Coffee is a product that is simultaneously complex and simple. There are countless varietals, dozens of countries of origins, and an ever expanding repertoire of processing methods. Each one of these variables, among others, ultimately has a lasting impact on the sensory experience of the drinker. So I thought for today’s iteration of the newsletter, we would strip away the different factors that impact a coffee’s flavor profile, and look specifically at the region from which they came. So without further ado, here are 5 absolutely stellar coffee producing regions.
- One of the coffee growing regions that often produce some of the initial “eye opening” coffees, meaning a coffee that is so awe inspiring it turns a traditional, utilitarian coffee drinker into a passionate enthusiast, is Sidama, Ethiopia. Sidama is a large region in the Southern Ethiopia. It includes subregions like Guji and Yirgacheffe. Within these regions you’ll find even smaller micro regions like Adado, Aricha, and Chelchele. Most coffees you’ll see coming from any of these regions are what are known as heirloom varieties. Heirloom coffees are those that are native to the region and have grown wild and unhybridized or isolated by humans. You can think of them like coffee wildflowers. Many coffee producers in this area are small landowners who sell their cherries to cooperative washing stations where they are processed together before being exported. Coffees from Sidama, Ethiopia, and the micro regions within it, are often aromatic, sweet, citric, and clean. It is not uncommon to taste flavors of lemon rind, black tea, or honey.
- Another eye opening coffee producing region is Huila, Colombia. While a lot of coffee coming from Colombia is grown at lower elevations and yields pretty mellow and approachable cups of coffee, coffees grown at the higher altitudes of Huila can often have exciting characteristics more similar to coffees from East Africa. Many coffees that come from Huila are produced at single-owner farms. Meaning the farmers are responsible for growing, harvesting, processing, and drying the coffee. These coffees are considered to be highly traceable, as each step of the agricultural process is credited back to the individual farmer. Coffees from Huila, Colombia are processed in various ways, sometimes fully washed, natural, or honey processed coffees. They can have flavor profiles that are as sweet balanced as well as bright and juicy.
- Many coffee producers in Costa Rica have been leading the charge in innovative, experimental, and sustainable agricultural techniques. You can find a lot of these farmers growing and processing their coffee in Tarrazu, Costa Rica. Tarrazu is located south of the capital city of San Jose. The volcanic soil here is rich and fertile, lending itself to production of not just amazing coffee, but other tropical delicacies just as avocados and bananas. Costa Rica has many micromills, where individual producers or small collectives have control over their coffee from seed all the way to the drying bed. These micromills were pivotal in the popularization of Honey Processed coffee, where part of the fruit mucilage is left intact during the drying process. These coffees reduce water consumption as well as impart a wonderful sweet, fruity flavor.
- To be blunt, coffees from Indonesia can be weird. The dank, humid environment paired with the wet-hulled processing most of the region uses can leave these coffees tasting earthy and vegetal. But somewhat ironically, one of the favorite coffees that we purchase year after year comes from Sulawesi in Indonesia. Unlike the loam-tinged coffee that hail from Sumatra, coffees from Sulawesi have much higher production standards and are washed instead of wet-hulled. The coffees that come from this region usually have a lot more brightness and clarity, paired with a creamy body. Producers in Sulawesi usually operate with less than 1 hectare, and less than 15,000 bags are exported annually throughout the whole region, meaning coffee from Sulawesi are not super common, which makes them even more exciting when you see them in the wild.
- And the last coffee region I’d like to highlight today is one of the many unsung heroes of the specialty coffee world, and that is Huehuetenango, Guatemala. Huehuetanango is not only fun to say, but the producers here grow some of the best coffee in all of Guatemala. I say they’re the unsung hero, because coffees from Huehuetenango are often a crucial component in a flagship blend and don’t always get the recognition they deserve as a stand alone coffee. But they should, because these coffees usually have the brightest and most complex profiles you’ll find in a coffee from Guatemala. Most Guatemalan coffees are fully washed, which adds in part to their consistent reliability. Sometimes if you don’t want a blow-your-face-off fruit bomb coffee, but instead a coffee that is balanced, approachability, with just the right amount of acidity and sweetness, Huehuetenango can hit the spot.