Coffee Types: A Deeper Understanding


Ever wonder why your neighbors aren’t just growing their own coffee beans in the backyard garden? That’s because the world’s best coffee, the kind you get at your favorite coffee shop needs just the right climate.

The mountains of southern Colombia to the Kona Coast, from the highlands of Papua New Guinea to the foothills of Mt. Kenya, are ideal. A coffee’s flavor depends on where it comes from as much as how long it is roasted. Origin influences the look, smell, and taste of coffee while roasting enhances the overall experience. As coffee is roasted darker, the heat accelerates, intensifying the flavor by creating caramelization in the bean which adds a new dimension to the flavor and aroma not apparent during the early roasting stages. Light and medium roasted coffees are more moderate in flavor and maintain much of their origin characteristics while a darker roast is very intense and loses much of the origin characteristics.

What’s Best

Specialty grade Arabica from small farms and private estates in East Africa, Latin America and the Pacific. Beans grown at altitudes of up to 6000 feet are best because the cooler temperatures at the higher elevations cause the bean to develop more slowly resulting in a more concentrated flavor. Since climate in addition to processing and storage is so crucial in shaping flavor, here are the distinctions of each region:

East Africa

Often have bright citrus flavors balanced by a floral or tangy aroma and smooth body. My favorite: Kenya AA - grown on the slopes of Mt. Kenya, this one has a hearty body with a gutsy acidity reminiscent of a Cabernet or Merlot.

Latin America

South American coffees have a subtle flavor, soft creamy body with a full rich aroma while those from Central America yield bright crisp flavors that are complemented by a bright bouquet. My favorite: Costa Rica La Minita - Grown between 4,000 - 6,000 feet on the Hacienda La Minita coffee plantation. The name La Minita means “small gold mine” and can be traced to a local legend that tells of local Natives searching for gold in the plantation soils.

Pacific Rim

Deep, earthy, and malty. Usually rich and full-bodied with a mellow refreshing finish. Most have a deep aroma and sweet flavor with hints of caramel or spice. My favorite: Kona Gold - Grown between 1800 and 2000 feet in rich volcanic soil along Hawaii’s famous Kona Coast, these beans must be graded and registered by the State of Hawaii in order to be considered authentic.

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  • Thanks so much Dee and David! After grabbing my own bag of Kona whole beans on Oahu, I'm definitely sold on the richness of this variety. Drinking a cup takes me back to beautiful Hawaii! As for the Indonesian kopi luwak, I'll have to look into that one...
  • Kona Gold hands down! Costa Rican is plan B.
  • Interesting post, Steve! I did a little coffee tourism in Costa Rica several years ago but hadn't heard about La Minita. Any thoughts on Indonesian kopi luwak? Worth the price?
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