Most people don’t even realize that the coffee they drink is made of the seeds of the Coffea plant. These seeds are what we call coffee beans that grind prior to brewing. But where do they come from – where do coffee beans grow?
Coffee beans grow in regions that have a year-round warm climate, moderate rainfall and rich, fertile soil.
These regions with ideal coffee-growing conditions constitute what’s known as The Bean Belt, which is a large equatorial zone spreading across the middle of the globe.
Almost all coffee plants are grown in this “bean belt” that consists of many popular coffee-growing countries including Brazil, Papua New Guinea and Ethiopia.
But since we’ve just scratched the surface – let’s dive deeper into the depths of which countries produce the most coffee, why, how when, where etc.
What is the Coffee Bean Belt?
It’s the horizontal band that spreads across the middle of the Earth (between Cancer and Capricorn tropics) and that’s where coffee grows best.
This massive “bean belt” covers vast equatorial territories ranging from Papua New Guinea all the way to Mexico.
But what makes regions within this belt so special?
The ideal conditions for growing coffee beans – fertile soil, warm temperatures, humidity and the right amount of precipitation.
Also, check 23 ways to use coffee beans.
However, although all the countries within the bean belt have optimal growing conditions, there are still some variations in terms of varying soil chemistry and how the fruits of the coffee are processed.
Where do Coffee Beans Grow Best?
In warm tropical climates with enough rainfall and rich soil with fewer pests and cherry berry diseases.
And these regions with perfect coffee growing conditions fall under the coffee bean belt we just mentioned above.
However, there are some slight differences between the most optimal growing conditions related to the two most widespread types of coffee beans:
The ideal climate for growing Arabica beans is within the 64° – 70°F temp range.
And Arabica coffee can be produced in both lower/higher altitude and latitude zones:
- Subtropical regions – High altitudes (16 t 24°) ranging from 1,800 to 3,600 feet. Examples: Mexico, Brazil, Jamaica and Zimbabwe
- Equatorial regions – Lower latitudes (below 10°) ranging from 3,600 to 6,300 feet. Examples: Ethiopia, Colombia and Kenya.
Generally speaking though, Arabica beans are considered more fragile than their Robusta counterparts when it comes to producing and harvesting.
Robusta beans enjoy hot and humid climates as they can grow in hotter temperatures – from 75º to 86ºF.
Now, Robusta beans flourish at much lower altitude regions (around 10° of the equator) at around 3,000 feet.
In case you’re interested in Robusta beans, you can also check the best Robusta coffee brands.
This means that this type of coffee beans is grown solely in countries within the Eastern Hemisphere such as Indonesia.
As a whole, Robusta coffee can sustain much hotter climates and thrive in harsher conditions when compared to the more popular Arabica beans.
What Countries Grow Coffee Beans?
There are 70+ countries across the globe that grow and produce coffee in several main regions such as Latin America, Africa and Southeast Asia.
Unsurprisingly, most of these over 70 countries grow primarily Arabica beans, while the Robusta strain is mainly produced in Southeast Asia and Central Africa.
And according to relevant data from Statista (1), global coffee production jumped to 170.94 million 60-kg bags in 2018/2019, marking a steady increase over the last few decades.
Top 5 Coffee Growing Regions in the World
Based on Statista’s data cited above, these are the top 5 coffee growing regions in the world based on annual production:
- Brazil – 3,558,000 million tons produced (or 7,844,000,000 billion pounds)
- Vietnam – 1,830,000 million tons produced (or 4,034,000,000 billion pounds)
- Colombia – 858,000 thousand tons produced (or 1,892,000,000 billion pounds)
- Indonesia – 642,000 thousand tons produced (or 1,415,000,000 billion pounds)
- Ethiopia – 441,000 thousand tons produced (or 972,000,000 million pounds)
As you can see, Latin America, Southeast Asia and Africa produce the most coffee throughout the globe.
But now – let’s take a closer look at what percentage of these numbers for each country represent the most popular kinds of coffee beans – Arabica and Robusta.
The Arabica-to-Robusta ratio of Brazil’s total coffee production is roughly 70-30 in favor of Arabica.
- Arabica production – 41,000 60-kilogram bags
- Robusta production – 18,300 60-kilogram bags
On the contrary, Vietnam’s overall production consists almost entirely of Robusta as it takes 95%, leaving only 5% for Arabica.
- Arabica production – 1,400 60-kilogram bags
- Robusta production – 29,100 60-kilogram bags
Interestingly, Colombia doesn’t grow Robusta beans. The Latin American country only produces Arabica.
And in fact, Colombia is the 2nd biggest producer of Arabica beans out there.
- Arabica production – 14,300 60-kilogram bags
And when it comes to Indonesia, its coffee bean production is heavily centered around the Robusta strain that takes up 91% of the country’s total production.
- Arabica production – 1,250 60-kilogram bags
- Robusta production – 9,450 60-kilogram bags
Similarly to Colombia, Ethiopia grows and harvests Arabica beans exclusively.
- Arabica production – 7,350 60-kilogram bags
Where Does the Best Coffee in the World Come From?
The best coffee comes mainly from the following countries – Colombia, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Ethiopia and Brazil.
However, we have to determine what we mean by “best”.
Is it the best-tasting coffee, the one with the best flavor and aroma profile or the coffee that’s grown in the best conditions?
Since we already know that all of these countries fall within The Bean Belt, let’s take a look at their flavor profile.
Although taste and flavor are generally subjective, here are the top 5 countries where the best coffee comes from:
Colombia is known for being the home to high-quality Arabica beans and it’s easy to see why.
The Latin American country produces coffee beans that when brewed give a truly rich flavor with velvety aroma.
There are also a few variations of Colombian Arabica beans like Extra, Supremo and Excelso, which is much more acidic and has a wine-like aftertaste.
Thanks to its high-altitude mountainous regions, Guatemala boasts perfect coffee growing conditions and the country is known for its intense and sort of tart-flavored coffee.
In fact, there’s a particular name for the sort of coffee beans produced there – Antigua Volcanic.
And as the name suggests, it offers a strong, yet refined aroma, heavy taste and hints of smoke.
3. Costa Rica
In close proximity to Guatemala, we have Costa Rica with its well-rounded and classic tasting coffee beans.
Another similarity with Guatemala is the volcanic soils that are ideal for growing coffee trees that bear fruit to beans that have a rich, smooth and walnutty flavor.
Also, the Central American country has several coffee bean varieties, most notably Costa Rica and Margarita.
Ethiopia is considered the birthplace of coffee and unsurprisingly it has some of the best coffee bean varieties on Earth.
Now, some of these varieties tend to have a more fruity or even spicy flavor.
However, the Harrar variety that’s arguably the most popular one in the African country comes with a bit of astringency and a wine aftertaste.
As you already know, Brazil is the single largest coffee producer out there.
And as such, Brazil is home to all kinds of types of coffee beans – from those cheap lower-grade ones to really high-quality and sophisticated varieties.
Thus, quality Brazilian coffee beans should be sweet with a medium body and low acidity.
How is Coffee Grown and Harvested?
Coffee is grown and harvested via a 5-step process that consists of:
- Planting the coffee seeds
- Harvesting the coffee cherry fruits
- Processing the coffee cherries (wet or dry method)
- Drying the coffee beans (optional – if the wet method is used)
- Milling the coffee beans
Let’s now take a closer look at each step and what they include!
The coffee production process starts with planting the coffee seeds in big beds with plenty of shade to keep them safe from bright sunshine.
This step is typically done during the web season as the roots of the seeds require decent amounts of moisture to properly plant themselves to the soil.
The fruit of the coffee tree (the coffee cherry) turns ripe after roughly 3-4 years once planted.
Now, there are 2 harvesting techniques used:
- Selective picking – The person who does the harvesting picks (by hand) only the ripe coffee fruits from the tree
- Strip picking – This method is done either by a person or a machine as all coffee cherries are stripped off the coffee tree, all at once
And generally speaking, there’s 1 main harvest each year although Colombia is fortunate enough to have 2 flowerings annually.
After the coffee fruits are harvested, they’re processed right away to avoid any potential spoilage of the coffee cherries.
And depending on the place where they’re grown and harvested, the coffee beans are processed in 2 methods:
- Dry (Natural) – In this method, the coffee cherries are simply left to naturally dry under the sun. This technique is the most widespread one, especially in regions with limited access to water.
- Wet (Washed) – Here the coffee cherries first go through a pulping machine (to remove the pulp from the fruit). And once separated the coffee beans are moved to big fermentation reservoirs filled with water.
Keep in mind that each of these processes has its own set of pros and cons and you can have an outstanding process with both techniques.
It’s just that not every farm can choose between the two since various factors like labor, climate and natural resources come into play.
4. Drying (Optional)
Note that this step is only applicable if the wet processing method was used!
Thus, once the wet processing technique is finished, the coffee beans are then dried until their moisture levels reach 11% so that they can be prepared for storage.
Now, this drying step can either be done by sun-drying the beans or by machine-drying them, depending on the farm.
The last step that’s taken just prior to releasing the coffee beans on the market, they have to go through one of the following milling processes (although the 2nd one is optional):
- Hulling – This milling process gets rid of anything related to the dried husk of the coffee cherries – from the endocarp to the exocarp of the fruit.
- Polishing (optional) – In this optional step, the silver skin of the fruit (that could still be present after hulling) is eliminated. Interestingly enough, some say that this improves the quality of the beans, while others say it doesn’t make much difference – go figure!
After all the processing and harvesting is done, the coffee beans go through a tasting process and they’re then roasted and ground as these precious beans eventually make their way into your cup.
What are the Main Types of Coffee Beans?
The 3 main types of coffee beans are Arabica, Robusta and Liberica.
Apparently, Arabica beans are the most popular with the largest market share worldwide, followed by Robusta beans and Liberica beans that are in fact quite rare.
And these are the main differences between the 3 main coffee bean types in terms of flavor and taste:
- Smooth, sweet, fruity and slightly acidic
- Light-to-medium body
- Low in caffeine
- Very rich aroma
- Affordable price
- Nutty, bitter, earth, acidic with chocolate notes
- High in caffeine
- Rich aroma
- The cheapest of the three
- Slightly smoky with bitter top notes and floral, spicy hints
- Light-to-medium body
- Low in caffeine
- Very rich aroma
As you can see, each of these coffee bean types has its own unique flavor profile.
Regardless, most of the coffee that you’re drinking at coffeehouse chains is most likely going to be made with Arabica beans.
Do Coffee Beans Grow in the United States?
Yes, coffee beans are commercially grown in two US states – Hawaii and California.
In the case of Hawaii, that’s not that’s nothing unusual since the climate and volcanic soil there are just about ideal for growing coffee.
Don’t forget that Hawaii produces millions of pounds of coffee beans each year and is known for its authentic Kona coffee.
However, the coffee grown in California is more of an experimental project thing since canopies of old avocado trees are used to help grow coffee beans.
After all, California is known for growing avocado fruits despite the less than optimal conditions for growing avocados or coffee in this state.
With that being said, coffee is still a tropical crop that demands plenty of rainfall and a steady warm climate throughout the year.
Also, check our article on How long do coffee beans last.
This is where non-traditional growing areas such as California face a daunting task as farmers are forced to get creative by making specific irrigation systems to help the coffee beans grow.
Apparently, coffee beans grow best in tropical regions with a warm climate year-round, rich soil and decent amounts of rainfall.
That’s why the term “Bean Belt” exists – to highlight the equatorial region spreading across the center of the globe that has the most optimal conditions for growing coffee.
Now – do you think that growing coffee in California is feasible and sustainable long-term?
Or do you think that growing coffee should be strictly reserved for countries within “The Bean Belt”?
Leave a comment in the comment section below with your answer!