The Best Coffee Around the World: A Gourmet’s Guide

Coffee Globe Made of Beans

The Best Coffee Around the World: A Gourmet’s Guide  

There’s something about coffee that seems somehow mystical, even magical. The process of grinding the fresh beans, brewing the pot and sharing an aromatic cup brings with it an air of the ancient– a communal ritual that dates back more than 500 years and spans our entire planet.

 

Coffee’s roots can be traced to northeastern Ethiopia, and there’s archaeological evidence in the Sufi shrines of Yemen suggesting that it was consumed regularly as early as the 15th century. From its original cultivation in southern Arabia, the sacred bean began to spread across the Muslim world into Europe, India, Indonesia and, eventually, the Americas.

 

Now, over 2.25 billion cups are consumed every day, with beans harvested from the cherries of trees cultivated in more than 70 different countries.

 

As technological innovation and globalization has led to a world that feels increasingly small, coffee connoisseurs seem willing to go much further afield in search of exotic varieties to give them their daily java fix. Here, we present a gourmet java aficionado‘s guide to the best coffee around the world:

coffee farmer in Ethiopia

photo by USAID Africa Bureau via Creative Commons

AFRICA

Africa is the birthplace of coffee, so it’s no surprise that virtually every central African nation grows it, (including 7 of the world’s Top 25 coffee exporters). Kenya has emerged as a perennial favorite among connoisseurs, in part because of its unique combination of climate, soil and elevation. But, according to Jeff Taylor of PT’s Coffee Roasting Company, Roast magazine’s 2009 Roaster of the Year, what really separates Kenyan coffee is the variety of trees they use.

 

“Farms in Kenya often use a mix of varieties called SL-28 and SL-34, which have proven year after year to produce exceptional coffee. They were originally developed by Scott Laboratories decades ago, with the intent of being disease-resistant, but they also happened to be exceptional in flavor.” Compared to some of the world’s other gourmet coffees, Kenyan varieties are a relative bargain, averaging under $30 a pound.

 

Wild Civet in Indonesia, the source of Kopi Luwak Coffee

photo by Rbalmonia via Creative Commons

ASIA

Arguably the trendiest gourmet coffee in the world originates in southeast Asia, particularly Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand. There, Asian Palm Civets feed on the sweetest coffee cherries they can find. The beans move through the civet’s digestive tract after fermenting in the stomach, where enzymes break down the proteins that give coffee its bitter taste. Once it passes, farmers collect the droppings, which are then washed, sun-dried, roasted and sold as Kopi Luwak or Wild Civet Coffee.

 

According to Alanna Price of Doi Chaang Coffee Company, “The eliminated civet beans have less protein, bacteria and different compounds compared to other gourmet coffee beans.  The aroma and complexity of the beans produce a coffee that is syrupy, with hints of chocolate, and has an incredibly smooth taste.” It’s also incredibly rare, which explains why prices average a whopping $60 for 50 grams.

 

But an increasing number of hotels and coffee shops are no longer selling Kopi Luwak, due to an investigation into wild civet farms that revealed terrible animal welfare abuses being inflicted on the civets during the production process.

 

Blue Mountains of Jamaica

photo by Wolmadrian, via Creative Commons

CARIBBEAN

With the Dominican Republic the only country in the area ranking among the top 25 coffee-producing nations in the world, the Caribbean can’t compete with Africa, Asia or Latin America in terms of quantity. But, for some java aficionados, the quality of Caribbean coffee is second to none. The most sought after is Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee, which is grown in one of the highest mountain ranges in the Caribbean.

 

There, the mixture of cool air, high rainfall, rich soil and excellent drainage create the perfect climate, leading to a coffee renowned for its mild, almost sweet flavor. Blue Mountain Coffee is regulated by Jamaica’s Coffee Industry Board, which monitors its cultivation, quality and geographical boundaries. A pound will set you back around $35, but over 80% of the island nation’s 4.6 million pound annual output is sold to Japan.    

coffee berries at hacienda la esmeralda

Photo provided by Hacienda la Esmeralda

CENTRAL AMERICA/SOUTH AMERICA

Nearly every country in Latin America exports coffee, with Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Guatemala, Peru and Honduras all among the Top 10 nations in terms of annual production. But Panama, which produces a mere 13 million pounds per year (compared to Brazil’s 5.6 billion), is emerging as one of the world’s hottest gourmet coffee markets.

 

According to Jeff Taylor, credit for the region’s recent success can be attributed to the 2004 discovery of a variety called Geisha, which is indigenous to Ethiopia. “Hacienda La Esmeralda discovered Geisha on their farm, and separated it from the rest of their crop. The result was very unique, very floral, so they decided to enter it into the Best of Panama Coffee Competition. Now it sells for $60 per pound green, which means it’s over $120 per pound roasted.”

 

But it’s not the most expensive Latin American coffee, by a long shot: Taylor says Guatemala’s Finca el Injerto Mokka sold for $500 per pound in an online auction last June.

 

Italian Espresso

photo by by Mark Prince of CoffeeGeek.com, via Creative Commons

 

EUROPE

There’s not a single country in Europe known for growing coffee. But brewing it? Italy, home of the espresso, has elevated that process to an art form.

 

Espresso involves water heated to 190-200ºF, then passed through 8 grams of coffee at 130 psi for 25-30 seconds. The first espresso maker patent was issued to Angelo Moriondo in 1884, but it was Hungarian-born Francesco Illy who invented the first automatic coffee machine that substituted compressed air for steam in 1935. He also devised the packaging system in which coffee cans were filled with inert gases rather than pressurized air, which allowed the Trieste-based illy brand to be sold all over Italy.

 

“His inventions made it possible to enjoy consistently pleasant-tasting espresso,” says illy’s Master Barista Giorgio Milos, “which was a random event until then. Out of that grew more innovation throughout the country, a deep passion for perfecting coffee, and the emergence of baristas as skilled professionals. That led to an expectation of quality, and a coffee culture that emerged from that, with coffee part of everyone’s lives throughout the day.”    

 

brazen-hazen-coffee-roasting-kona

photo provided by Brazen Hazen Coffee

NORTH AMERICA

Grown only in the Kona districts of Hawaii’s Big Island on the slopes of Hualalai and Mauna Kea, 100% Kona coffee is arguably among the world’s rarest and most treasured varieties of coffee. Its origins can be traced back to the 1820s, when Brazilian tree cuttings were first planted in the rich volcanic soil. When combined with extremely sunny mornings and regular afternoon showers, the result is a delicately flavored brew unlike any other.

 

Asked about the product’s $30 per pound price tag, Brazen Hazen Coffee Estate farm manager Brian Axelrod says, “Kona coffee commands a higher price point primarily due to its uniqueness of cup, and also for its limited availability. Kona coffee is hand picked upon ripening throughout the season. Many large operations in other countries mechanically pick, so their coffees include some overripe and some immature beans.”

 

It’s hard to argue with the results, the perfection of which Axelrod credits to sound farming technique and the blessings of Mother Nature.  –Bret Love

 

PTs Coffee Roasting Co     This post was brought to you by PT’s Coffee Roasting Co., a company committed to working with coffee farmers who are true artisans of coffee cultivation. For more info or to make a purchase, visit PT’s Coffee Roasting’s Coffee Store.

 

 

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    • I remember the first time I ever had Illy was at the Toronto Film Festival, where they were giving media samples to take home. It’s great stuff, though I still prefer African and Latin American varietals.

  1. Thing that seems to consistently come up, no matter the rest of it, is altitude. The higher the bean, the higher the quality, it seems.

    • Interesting point, Bill. There definitely seems to be a perfect storm of altitude, climate and precipitation that makes certain regions much better than others. Fortunately, we REALLY enjoy traveling to those places!

    • It’s funny: I spent over 3 weeks in Italy, but I was so young (11-12) that I don’t think I ever had coffee there. I’ve certainly had my fair share of Italian espresso here in the US, but never it its homeland.

  2. I want to know more about Guatemala’s Finca el Injerto Mokka. Happy to got the information for best collection of Coffee with their respective countries.

  3. Wow, that’s a comprehensive round up. We recently had the privilege of visiting the Doi Chaang coffee factory and trying out the Civet coffee, straight from the source. In conclusion – it was very tasty, although I’m not sure worth the price premium!

  4. Don’t forget Kona Coffee in Hawaii!!! We’re here now with our travel club and heading to Thunder Mountain Coffee in the cloud forest on the Big Island tomorrow. Its our favorite coffee!

  5. I’m a non-caffeine drinker now but when I first visited Vietnam I was in LOVE with their coffee. Thick, strong and syrupy!

  6. Hey guys, just love this guide! if you don’t mind, I’d like to include it on the upcoming coffee infographic I am working on :)
    thanks for the awesome info- time to refill the cup!

  7. I remember how my grandfather used to pick coffeebeans at his backyard with his farmers and spread the beans on the ground to dry under the sun for i don’t know how long (I was a kiddo then), but believe it or not I’m a coffee addict since then. Choosy as I am in food, its just always coffee in rice which is what will make me eat no matter how absurd it is to most people! 😀

    • Sounds like you have some great coffee memories, Lyndsay! I remember making my dad’s coffee (extra creamy, extra sweet) when I was a kid, then stealing sips before taking it to him. I still make my coffee the same way, though I use Splenda instead of sugar these days.

  8. Nice round-up. I visited a coffee plantation in Costa Rica. Very interesting to follow the process. And of course it was the best coffee of all. They said :)

    • Thanks, Sophie! We’ve visited a few coffee farms in Hawaii and Costa Rica as well, and of course everyone thinks theirs is the best. I don’t know if I believe in the idea of “best” anything anymore, only “our favorites.”

    • Yeah, as I’m interviewing these people about the world’s greatest, most expensive coffees, all I could think was, “How can I get my hands on some of THAT?!?” Note to self: write stories on gourmet coffee at least 3-4 times per year…

  9. You had me at “coffee”. My favorite coffee was in Sumatra, where they’d pour freshly roasted grounds in the bottom of a glass, add boiling water, then condensed milk, and serve. I think it’s called kopi tubruk, if I recall.
    Honestly, it was the best coffee I’ve ever had, probably because it was so fresh.

  10. Talking about Civet coffee, there are companies out there trying to sell everything from coffee that has been eaten by pandas to beans that have been previously eaten by elephants. Good marketing companies have a lot to answer for… I think I’ll stick to a regular cup of roasted coffee beans.

  11. The best coffee I’ve had was definitely in Ethiopia – both the traditional coffee (which is served during a drawn-out coffee ceremony) and the modern espresso based coffee are excellent. Coffee and cake became a bit of a daily ritual when I was traveling there!

    • Man, that sounds awesome! Nancy from Family On Bikes Vogel keeps telling us we need to go to Ethiopia, so thanks for adding another reason to the list! Now, if only someone would fly us there… 😉

    • LOL. I’ve tried to love hot tea, but as a Southern boy I’ve always preferred mine iced. My only problem with coffee is that I can’t drink it after noon, as it keeps me up at night. I make up for it by drinking a LOT every morning!

    • I’ve always loved Central and South American varieties as well. When I went to Colombia a few years ago, I literally brought home 10 pounds of the local stuff, and usually buy Colombian or Costa Rican varieties when we’re not getting the expensive stuff sent to us for research. It’s got such a bold, rich flavor!

    • Yeah, in our research, it seemed like Australia/New Zealand were the only regions that didn’t have a great coffee scene to speak of. Which means there are LOTS of different varieties to try!

    • Thanks, Terry. I’m less familiar with Asian coffee than other varieties, but the Doi Chaang stuff we tried was definitely different. A little weak in flavor for my tastes, but decidedly unique.

  12. My favorite travel bloggers are covering coffee six ways to Sunday for me!

    Green Global Travel took it global, Trans-Americas Journeys taught me how to properly buy it, and my colleague Emily Kinskey shared the top 6 best plantations to do a coffee-tasting tour in Chiriqui, Panama.

    And to think, I’ll still make a lazy cup of instant from time to time. Shame on me.

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  14. Apparently, the Bolaven Plateau region in southern Laos is amazing, too. Was there last month and, though I’m not a coffee drinker, my friend said it was the best she’d ever had! I tried it and made a face – as I said, not a coffee drinker!

    • Thanks for the tip! The Kopi Luwak is the only Asian varietal we tried for this story, but we’ve heard great things about stuff from Sumatra, etc. Hoping to get to Asia in 2013, so we can try it for ourselves…

  15. I may be the first to confess this but I hate coffee. I’ve tried it twice and didn’t finish either cup. I can appreciate the process and how it is made around the world. But I can honestly say, I won’t be drinking it in any of these countries or continents.

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    • I’ve tried to like black coffee in the past (both for health and financial reasons, but it’s just not my thing. Now, we use Splenda instead of sugar and low-fat cream, and I’ve cut from 8 cups a day down to four.

  17. What a great list of coffee to try! Coffee grown in Papua New Guinea and Australia is also great quality and worth a try… And as for drinking coffee, Italian espresso is amazing… But you can also get fabulous cups of coffee in Israel and Australia- totally recommend it!

  18. Awesome list here! I would also add that Ethiopian coffee is probably some the best that I have ever had in my life. There’s a ton of Ethiopian joints in Chicago where they roast the beans in the pan and walk around the dining room with them. Spot on!

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  20. What it says in the Kona article is true : the majority of coffee in the world, including organic, shade grown, and fair trade, is mechanically harvested through stripping and shaking. There are many small scale, independent coffee producers throughout the Hawaiian islands who are not technically organic and cannot qualify for that status but by handpicking their crop they are far more environmentally friendly. It’s worth giving this a thought when you automatically reached for a bag of organic coffee beans at the market

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