Whenever I see the latest commercial with the woman deciding which of the dozen or more coffees she should choose from at a local chain fastfood store, I'm reminded how difficult we've made buying coffee. Like standing in a wine store, when we don't know what to look for, we reach for what's familiar - in some cases a nice label, even if the liquid inside sucks. But I think we can do better with coffee with a little geographic education.
Warning: I'm going to grossly overgeneralize here, so if you're up on your coffee regions of the world and know what you like, you might want to skip this.
I'm going to focus on six primary regions in the world of coffee: Central America, South America, Ethiopia, Kenya and Indonesia. Remember, most coffee comes from around the Equator, can be grown at low and high elevations and finally the type of processing (washed or natural) can impact the final product. And finally the roasting, grinding and brewing all can change the final aromas and tastes, but it all starts with where it's grown. So let's get to generalizing about these regions.
Here we're talking about coffees from Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Costa Rica and others. Guatemala coffees tend to be more apple, Mexician coffees lean more toward cherries and Costa Rican coffees bring a cocoa and spice to the taste. Honduras coffees are full-bodied and sweeter than most.
Primarily Colombian coffees - one of the top three coffee producing regions of the world - have mellow acidity, have a strong caramel sweetness and a slight nuttiness. Roasters like to use a small amount of Colombia as a nice balance in their blends to round out the flavors of the other one or two origins. Quality varies from Colombia, so if you like this flavor, try coffees from Peru which tend to be more consistent and of higher quality in the region.
I give Brazil coffees their own mention not only because they are some of my favorites, but they are a huge producer of coffee in the world. If you like peanut butter as much as I do, you'll love natural processed coffees from Brazil. They are heavier and stand up well in espresso-targeted blends too.
Coffees from this country can vary widely based on how they are processed - more than most regions of the world. Natural processed coffees tend to be fruity with a densely sweet berry flavor, like blueberry or strawberry especially when roasted light. Washed coffees tend to be more floral with notes of jasmine or lemongrass.
Many coffee professionals rank these among their favorite. Commonly described as "tropical-tasting, big and bold," many coffees from Kenya have a savory-sweet characteristic that can have a tomato-like acidity or black-currant tartness.
Primarily Sumatra, one of the largest producers of coffee, but also include Papua New Guinea, these tend to be deep, dark and "meaty" in flavor. They are commonly roasted dark to bring out their mushroom, herb and unsweetened cocoa flavors. Like natural processed coffees from Ethiopia, you will either love or hate coffees from these regions. Coffees from the low elevations are almost exclusively purchased from, shall we say, a very large northwest US-based coffee chain, due to their ability to turn over the fields frequently for large yields making them relatively inexpensive.
Hopefully this helps you make a more informed choice when staring at a shelf of coffee at the store or here on the House Cup Coffee Roasters website. Any questions about any coffees, just let us know. We're here to help you make a better cup of coffee from regions of the world you're most likely to enjoy.