“I would like your first writing assignment to be about coffee regions.”
My husband and assigning editor quickly back-pedaled “I know that’s not a very exciting topic...”
I’m not sure if it was the look on my face or his genuine feeling on the topic that prompted the follow-up statement, but I had to agree that it was not the type of topic I was expecting as we set out to begin growing the information section of SagebrushCoffee.com
Matt made it clear as we discussed the types of articles he’d like me to be writing that he didn’t want the articles to just be filler to click bait. Matt wants Sagebrush Coffee to be a destination for anyone who wants to know more about coffee. From growth, to production, to roasting, and brewing, he (now we) wants SBC to be a resource for the coffee curious.
And so I began to research coffee regions. I quickly learned (and I hope you, the reader, can agree), that my first inclination was wrong- Coffee regions are an interesting topic!
I began in the region of Africa for a number of reasons. First, Africa is considered ‘the birthplace of coffee.’ Second, the African beans we’ve offered through the years have been vibrant and interesting in flavor, drawing me to learn more about their origins. And last, my husband’s region of choice for coffee is Africa, so I thought it would make him happy and, if all else failed, I could grab some quotes and observations from him.
The first thing that should be noted is that Africa is a region. That should be fairly obvious in an article about coffee regions, but what I really mean is that the region is comprised of 7 countries within Africa that grow, process, and sell coffee beans. I know many of us Westerners (to our detriment) like to see giant land masses as one big blob- Africa the continent is grouped into one self-explanatory entity. It is sad that it must be stated that this is, of course, far from true, and looking at the coffee growing region of Africa is no different. The area is wide and varied.
Many factors can affect coffee growth, production, and quality. A major variable in the type and quality of coffee grown in a specific country is the general climate and topography of that country. Coffee as a general rule is grown in mountainous, temperate and rainy climates near the equator, and coffees from Africa are no exception. However, there is still much variety among these tropical countries. Elevation, rainfall, and soil drainage directly contribute to bean quality. Countries with greater land mass are naturally able to produce more coffee. A country with coastland and access to seaports is at a greater sales advantage than a land-locked country.
One thing that surprised me in my research was, apart from the physical features of a country, how much human factors have played a part in the production of African coffee over the last 100 years. The 20thcentury was a time of massive change and political upheaval across the continent of Africa, and the changes in the business of coffee were a direct result of the political changes. Many African countries, such as coffee producers Tanzania and Kenya, went from Colonial rule to independence. With monopolies shattered and the opportunity for free trade made available to farmers, an entire world of opportunity was opened to the African coffee growers. For many years in Burundi and Rwanda, coffee farming was mandated by the government, but recent decades have put the power back in the hands of the farmers, leading to personal pride in their offerings, and therefore higher quality coffee. These, as well as many other factors such as availability of washing stations, land, and machinery owned either by the government or privately, grading systems, and preferences over large plantations vs. small farms, all play a part in the quality and availability of African Coffees.
Yet for all these differences we can’t overlook the consistent and unique features that make African coffee stand out from the rest. African coffees tend to be fruity and juicy in flavor. Berries, citrus, tropical fruit, apples, and grapes are all tasting notes that have been found in Africa’s offerings. Many would be surprised to hear coffee described as juicy or bright, even floral, but these flavors can be a pleasant surprise to many who see coffee as dark and bland.
If your preference is a light and bright cup, with a crisp, clean mouthfeel and nuanced flavors, then look first to the regions of Ethiopia and Kenya, with side trips to Burundi, Tanzania, and Rwanda. Processing and brewing methods can have a direct effect on the final taste as well, so don’t be afraid to experiment or ask us for advice on how to get the flavor profile you desire.
The biggest surprise I encountered while studying the countries of Africa, specifically the coffee growing countries, was my new found interest and appreciation for the area. I’ve never entertained the idea of visiting Africa, until now. While that newfound interest and desire to see the rainforests of Africa may never come to fruition, I can temper that desire a bit each morning by spending time with a cup of African coffee.
Most of the coffees consumed worldwide are produced in Latin America. The countries within Latin America have an ideal coffee-growing environment with its moderate sunshine and rain, 70-80 degree temperatures, and rich, porous soil. Coffee originated in Africa around the 15th century and finally made its way to Latin America in the early-18th century. By the mid-18th century, Latin American countries evolved into being some of the top coffee producers.
Much like any other crop, there is a prime season for harvesting coffee. I will not go into all of the details of the coffee plant (that may wait for another blog post), but when the plant grows to maturity, it will yield a cluster of fruit. Also referred to as cherries, these fruit clusters are initially green and then ripen into a beautiful shade of red similar to a cherry. Within the cherries is a pulp and two oval-shaped beans that once harvested, processed, and roasted become the coffee beans we know and love.
As some of you may know, Ethiopian coffees are always my favorite. A dry-processed, fruit forward Ethiopian bean is always a winner in my book. For many years, they have been the world's best-reviewed single-origin premium coffee beans. As the 5th largest coffee producer in the world, Ethiopia has mastered the art of harvesting and processing the beans and the flavor profiles are perfectly complex and delicious.