There are two major categories of coffee. Those are arabica and robusta. Specialty coffees are almost always of the arabica group. Arabicas are simply superior in those qualities that coffee lovers seek.
Coffee is grown in many places around the globe. However, for our purposes as specialty coffee roasters, we are most interested in those from 4 regions. Those are: Africa, Indonesia, Central America and South America.
Coffee arabica was born in Ethiopia, Africa, where it grew wild in the forests of the Kaffa region and later in the Harrar region. Today, African coffees make-up a substantial portion of the specialty coffee market. Processing of Ethiopian coffees is mixed, with some wet, some dry and some semi-wet. The Ethiopian arabicas from Harrar, Yirgacheffe and Sidamo are the most prized. These coffees tend to be full-bodied and wild in their flavors.
Kenya also produces a large volume of high grade specialty coffee. Processing is usually wet and bean size and quality are more consistent than is the case with the Ethiopians. Kenyans are brighter than Ethiopians with hints of berry fruit.
South and Central America
Coffee arrived in Central America in the early 1700’s, first on the island of Martinique. From there, it spread to Guatemala by 1750. Thereafter, it spread to the other countries and was well established by the 1900s as a cash crop. The coffees of Central America are known for being “bright,” a characteristic attributable to the acidity in these coffees. Other terms such as “clean” and “crisp” are applied as well. Processing varies from washed to semi-washed.
South American coffees account for a substantial percent of the coffee sold today. They are varied in quality from poor to terrific. The most notable distinction from the Central American coffees is that they have a bit more body and, perhaps, a little less acidity in general.
Coffee first came to Indonesia in the 17th century under the rule of the Dutch. Processing is classified as semi-washed, which is somewhat unique. Typically, small farmers that contribute to this coffee will de-pulp the cherries at the end of each day’s picking. They then store the mucilage covered wet parchment in a sack or box overnight. In the sacks, a small amount of fermentation will occur. The next day, the farmers rinse the mucilage off with clean water (although some remains on the parchment). The coffee is then put on tarps to dry for a few days. In the cup, the Indonesians tend to have more body and often more “character” which makes them so appealing and slightly funky.