends up as dark roasts. According to Serious Eats, both Sumatran and natural Ethiopian coffees seem to inspire strong feelings in people, whether they love them or hate them.
Ethiopian coffees introduce another dynamic to their flavors. Some beans from the country are removed from the fruit before drying and are known as "washed," while others, called "natural," are dried while still encased in the fruit. Washed beans are often described as having a delicate taste akin to tea, while naturals are stronger and more like wine. Kenyan coffees tend to fall into the sweeter, more acidic end of the spectrum, and though the diversity of processing techniques there also produces a range of flavors, they tend to be more tart than other beans.