Coffee – Black As Hell, Strong As Death, Sweet As Love! What variety is it and where do all these exotic tasting beans grow?
The African country of Ethiopia is where Coffee growing first originated. Today it is hard to imagine that the country’s main coffee plantations still consist of mainly wild coffee tree forests just like it was when it was first discovered centuries ago.
From these humble beginnings coffee bean production and consumption has spread like wild fire throughout the world. In the twenty-first century coffee has grown to become the second largest international market globally, second only to oil in dollar value terms.
Coffee is grown in over 70 countries around the world which are specifically located in tropical and sub-tropical agricultural regions. Climate dictates where it can be grown for the simply reason the plants need plenty of sunshine and rain. From a narrow band centred on the equator of around 23 degrees north to 25 degrees south comes all of the world's production of beans that produce the beverage of which a Turkish proverb describes as 'black as hell, strong as death, sweet as love'.
Brazil is by far the largest producer of coffee beans in the world with an average output of 28% of the total annual international yield. The second largest producer is the world renowned Columbia which produces 16%. Other major producers are Indonesia producing 7% and Mexico with 4%.
Throughout the history of its cultivation, coffee trees have been grown at high altitudes because they produce the best quality beans. However the plant has also adapted well to a wide variety of areas including Brazil where the plantations cover huge areas of agricultural land and employ hundreds of workers. In Colombia the coffee trees are grown in very rugged terrain in the high mountains where it is carried out by pack mules.
In Hawaii coffee is mostly planted on the slopes of the Mauna Loa volcano which is situated about 20 degrees north of the equator. As you would imagine the black volcanic ash is extremely fertile and perfect for growing the famed Kona coffee plants. The strong afternoon sun is softened by tropical clouds and frequent showers of rain.
Since the Dutch colonists introduced coffee to Indonesia in the 17th century, this collection of islands has slowly increased it’s production and exports to become the third largest producer in the world. A multitude of small one to two acre farms make up the bulk of producers thriving on the warm, tropical micro-climates, which is ideal for growing quality coffee.
Mexico also produces and exports a significant amount of coffee beans that are grown by a multitude of small farmers. Most plantations are located to the south of the country in Veracruz, Oaxaca and Chiapas.
In the mid-19th century the French missionaries established small plantations of the robusta coffee plants in Vietnam. From these small beginnings the industry has grown to massive proportions where today the size of the country’s coffee production now rivals Indonesia.
This is only a brief overview of the major producers for coffee varieties around the world with many other countries now venturing into this profitable export commodity.