Coffee is enjoyed in almost every country on the planet, and many people couldn’t imagine life without it. It is, after all, one of the most important export products of them all. Much more surprising is the fact that its roots can be found in over 85 different countries.
If you ask people on the street about the origins of their daily coffee, most would probably think of Africa. This is, in any case, what the adverts make us think, with leading roles played by female coffee farmers with brightly coloured headscarves, a few giraffes and a beaming sun.
Africa, the birthplace of coffee
The fact is that Africa really is the birthplace of coffee. Or, more specifically: Ethiopia. Here, herders living some 1,000 years ago are said to have kept themselves awake with a kind of energy bar made using coffee seeds, fat and spices – what would be known today as Paleo diet. There’s also a myth that relates how the discovery of coffee came about as a result of a hyperactive goat from Kaffa. And, according to the latest studies, South Sudan also has a claim to the title. Either way, then, Africa is and remains the birthplace of coffee.
What is the coffee belt?
But the “mother of coffee” has many children, and coffee is now cultivated in over 85 countries throughout the world – we source ours from as many as 20 of them. In addition to Africa, the brown gold can also be found in Asia and Oceania, in South, Central and North America, and even in the Caribbean, the requirement being proximity to the equator, within a region referred to as the coffee belt. The climatic conditions are optimal for coffee cultivation within the range of 23 degrees north and 25 degrees south. The tender seedlings need suitable temperatures and an alternating wet-and-dry climate – extreme heat or even frost, however, is too much for the plants. Other important factors for cultivation are high altitudes, semi-shade and moderate precipitation and wind. In other words, a little of everything, but never too much.
The top five countries of coffee cultivation
Where does our coffee come from exactly? In terms of the global market, very little of it comes from Hawaii, Australia or Cuba – they do cultivate coffee, but are considered exotics. It is worthwhile taking a look at the five biggest players worldwide, and surprisingly, only one of them comes from Africa – Ethiopia, to be precise. Here, the Arabica coffee varieties still grow wild, and with such huge diversity that some of the varieties have yet to be identified. While coffee is the most important raw material in the country, and around 15 million people depend on it for their livelihood, the reputed birthplace of coffee is “only” in fifth place. Colombia, with its full-bodied coffee varieties, comes in fourth. The country’s mountains offer many microclimates that provide conditions for an extremely rich palette of different notes, and appeal to coffee buyers from all over the world.
Brazil, the king of coffee in terms of the global market
With its three high-yielding cultivation regions of Sumatra, Sulawesi and Java, Indonesia is third in the world rankings and was the first non-African country to cultivate coffee in large quantities. Today, it is home to what is probably the most renowned, albeit the most idiosyncratic coffee – kopi luwak, or civet coffee. This coffee can now also be found in neighbouring Vietnam, the second-largest exporter with a global market share of 14%. In addition to the exotic civet coffee, which is produced on a relatively small scale, Vietnam primarily cultivates Canephora beans, also known as Robusta.
And first place? Given the amount of space it takes up within the coffee belt, it comes as no surprise that Brazil tops the list, accounting for a share of more than 35 per cent of the global market. If prices fall here, the knock-on effect is felt everywhere else. Curiously, and in contrast to most other countries that cultivate coffee, half of the coffee produced in Brazil is also consumed there. Perhaps this is why you have unlikely come across a couple dancing a slow-paced waltz on the streets of Brazil. Mere speculation, of course ...
Coffee as diverse as its country of origin
Whether an exotic or a coffee giant, whether Honduras or Haiti – every country, or even every region within a country, has its own characteristic flavour profile. The processing, cultivation and coffee variety in any given country also play an important role. While Indian coffee, with its mild and full-bodied coffee beans, is often used for espresso roasts, the beans with soft, floral notes from Rwanda are more likely to end up as filter coffee. At the end of the day, it’s all a matter of taste. Good to know we have over 85 countries to choose from, then.