A Supplement to Our Previous Guide!
We previously took an in-depth look at different single origin coffees from around the world - click here to check it out!
We wanted to take a look at 4 additional origins- Brazil, Ethiopia, Costa Rica, and Rwanda- to compare their characteristics and further our exploration of coffees around the world!
Table of Contents
One of the most exciting things about trying single origin coffee is having the chance to experience unique flavor notes in their most prominent forms. In most blends, tons of flavor notes mix together, making it hard to appreciate any one note. In contrast, single origin coffees allow for focusing on specific flavors in coffee. Our chart below notes some common flavors found in single origin coffees from countries around the world:
In terms of acidity, single origin Costa Rican and Brazilian coffees are usually a safe bet for those looking for reduced acidity. Rwanda or Ethiopian Yirgacheffe are excellent choices for those looking for a pronounced acidic flavor:
Costa Rican coffee tends to have the lightest body of these origins. For a heavier, full bodied coffee, single origin coffees from Rwanda or Brazil are great choices.
Coffee production in Brazil accounts for about a third of all coffee produced on the planet. Although Brazil is known for producing vast quantities of coffee, it’s not always been known for producing high quality coffee. In the past, much of Brazil’s coffee production has been focused on producing popular coffee and espresso blends, rather than on developing single-origin specialty brews.
Additionally, Brazilian coffee producers face several challenges when it comes to growing high quality coffee, including:
- The lack of volcanic soil decreases acidity in the growing environment, creating a less flavorful coffee bean.
- The relatively low elevations where coffee is grown in Brazil produce beans that aren’t very dense; this leads to less flavorful coffee than other varieties grown at higher elevations.
As a result, Brazil has not been well-known for producing high-quality, specialty coffee beans until recent years.
History of Brazilian Coffee
Not a native plant in the Americas, the coffee bean first arrived in Brazil in 1727 and was planted in the state of Para. The Portuguese, who controlled Brazil at the time, had previously tried to find a way into the coffee market but had been unsuccessful at their attempts to trade with neighboring French Guiana because the governor was unwilling to export seeds. However, Francisco de Melo Palheta was sent to French Guiana on an unrelated diplomatic mission and managed to smuggle seeds back to Brazil by seducing the governor’s wife, who hid seeds in a bouquet.
By 1840, Brazil had become the dominant producer of coffee in the world, making the country the world’s largest coffee producer for more than 150 years.
Brazilian Coffee Growing Regions and Climate
Brazil experiences microclimates with well-defined seasons, including rainy summers and cool, dry winters, that enable the production of high-quality Arabica coffee beans.
Translating to “General Mines,” due to the presence of a gold rush in the 18th century, Minas Gerais is the largest coffee-growing state in Brazil. The mild climate and consistently warm temperatures account for growing close to 50% of Brazil’s coffee. Coffee beans grown here are known for providing full-bodied brews, fruity aromas, and citric flavors.
Though Espirito Santo is the second-highest producer of coffee in Brazil by volume, it doesn’t receive much attention from the specialty coffee market. Robusta coffee beans are primarily grown here and are not well-known for an interesting flavor palette.
Sao Paulo has some of the highest altitudes in Brazil, between 900 and 1,100 meters above sea level. The higher elevations lend themselves to higher-quality coffee beans. This state also contains the Port of Santos, through which most Brazilian coffee is exported.
Bahia only recently began producing coffee in the 1970s but has experienced rapid technological advancement. Flourishing irrigation systems, flat terrain, and consistent weather create conditions where coffee grows uniformly and can be harvested by large equipment. This increases both yield and efficiency. Cerrado coffees are grown in this region.
Tasting Notes of Brazilian Coffee
With fourteen major regions producing coffee in Brazil, it’s difficult to pinpoint a specific taste that encompasses all of Brazil’s coffee varieties. However, generally speaking, most coffee grown in Brazil comes from low-altitude areas and produces a smooth, mild cup of coffee.
These lower elevation growing areas produce coffee beans with low acidity associated with sweeter flavors such as nut, caramel, chocolate, and honey.
Popular Varieties of Brazilian Coffee Beans
Brazil grows both Arabica and Robusta coffees. The notable Arabica varieties grown in Brazil include:
Cerrado is characterized by low acidity and a nutty/caramelly flavor. The flavor is clean with a “good body” that leaves a creamy feel in your mouth. Cerrado coffee beans are traced to Bahia, one of the 26 states in Brazil.
Cambara coffee beans originate from the region of Sul de Minas, located in the state of Minas Gerais. Cambara has high flavor with notes of rum and raisin, dark chocolate, and tropical fruit.
Santos coffee beans are named after the Port of Santos in Sao Paulo, where the beans are exported. The mild, balanced flavor renders itself well-suited to espresso blends because it can create dark roasts without producing an overly bitter flavor. The Bourbon Santos beans are wet-processed and of medium to high-quality. It has a light to medium body and low acidity characteristic of most Brazilian coffees grown in lower elevations. Bourbon Santos coffees are often smooth, nutty, and sweet.
Here are some other popular varieties in Brazil:
- Mundo Novo
After Brazil deregulated the sale of coffee, larger farms were able to market their product directly to consumers in other countries, allowing them to begin producing more specialty brews. These larger farms are called Fazendas. Some of these estates are now single-farm origin coffees, and you might see them listed on specialty menus under names like:
- Fazenda Vereda
- Fazenda Cachoeira
- Monte Alegre
Coffee Production in Brazil
Brazil processes coffee using wet, dry/natural, and semi-washed methods. The majority of coffee beans produced in Brazil are processed using the dry method because Brazil is one of the few places in the world with the appropriate weather to utilize the technique. Dry, or natural, processing entails drying the coffee bean inside the fruit which lends certain fruity flavor notes to the final product.
Brazil’s distinct dry and wet seasons lend themselves to homogenous flowering and cherry maturation of the coffee plants. This homogenous growth allows coffee-growers in Brazil to utilize agricultural machinery to harvest their crop, rather than having to pick the coffee cherries by hand. Unfortunately, this harvesting method leads to under and overripe cherries making their way into the harvest, further decreasing the overall quality.
Ethiopian Single Origin Coffee
Some stories about the origin of coffee suggest that it was first discovered in Ethiopia. Regardless of whether these stories are true, today, single-origin coffee from Ethiopia makes a high-quality cup of coffee!
History of Ethiopian Coffee
Some origin stories of coffee suggest that coffee was first discovered and cultivated in Ethiopia. The story goes that a goat herder named Kaldi was the first to discover the coffee bean in the year 700 A.D. He came across his goats acting oddly. In fact, they were dancing. After observing the goats, he noticed they were eating red berries and soon began to suspect that their behavior was related to the consumption of these berries.
Some of the stories claim that the goat herder was also a monk and was thrilled to have found something that would help him stay up as he worked and prayed, while others say that he disapproved of the berries and threw them into the fire. However, the fire roasted the coffee beans and created a pleasant aroma.
From there, coffee made its way from Ethiopia to other parts of Africa as well as to Europe and Asia. Coffee is now the second-largest commodity traded on a global scale after oil.
A Window into Ethiopian Coffee
While it’s impossible to come up with a description fitting all Ethiopian coffee, most Ethiopian coffees are known for their full or heavy-bodied natures. When enjoying a cup, you can generally expect to enjoy anything from crisp acidity to a winey flavor or even earthiness.
Growing conditions in Ethiopia
Ethiopia has fairly favorable growing conditions for coffee. Most of the beans are grown in high elevations in the country’s southern mountains, contributing to the higher acidity. Ethiopian farmers generally don’t have to mineralize or add other chemicals to the soil as ideal growing conditions already exist.
Unpacking the varieties of Ethiopian coffee
Ethiopia has two main types of coffee produced in three different regions, with southern Ethiopia being the region where most coffee is grown. Today, most of Ethiopia’s coffee is grown by small farms.
Ethiopian Yirgacheffe is a common regional type that you’ll likely encounter, and is located in the Sidamo area. Yirgacheffe is primarily grown at altitudes of 5,800 to 7,600 feet. A cup from this region will generally be smoother, fruitier, richer, and have a more floral aroma than Ethiopian coffee from other areas.
Another common regional type is Harrar, from northeast Ethiopia. Harrar is grown in the eastern highlands of Ethiopia but at a lower elevation than Yirgacheffe. Coffee from this region will generally have a natural mocha flavor.
A third common variety is Limu. West of the capital (somewhat centrally located within the country), the flavors of Limu coffee are generally sharper with notes of wine and spiced, floral undertones.
The above varieties aren’t the only you’ll come across in Ethiopia. There are other smaller growing regions within Ethiopia- Lekempti, Tepi, Djimma, Illubador, Kaffa, Wellega, and Gimbi. Each region creates a unique flavor and a different variation due to its diverse environmental growing conditions.
The Flavor Profiles of the Major Varieties of Ethiopian Coffee
Best Brewing Method for Ethiopian Coffee?
There are three brewing methods generally recommended for Ethiopian coffee: automatic drip, pour over or cold brew.
Ethiopia is the largest coffee producer in Africa, and it’s a hugely popular beverage within the country itself. In fact, Ethiopians consume about half the country’s coffee and export the other half. It is still a product that is produced largely by small farmers and thus makes it incredibly traceable. When you see Ethiopian single-origin coffee, you can feel confident that you know exactly where it is coming from and what you are putting into your body because of how the market works in the region.
Costa Rican Single Origin Coffee
Did you know that Costa Rica is widely regarded as the happiest country in the world? Regardless of what makes them so happy, we’d like to imagine that their well-established specialty coffee industry plays a part.
If any coffee connoisseur were hard-pressed to rank single origin coffees by their quality, Costa Rican coffee would comfortably hold its own against any other origin. In fact, production of non-100% Arabica is illegal per the country’s laws.
History of Costa Rica as a Hub for Specialty Coffee Production
Despite its popularity, Costa Rica is not one of the larger producers of coffee in the world. Other Central American countries such as Honduras, Nicaragua, and Guatemala actually produce more coffee than the land of “Ticos” and “Ticas.” But when it comes to quality, Costa Rica generally comes out on top over these countries. As a side note, Starbucks has an extensive network of plantations in Costa Rica.
Costa Rica was one of the earlier growers of coffee in Central America, with the first coffee beans dating back as far as 1779. Unsurprisingly, the coffee industry took off thanks to near-perfect climatic conditions. In less than half a century, coffee overtook cacao, tobacco, and sugar as Costa Rica’s largest and most valuable export.
After realizing the lucrative economic potential of the coffee industry, the Costa Rican government provided free land to coffee farmers to encourage production. This initiative allowed the country to move beyond just exporting to Britain, the biggest importer at the time, and into the global market.
But the government did not stop there! In 1989 a landmark law was passed, prohibiting the production and cultivation of lower-quality Robusta coffee.
Today, Costa Rica has a robust infrastructure to facilitate the production of high-quality coffee that the world loves. Their reputation as a single origin destination of the highest quality can be attributed to the cultural significance of coffee, government support, and, most importantly, the favorable tropical climate and mountainous topography.
As we noted above, Costa Rica is gifted with the perfect combination of altitude, soils, and climate to produce top-grade coffee. The country enjoys fairly constant temperatures of 63-80 degrees Fahrenheit (17-28 degrees Celsius). Typically, the plants receive rainfall earlier in the day and much-needed sunlight later in the afternoon, leading to the proper ripening of cherries.
Alongside the favorable weather, most of the land in Costa Rica’s growing regions have nutrient-rich volcanic soils that facilitate the complex flavor profile of the coffee. The plantations often lie between 1,600-4,000 feet above sea level leading to tasty high-density beans. Interestingly, Costa Rica classifies its beans based on the altitude of cultivation. The highest grade includes bean grown at altitudes higher than 3,900 feet – known as SHG (Strictly High Grown). The other classifications in order of their grading are GHB (Good Hard Beans), and MHB (Medium Hard Beans).
Coffee is grown in several growing regions, each with a unique flavor profile. If you’ve ventured into Costa Rican specialty coffee, there is a good chance that you’ve come across Tarrazu- one of the most consistent and sought-after regions in Costa Rica for specialty coffee cultivation. Other major varieties include Monte Crisol (grown in the West Central Valley), Alajuela (produced in the Northern-Central region), Brunca and Tres Rios.
Aside from the altitude and growing regions, there’s another factor that influences the taste profile and quality of Costa Rican coffee – the processing method. In particular, beans are processed in either the honey, naturally-processed or washed methods. As we will discuss below, these factors significantly affect the tasting notes of Costa Rican single-origin coffee.
Flavor Profile and Tasting Notes of Costa Rican Coffee
Costa Rican coffee offers a diverse range of flavors depending on the processing method and region the beans were produced. However, you’ll mostly get floral or sweet notes, a light to medium body, and mild acidity.
Simply put, if you sample Costa Rican coffee, you’re in for a major treat! Aside from the generalized profile highlighted above, expect other unique notes depending on region. For example, coffee grown in the Tarrazu region is famous for its complex aroma, while varieties grown in the West Central Valley are distinguished by bright notes of blueberry and a buttery finish. Similarly, washed coffees have a chocolatey and fruity character, naturally-processed beans are syrupy with hints of citrus and grape, while honey processed coffee beans are much sweeter with dominant notes of molasses or honey.
Roasting and Brewing
Among the common single origins, Costa Rican coffee is pretty versatile when it comes to roasting. Whether you decide to go for a dark, medium, or light roast, you can’t go wrong with Costa Rican coffee – even if you’re a novice. Consider the tips below to guide you on which roast goes well with what:
Experience Costa Rican Happiness in a Cup of Joe!
Costa Rican coffee is far from a new entrant in the specialty coffee scene – they’ve been producing premium and eclectic coffee beans for decades. The Central American country enjoys a rich history of high-quality coffee production thanks to the support of the government and ideal climatic conditions. As always, the only true way to experience some Costa Rican happiness is by grabbing a bag of coffee beans, and get to brewing!
Rwandan Single Origin Coffee – A Tale of Suffering and Re-Building
From the “land of a thousand hills” comes an inspiring story of how a small scenic country in East Africa overcome a tough period of genocide to become one of Africa’s fastest-growing economies – with coffee playing a crucial part in this rebuilding effort. The country powered through major setbacks to earn a place at the table among highly-sought specialty coffees.
What makes Rwandan single-origin coffee special? Or more importantly, what are its flavor and aroma profiles? Read on for an in-depth take of Rwandan coffee and why it should be on your ‘coffees to sample’ list.
The History of Specialty Coffee in Rwanda
Once upon a time in the early 1900s, missionaries introduced coffee to the serene country of Rwanda. But unlike other countries such as Ethiopia or Kenya, the Rwandan coffee industry was far from a fairy tale. Its growth stagnated even after colonialists attempted to exploit the industry – i.e., the production included low-grade coffee in high volumes.
As time went by, the socio-political system of Rwanda was gradually destabilized by various social, economic, and political factors. The tipping point was the 1994 genocide, which lead to the death of over 800,000 people and sexual assault of over 250,000 women in just 100 days. As you can guess, the tragic event led to the collapse of the economy, including the coffee industry.
But like a phoenix rising from its ashes, Rwanda seems to be recovering quite well – thanks in part to the revitalized coffee industry. In the early 2000s, Rwanda’s government initiated programs to encourage coffee farmers to shift their attention to specialty coffees rather than high-volume, low-grade coffee.
Currently, Rwandan coffee industry has the attention and curiosity of barristers and coffee connoisseurs around the globe. It is now estimated that specialty coffee will account for over 80% of the Rwandan coffee crop, up from 52% in 2017, and 0% in 2000 – impressive, right? The country output of high-quality coffee is attributed to the growth of Bourbon Arabica coffee under ideal growing conditions. Regarding those growing conditions, the geo-climate of the “land of a thousand hills” also sets Rwandan single-origin apart from other origins, in addition to its cultural significance.
Geographical Conditions – What Makes Rwanda Single Origin Coffee Tick?
As we noted in our previous piece on single origin coffee, single origin is all about traceability and an understanding of how environmental factors and other unique settings affect flavor. In the case of Rwanda, the hilly and lush green terrain allow coffee to flourish at an altitude of 4,000-6.500 feet and give it its characteristic high acidity.
These mountainsides are characterized by nutrient-rich volcanic soil with an ample supply of rainfall. It’s also worth noting that Rwanda is located 2 degrees south of the Equator, meaning plenty of sunlight to favor the growth of high-quality Arabica coffee. Although Rwanda is generally ideal for growing coffee and agriculture generally, the primary production regions are Muhazi, Akagera, Kizi Rift, Kivu, and Virunga.
Most of the coffee grown in Rwanda is wet-processed (double washed or fully washed). Wet processing is usually associated with high-quality beans and complex flavor profiles. The first washing station was erected in 2004 with the help of USAID. These stations cater to thousands of small-scale coffee farmers across the country. Processing of the plants takes place between March and July after they flower from September to October.
(Unrelated fact: Did you know that the world’s last mountain gorillas live in Rwanda?)
Flavor Profile and Tasting Notes
The favorable climate, high altitude, and high-quality processing methods utilized in Rwanda contribute to a truly superb cup of coffee. Although there’s a lot of complexity and variety when it comes to pinning down specific regional profiles, there are a few notes that are uniform across the board.
Rwandan coffee is full-bodied with a heavy, syrupy mouthfeel. This full-bodied character is associated with the Bourbon coffee variety grown in Rwanda. As far as flavor is concerned, expect bright notes of lime accompanied by fruity or floral flavors – but don’t be surprised when you get hints of white chocolate, nuttiness, mandarin orange, cinnamon, clove, dates, or cantaloupes. The flavor profile is capped off by a caramel aftertaste. The acidity of Rwandan single origin coffee is on the higher side with a clean and crisp feel.
Try Rwandan Single Origin Coffee!
There you have it – Rwanda’s coffee is definitely worth a try! It produces a delicious brew with a heart-felt story behind its origin. From the challenging history, commitment of the country, optimal growing conditions, to high-quality wet processing, the beans deserve a spot of recognition in the specialty coffee industry and your kitchen cabinets.