How the Taste of your Coffee Beans Change by Region

August 4, 2017

The belt is a simple piece of clothing. A thin piece of leather you loop around your waist to save you the embarrassment of the whole world seeing your odd choice of underwear. It’s useful, practical and easy.

Such is its versatility that it has branched away from mere clothing. The Bible belt is a collection of states known for their ardent Protestant beliefs, the region neatly making a belt around the middle of the USA. The seatbelt, famous for turning driving in a car from being a very dangerous activity to just a quite dangerous activity.

And that brings us to the coffee belt. A region between two horizontal and imaginary lines running round the globe which tells you where coffee comes from.

Anything outside of these lines has conditions that are impossible or at least unsuitable for producing coffee. Aha! I hear you cry as you realize why you can’t get a hold of any Icelandic Dark Roast!

As the regions of the world has an impact in whether coffee can be grown or not, it is also true that the region has a big impact on the flavor of the coffee. And that impact is more prominent than you might think. I’ve heard many a dismissive claim that ‘coffee just tastes like coffee’ until they try the gorgeous fruitiness of a well brewed Yirgacheffe.

A few things you should know

Single origin vs blend

If you’re not in the mood to read a whole article about single origin and blends, here’s a recap.

Single origin is coffee that has been grown in a single location. A single country, a single farm, sometimes even a single field.

A blend is a mix of coffees from many locations with the idea of keeping a consistent and balanced taste. The types and amounts of coffee that are used change to keep the taste the same, year on year.

Single origin coffee tends to have distinctive flavors whereas blends tend to have a more balanced flavor profile. That means that the notes of blackcurrant in your Kenyan SO will be much more striking than anything you might get with a blend. Of course, those distinctive flavors may be off putting at the same time.

If the idea of an astoundingly juicy blueberry Ethiopia Awassa doesn’t appeal to you, a blend might be a better option.

Coffee is just coffee wherever it’s grown, right?

where coffee is grown

No, is the answer. No, no, no. Altitude, temperature, rainfall, sunlight and a bunch of other stuff all affect how the coffee grows and how the coffee tastes.

Imagine the rocky hilltops of rural Kenya compared with the lush jungle of northern Thailand. The same plant will grow quite differently in those locations. Where coffee comes from plays a huge role!

The easiest way to understand this is to try it yourself. Pick up a single origin from Africa and Asia and make two coffees the exact same way. There’s a distinct difference between the juicy and acidic fruitiness of African coffee and the earthy and nutty taste of Asian coffee. The taste is unmistakable.

Coffee beans are SUPER important

I’ve said before the most important ingredient in making good coffee is the bean. Even the finest chef in the world will struggle to make a good steak out of bad meat. If you’re using low quality, stale, poorly grown or processed beans, a bad roast, or just a region you that doesn’t suit your tastes, you are not going to be able to make good coffee.

On the flipside, even the class dunce can produce a great brew if they are using high quality coffee beans from a region they love.

The lesson? Regardless of region or anything else, start buying good coffee beans! Yesterday. If possible.

Arabica vs Robusta

farmer holding coffee beans

I’ve addressed this in more detail elsewhere on my site but I think a quick recap would be good here.

There are two types of coffee plants that produce coffee beans you can brew with – Arabica and Robusta. They have quite a different flavor profile and so have different uses.

Robusta is the cheaper coffee beans that is know for its bitter taste and high caffeine content. It is mostly only used in cheap coffee, instant coffee and certain espresso blends. All the coffee you are likely to buy is only Arabica. When you see ‘100% Arabica’ on the side of a bag of coffee is a bit pointless and is mostly marketing speak. If you’re spending over $10 on a lb of coffee it’s a practical certainty that it’s 100% Arabica.


There are three main coffee growing regions in the world, Asia, Africa and Latin America. Each of these can be divided into sub-regions, countries, farming co-operatives and even microlots that all have their own sensory experience. I’m going to stick to countries but I suggest you look into many of the smaller regions like the famous Guatemalan Huehuetenango or the Ethiopian Yirgacheffe.

We’re going to be talking about floral aromas and notes of lemon. If you want a bigger picture of what a lot of these words mean, check out my article on tasting notes.

Let me remind you that anything stated here are general rules to help a beginner understand things. This isn’t Monopoly, you can and should break the rules.

(Or maybe you are like everyone in my family, who cheat as much as they can get away with in Monopoly.)


map of Africa

Africa is noted for its fruity and floral coffee.
African coffee beans suit a light or medium roast.
African beans taste great when using a method with high flavor clarity like the Chemex or the Aeropress.

Some of the more popular countries/regions:

KenyaJuicy, Grapefruit, Blackcurrant, Spice
(popular choice for single origin)

EthiopiaBerry, Lemon, Cocoa

BurundiVanilla, Chocolate
(my pick for interesting coffee)

Latin America

map of Latin America

Latin American is noted for its sweet and acidic coffee.
Latin American coffee beans suit a medium roast.
Latin American coffee tastes great when using a method with high flavor clarity like the Chemex or the Aeropress.

Some of the more popular countries/regions:

ColombiaBalanced, Medium Bodied, Sweet
(very popular coffee)

GuatemalaSmoky, Spicy, Floral

Costa Rica Citrus, Nutty


map of Asia

Asia is noted for its bitter and earthy coffee.
Asian coffee beans suit a dark or medium roast.
Asian coffee taste great with a full bodied coffee made from a French Press.

Some of the more popular countries/regions:

JavaHeavy Bodied, Woody

Sumatra Earthy, Smoky

IndiaLow Acid, Spicy, Heavy Bodied

This is really just scratching the surface. There’s a whole world out there to explore. Literally, kinda. Here’s the best beginner’s guide I’ve seen to most of the coffee producing countries.

How to get started? Find some roasters you like the look of either online or local and start buying beans!

I’d recommend you begin by looking at African coffees. The taste profile of African coffee is quite different to what the average coffee drinker expects which makes it perfect to dip your toe in. The first time you take a sip of a well made lemony Ethiopian SO might be a revelatory experience!

What’s your favorite region to get coffee beans from? Anyone got any hot tips on the latest single origins? Let me know in the comments.

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  • Reply Rashid February 9, 2018 at 6:13 am

    “When you see ‘100% Arabica’ on the side of a bag of coffee is a bit pointless and is mostly marketing speak. If you’re spending over $10 on a lb of coffee it’s a practical certainty that it’s 100% Arabica.”

    You may have missed italian espresso blends which is famous for mixing robusta with Arabica. So maybe 100% Arabica does have it’s validity after all :). Like it or not it is valued and brand like Lavazza does that.

    • Reply Pat February 14, 2018 at 11:26 pm

      You’re completely right, there’s several excellent brands of coffee that use Robusta or even other types of bean. I guess I wrote it as a shot at those cheapo bags of brown rubbish that proudly say ‘100% Arabica’ in an attempt to fool you when you’re picking up some coffee.

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