From the fincas of the Amazon to the cloud-shrouded oasis of Ethiopian plains, where in the world is Speciality Coffee grown? In this article, we tackle South & Central America...
Welcome back to our Speciality Coffee series of blog posts. Our last article talked about the geography required for growing Speciality Coffee, now let’s take a closer look at three of our favourite Central & South American origins.
Brazil - 2,592,000 tonnes of coffee exported 2015/16
How could we kick off an article on coffee origins and not start with the world’s most prolific coffee exporter?
In our last article, we talked about the conditions for producing incredible coffee and brazil has that in abundance. Lush rainforests cover almost 60% of the entire area of Brazil. Plus, in addition to mountain ranges (about 0.5% of the country is above 1,200masl), Brazil's Central Highlands include a vast central plateau (Planalto Central). The plateau's uneven terrain has an average elevation of 1,000masl. So it’s not hard to see why Coffee plantations, cover some 27,000 km2 (10,000 sq mi) of land.
Brazil typically produces a lot of Typica and Bourbon varietals but you can also find Speciality coffees from Brazil can usually be distinguished by their full bodied, sweet and chocolatey flavours. Brazilian coffees are widely roasted for espresso beans thanks to these natural characteristics.
In 2016, coffee farmer Homero Aguiar Paiva claimed top-spot in the Cup of Excellence awards for his Brazil Natural, which scored 90.50 out of 100 in Q Grading. However, the record high score for Brazilian coffee was set the year before by brothers Antônio and Sebastian Marcio da Silva, with a 95.18 score!
Colombia - 810,000 tonnes of coffee exported in 2015/16
Despite being seven times smaller than its Amazonian neighbour, Colombia ranks number three in the world for overall coffee exports. With that said, if you ask most people on the street where coffee comes from, most of them will probably say Colombia.
There are three main regions for producing coffee in Colombia that together form a triangle in it’s North West: Caldas, Quindío and Risaralda. The Cauca River Valley, an important agricultural region with several large cities on its borders, rises above 5,182masl - Although, thanks to its volcanic hills and lush agricultural regions, coffee production can be widespread.
Speciality Colombian coffees have been compared to Brazils thanks to their natural sweetness, but they do tend to be a little more acidic with refreshing citrus notes - perfect on its own or for cutting through rich creamy milk in lattes. Colombians and Brazilians are often blended to create balanced espresso roasts.
In 2015 the Cup of Excellence was awarded to farmer, Astrid Medina for her coffee that scored 90.20 out of 100. We were lucky enough to work with this coffee last year and I can confirm it was absolutely delicious!
El Salvador - 45,720 tonnes exported in 2015/16
It may not be at the forefront in the minds of most coffee drinkers, it doesn’t even come close to reaching the top 10 in world export rankings (it’s number 19), but El Salvador is a personal favourite of mine.
With a total area of 21,041 km2 (8,124 sq mi) it’s the smallest country in continental America. It’s biggest export is the Indigofera shrub and they also dabble in a little rum production too - coffee remains its second biggest export, contributing to over 50% of its revenue.
Unlike Colombia and Brazil, coffee growing regions in El Salvador are generally more widespread, comprising of small hubs around volcanic hills. Apaneca is the largest area in the country for coffee cultivation, and it sits around 2365masl at its highest point. However, Alotepec-Metapán is said to be the best region for producing some of the finest coffees in the country - mainly Bourbon, Pacas, Pacamara, Catuai, and Catimor.
Unfortunately, almost 50% of its coffee crops are lost to diseases such as rust (Roya), which makes the precious micro-lots that do make it to market all the more valuable.
For me, Speciality El Salvador Coffees offer some the most interesting and unique flavours in the world. There’s all of the sweetness and body that you might expect from the region, but with everything turned up to the max. We recently had a great lot from Las Ranas that had all the aromas of authentic cinema popcorn and rich buttery flavours that would melt in your mouth - it was the most enjoyable drinking experience I’ve had, just thinking about it is making me salivate! That’s just one example of the awesome 90+ coffees grown in this region, perfect for espresso and on its own.
Well, that’s our top picks for Speciality Coffee growing regions in Central & South America. Worthy nods should also go to Guatemala, Panama, Honduras and many others too. Next we’ll hop across the Atlantic ocean and the dusty plains of Africa to two of the most iconic coffee growing regions on Earth, not to mention one of its great up-and-comers!
Author - Alex Rogers
Psst… What did you think of this article? Do you have a favourite Speciality Coffee origin in Central & South America? Why not let us know in the comments section. You can also email me directly for any coffee related thoughts or queries.