Coffee is one complex drink. Ever been confused by the term ‘microlots’? Perhaps you’ve browsed at the store and wondered about the differences between Arabica and blends.
Let’s start with the best coffee growing regions. These are locations in coffee-producing countries that provide unique experiences you can’t get anywhere else.
The more I’ve learned about coffee, the more I’ve enjoyed it. As such, I want you to learn about where your beans come from so you can make a better purchase!
Below are ten of the world’s best coffee growing regions, their flavor profiles, and why you should know about them.
1. Sidamo, Ethiopia
Why don’t we start with the birthplace of coffee?
That’s right: Ethiopia is believed to be where it all started. A popular folktale heralds how coffee cherries were discovered to have caffeinated side-effects when goats were seen eating the plants and getting extra jumpy.
The Ethiopian coffee ceremony, as shown by Culturally Ours, is a deliberate affair that involves several hours of roasting, grinding, and brewing with family or friends. That’s quite a contrast compared to the West, where coffee is often consumed on-the-go and as quickly as possible. When’s the last time you savored your mocha?
I recently got the chance to try coffee from this region and was not disappointed. It was a light and nutty experience, easily consumed black or with a splash of milk. According to The Perfect Daily Grind, Sidamo stands out as one of three regions in the entire country with a trademark behind its name.
Its growing conditions are considered downright perfect for developing delicious, subtle specialty coffee that goes for high prices. Washed and natural processing are the most common methods of cultivating these tasty beans, with both having their unique benefits when bringing out the region’s flavors.
The Sidamo region of Ethiopia is the go-to for gentle floral and citrus flavor profiles.
2. Ghimbi, Ethiopia
Let’s keep learning more about this fascinating country and the types of coffee it offers. Ghimbi (sometimes spelled Gimbi) is a coffee-growing region you’ll want to keep an eye out for in specialty blends.
The Craft Coffee Guru explores the delicious flavor profiles of this Ethiopian coffee-growing region and how they’re used: while coffee from Ghimbi is most often mixed in blends, it can still be found in single-origin specialty coffee.
Like much of the region, these coffee beans are developed with the classic wet processing method to preserve flavor. This means letting the beans sit for half a day or a full day, then removing them from the fleshy fruit to ferment properly.
Ghimbi beans have a distinctly heavy body and a delectable fruity flavor. ‘Coffee body’ is an interesting term you’ll hear a lot while learning about specialty products, referring to the weight and feel of your drink.
Have you ever had a cup that felt watery and thin? How about one that was thick and creamy? This is just one of the many details that separate one harvest from the other.
The Ghimbi region of Ethiopia is perfect for acidic, tart, fruity flavor profiles.
3. Nairobi, Kenya
While Sidamo is famed for its more delicate and light coffee flavors, Nairobi is very much the opposite.
This is the coffee-growing region you seek out when you want a rich, almost wine-like flavor experience. Narrowing down this region is a little tricky, too, as you can find it classified under both Mt. Kenya and Nairobi, the nearby capitol. Either way, you’ll be enjoying a quality experience that isn’t easily replicated. According to Coffee Review, these coveted bags go for high prices at local auctions and are a priority for today’s most knowledgeable importers ().
I’ve been very eager to try single-origin Kenyan coffee. The Espresso Coffee Guide goes into great detail about the complexity of this coffee-growing region and how even little details like the angle of the setting sun can affect the chemicals in the coffee cherry. It’s fascinating stuff! To top it off, these locations are close to rare wildlife that are regularly supported by the maintenance of the land. How’s that for sustainable?
The Nairobi region of Kenya is famed for its fruity, wine-like profiles, though it can boast lemon and even pepper-like flavors.
4. Mount Elgon, Uganda
Compared to Ethiopia and Kenya, Uganda can often seem like an afterthought to all except the most knowledgeable of coffee aficionados. Far from it!
This is a country with just as rich and layered history as any other coffee-producing nation, with Mount Elgon having the additional benefit of a nearby volcano to inject extra flavor into its coffee beans. Crema Co. further elaborates on the ‘terroir’, or the unique soil quality, of the country.
While this coffee-growing region does produce the popular Arabica variety, it’s becoming more well-known for its Robusta.
The Robusta coffee bean is starting to gain more attention these past several years, originally deemed an average choice better fit for instant coffee and now being seen as a prime contender for the best specialty coffee around.
The Perfect Daily Grind dives deep into Ugandan specialty coffee, detailing how its beautiful weather, well-timed rain, and incredible soils bring out flavor notes you can only dream of. Shade-grown coffee, in particular, is a big deal in many Ugandan farms.
This farming method uses the surrounding plants to provide shade to the coffee beans, saving money, and improving quality all in one go. A little really goes a long way!
Try Mount Elgon coffee from Uganda if you want rustic flavor profiles like raisins, dates, and figs.
5. Veracruz, Mexico
Do you crave nutty, savory pastries when visiting the cafe? Maybe you’re the type to add a dash of hazelnut or vanilla to your latte. You can have your coffee meet you halfway by purchasing beans from the Veracruz coffee-growing region of Mexico.
Ask the average aficionado what their favorite origin is and Mexico is likely to be left out of the conversation. Thanks to the explosive rise of primary producers like Colombia and Brazil over the past century, Mexico has often slid to the back in terms of priority. Not anymore! The Perfect Daily Grind studies how Mexico is becoming an ideal coffee-growing region for many of today’s specialty roasters.
Veracruz, in particular, is a coffee-growing region with a lot to offer across the board. The Nomad Coffee Club explores how the higher the altitude, the better the coffee quality. The beautiful mountains sloping in and out of Veracruz are prime for creating specialty coffee beans just bursting with flavor.
Arabica is the top bean here and the different types of terrain mean you can get a ton of variety without even leaving the country. Perhaps Mexican coffee could become your new favorite?
The Veracruz coffee region of Mexico is a master at nutty and chocolate flavor profiles.
6. Oaxaca, Mexico
It’s not just Veracruz you should be seeking out when browsing roasteries. Oaxaca is a Mexican coffee-growing region seeing rising demand lately. Not only is it a little rarer than other coffee growing regions, but its flavor notes are also subtle, yet striking.
Just like Nairobi above, this is a coffee region that can crop up a few different ways (pardon the pun). Coffee Review details how Oaxaca can be classified under the name ‘Oaxaca’ or ‘Oaxaca Pluma’.
These specialty coffees have several high notes you can look forward to, from being organically grown to being distributed the world over.
All in all, they’re a prized choice and would make a fantastic conversation starter next time you get together with friends (over Zoom, of course).
The Oaxaca coffee-growing region of Mexico is adept at crafting coffee with sweet, floral, and sometimes caramel-like flavor profiles.
7. Narino, Colombia
Do you want a trailblazer in the coffee world? Look no further than Nariño. I’ve had specialty coffee from this region before and I can safely say it’s one of my absolute favorites…if not my absolute favorite.
Crema Co. goes into how this was the very first region to be distinguished in the country, cementing it as the go-to for coffee fans and casual drinkers alike. They stress how it’s not just the environment the coffee is grown in, but the unique techniques that come with each farm and multigenerational coffee-growing family.
When you purchase a specialty coffee bag? You’re buying a slice of history, community, and love right in the palm of your hand.
Colombia remains one of today’s top exporters of coffee and is unlikely to be toppled anytime soon. They have the best of both worlds: quality and quantity.
While a lot of these flavor profiles are on the milder side, the variety of this coffee-growing region means you can still find some powerful results. The Nariño bag I tried had a brilliant dark cherry and molasses profile that’s stuck with me ever since.
The Nariño region of Colombia boasts some of the best nutty, fruity, and sweet flavor profiles around.
8. Huila, Colombia
Colombian coffee is just terrific. I recently tried a delicious medium decaf roast from this region and it’s one of the most complex cups I’ve ever had. From the pourover to the Moka pot, each brewing method offered something new!
This is becoming the largest coffee-growing region alongside Nariño, with Coffee Hunter praising the region as a prime source for high-quality cupping events. Coffee cupping is a rigorous process that determines the flavor notes of a particular selection of beans from a given coffee-growing region. Each cup has to hit 80 points or more if it’s to be considered a specialty and worthy of a high price. Everything from aroma to mouthfeel is taken into account here.
Driftaway explores how Huila is located right next to a massive volcano, imbuing its soil with rich nutrients to ensure every cup is one to remember.
This particular coffee growing region has seen a positive reaction it’s garnered from visitors from all over the world. If you’re not entirely convinced specialty coffee can taste this subtle, give it a try. I used to be a barista, I currently brew coffee at home and I’m still having my mind blown!
The Huila region of Colombia is where you find delectable flavor profiles like fruit, caramel, and even cookies.
9. Cajamarca, Peru
Peruvian coffee is becoming sought after by both specialty roasters and wholesale distributors. You’d be hard-pressed, in fact, not to find it at your average cafe. It’s shocking to know it wasn’t always that way!
Driven Coffee has a wonderful post exploring how Peru went through a period in which most of its coffee was a local affair, with global coffee exports not really a thing until the 1900s. After much trial and error, this country would bump itself up to number ten on the worldwide coffee producer list.
You can now easily find several of its origins when browsing American roasteries (and I’ve had a few myself!). While it’s not quite as prized after as Colombian coffee, it’s got more than enough tangy flavor and personality to stand beyond comparison.
Does that mean the country’s work is done? Not quite. Peru still faces several challenges in spreading its coffee to the rest of the world.
Cafe Imports discusses the long transportation times and often disconnected nature of smaller farms, affecting their ability to make good money during harvesting season. Despite this, the country’s prime weather conditions and brilliant rainfall makes it ideal for high-quality coffee.
The Cajamarca region of Peru bears coffee both tangy and sweet, with a lean toward luscious vanilla and orange flavor profiles.
10. Central Highlands, Vietnam
You probably didn’t expect to see Vietnam on this list, huh? Expect to hear from this country a lot more in the future, as it’s one of today’s largest exporters and is currently sending big business into a tailspin.
Vietnam is home to a rich coffee-drinking culture. The CNBC took a look at just how rich, as the country is home to thousands of coffee shops boasting high-quality cups at low prices.
Starbucks, today’s most well-known coffee behemoth, has struggled to gain a foothold for several years now. Robusta is the most common coffee bean grown not just in this region, but countrywide. Many coffee experts are now calling for Robusta to be treated with the same care as Arabica to bring out its hidden potential.
Sourcing Vietnamese coffee to single farms is still difficult, but that’s nothing that can’t change in the future. Coffee Hunter stresses how this country is set to be a gamechanger in the coffee industry for its different approach to the brew.
For those eager for a deep dive, The International Coffee Organization has also compiled a thorough research paper on the fascinating history of Vietnamese coffee and how it’s become a reliable source of beans worldwide. All trends have to start somewhere!
Vietnamese coffee from the Central Highlands is known for robust and strong flavor profiles, with a unique sweet aroma.
Did you enjoy unearthing the mystery behind the best coffee growing regions? Here’s the best part: there’s always something new to learn.
I’m a firm believer that snobby attitudes do nothing for the coffee industry. It’s already facing several issues: climate change, low farmer wages, and a convoluted supply chain, to name a few. What you’ve learned here is the first step you can take toward buying sustainable coffee that tastes better.
If you have someone in your life who loves coffee, link them to this article. In the meantime, share below which coffee regions you’d like to try in the future.