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A lot goes into producing a cup of coffee. While coffee trees grow anywhere from sea to frost level, the best conditions include lots of rain, a mean temperature of about 70 degrees and nutrient-rich, well-drained soil. Trees growing at lower altitudes produce coffee fruit year-round, but this results in large quantities of beans that are harsh, high in caffeine and suitable for mass-produced commercial coffee. Up in the mountains, each coffee tree produces less fruit, which is more flavorful and correspondingly pricey. Five regions consistently produce the highest quality coffee that java drinkers crave.
Brazil is by far the world’s biggest coffee producer, growing about a third of all coffee. Much of it is low quality, but some of the finest beans also hail from Brazil. Brazilian coffee is grown at 2,000- to 4,000-foot elevations, far lower than most fine coffees, which grow at elevations above 5,000 feet. Bahia and Bourbon Santos are the country’s most celebrated beans. The regions that grow the finest coffee are hilly Mogiana and Sul Minas, and the high plateau of the Cerrado.
Indonesia is such a famous coffee producer that one of its islands, Java, has become synonymous with the drink. As the world’s biggest robusta producer, much of the quality is not high. But the 10 percent of Indonesia’s beans that are arabica are some of the finest. Sumatra Mandeheling, grown on the island of Sumatra, is a complex, heavy coffee with hints of chocolate and licorice. The island of Sulawesi produces Sulawesi Toraja coffee, a heavy, pungent coffee whose best qualities are brought out in a dark roast.
Ever since German immigrants got serious about cultivating Guatemala’s coffee crop in the 19th century, this country has produced some of the best coffee in Latin America. The mountainous area around the colonial city Guatemala Antigua produces a coffee of the same name, known for notes of spice, smoke, flowers and chocolate. Peasant farmers have organized cooperatives in the Lake Atitlan basin to grow some of the best coffee. This region is also known for its environmentally friendly production policies.
A couple of countries south of Ethiopia, Tanzania is also well known for its coffee. The region in the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro, close to Tanzania’s border with Kenya, produces Tanzania Peaberry coffee. This variety has less acidity than Kenyan coffee. Round, small peaberry beans are richer in flavor than oval beans. These rare peaberries account for only 10 percent of total yield and require hand sorting.
Coffee trees come in two main types, arabicas and robusta. Arabicas produce better-tasting beans. The robusta tree is hardier and begets harsher beans. Ethiopia is the land of arabica and the origin of coffee production. As Africa’s top arabica exporter, Ethiopia employs 12 million people in coffee production. The Yirgacheffe region of Ethiopia produces a variety of bean prized by connoisseurs.