The word coffee originates from “Kawek” in Greek, meaning “passion and strength”. With a special flavor, the brewed drink is prepared from roasted coffee beans and ranks first among the world’s three major non-alcoholic drinks. The history of coffee drinking can be traced back to thousands of years ago, but there are different versions of stories telling its origin. One of the statements goes that more than a thousand years ago, a shepherd named Kaldi found that sheep would become unusually excited after eating the fruit of a plant and thereby discovered coffee. Another argument says that a wildfire burned a grove of coffee woods, after which the aroma of burnt coffee caught the attention of surrounding residents. However, these legends appeared only in the travel miscellanies of later comers and are lack of historical evidence. Therefore, there is no way to verify the true origin of coffee.
Regardless of its origin, its provenance is beyond doubt -- the plateau region of southwestern Ethiopia. But initially, coffee did not come into people’s view in the form of a drink. The indigenous people grinded coffee beans, mixed them with animal fat, and kneaded the mixture into small balls for soldiers to eat before going out to battle, aiming to raise their morale and make them more energetic. Until the 11th century, people began to boil coffee and took it as a drink. Then in the 13th century, Ethiopian army invaded Yemen and brought coffee to the Arab world. During the following three centuries, coffee was monopolized by the Arab world and prevailed among Islamic countries such as Persia, Egypt, Syria and Turkey. Until the 17th century, coffee was brought to the continent of European through sea trade. The strongly fragrant black drink that is full of oriental mystery caused people to panic for a time, and was even called “bitter invention of Satan”. It was not until Pope Clement VIII tasted and blessed coffee that the history of European Christians not drinking coffee, the Muslim drink, was changed. Soon after that, coffee was sought after by all walks of life, and even gradually replaced beer and liquor, occupying people’s breakfast table as a part of popular culture and social life. In this way coffee was widely spread.
After experiencing the first wave of ready-to-drink coffee represented by Nestlé and Maxwell and the second wave of standardized coffee featured by Starbucks, the third wave of specialty coffee that takes the production of quality coffee as the main concept, emphasizes the taste of local coffee and highlights the characteristics of coffee itself is coming.
Specialty coffee was first used in 1974 by Ms. Erna Knutsen, the Godmother of Specialty Coffee, in Tea & Coffee Trade Journal. Knutsen used the term to emphasize the relationship between planting environment and the quality of coffee, highlighting that “only in the most favorable micro-climate and soil conditions can specialty coffee with unique flavor be cultivated”. Today, Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) created by Ms. Erna Knutsen has redefined specialty coffee: plant the most suitable selected breed in the area where the sea level, climate and environment are most conducive to the development of coffee flavor; select the highest level and flawless beans after they are carefully washed or dried under the sun, and deliver them to customers in perfect condition. Under bakers’ superb skills, the coffee gives out the richest geographical flavor. Coupled with the recognized way of extraction, the most delicious coffee is made. In short, specialty coffee should be high quality coffee made with “good raw beans, good baking and good extraction”.
These high-quality coffees are all produced in “Coffee Belt”, which is between 25 degrees north latitude and 30 degrees south latitude. This area is sunny all year round, with abundant heat and rain. Its annual average temperature is more than 20 degrees Celsius. Most of its soil is volcanic soil or forest soil rich in organic matters.
So which countries along the “Coffee Belt” produce the top ten specialty coffees that are the world’s most prestigious and most recognized by leaders of coffee industry?
1，Ethiopia: the original flavor of coffee
Ethiopia is the birthplace of famous Arabica coffee beans and one of the areas enjoying the richest coffee culture. Half of Ethiopia’s export revenue comes from coffee. About 15 million Ethiopian people are engaged in coffee production. It is worth mentioning that the majority of coffee varieties in Central and South America are introduced from other countries, but Ethiopia is a rare native place of coffee. People there still maintain the tradition of harvesting wild coffee beans. After thousands of years of evolution and adaptation, coffee farms that are over 1,500 meters above sea level have formed unique coffee land. Ethiopian coffees grown in natural wild environment are called “coffee of wilderness”. They retain the most original and natural taste of coffee beans, with the most direct and full expression of the land. Unique flavored Harar, Limu, Sidamo and Yirgacheffe are all typical Ethiopian Arabian coffees.
2，Kenya: unforgettable coffee experiences
Kenya’s coffee history is not long. The country started to introduce Arabica coffee in the beginning of the 20th century and then tended to cultivate Bourbon from Brazil. Its British place of coffee. People there still maintain the tradition of harvesting wild coffee beans. After thousands of years of evolution and adaptation, coffee farms that are over 1,500 meters above sea level have formed unique coffee land. Ethiopian coffees grown in natural wild environment are called “coffee of wilderness”. They retain the most original and natural taste of coffee beans, with the most direct and full expression of the land. Unique flavored Harar, Limu, Sidamo and Yirgacheffe are all typical Ethiopian Arabian coffees. colonial history enabled the country to establish a sound coffee cultivation a n d m a n a g e m e n t s y s t e m . K e n y a n mountain areas at high altitude have a low temperature, which can extend the maturation period of coffee beans and thus let coffee beans fully accumulate complex fruit aroma. Unrestrained sour and heavy aroma of fruits such as black currant and grapefruit constitute the roughness and maturity of Kenya coffees. Kenya pays particular attention to the cultivation of coffee varieties. The SL28 developed by professional teams is a direct branch of Bourbon and the best representative of Kenya’s coffee quality and flavor.
3，Colombia: to explore the fun of diversity
Colombian coffees are world-famous, with their biggest feature being diversified styles. If you compare them with wine, you will find that Colombia is like a champagne producing area with both big and small farms producing not only coffees of standardized stable styles, but also interesting and changeable ones which are low-yield celebrities. In general, Colombian coffees are fresh and fruity. Equipped with very professional baking technologies, producers of Colombian coffees can develop the quality of coffee beans to the maximum extent. But in recent years, climatic conditions exerted a big impact on the production of Colombian coffees. Between 1980 and 2010, the temperature and rainfall in Colombia kept increasing, which greatly affected its production. But even so, Colombia is still a pivotal coffee producer in the international market.
4，Guatemala: surprising upstart
The name Guatemala comes from Mayan, meaning “place of many trees”. This country, known as “Pearl of Central America”, has limited land area but a rich and varied climate, fertile volcanic soil, abundant rainfall, and suitable temperature, humidity and altitude, which are conducive to the growth of high quality coffees. It was not until the 1990s that Guatemala began to revive its coffee industry after years of civil war. In line with international demand for high-end coffee market, Guatemala chose to focus on the production of high-grade coffee beans, namely high-altitude Arabica beans and specialty coffees. Guatemala, with unique coffee styles, ranks among the world’s famous coffee-producing areas in recent years. On the basis of original coffee levels and conforming to the certification preferences of international coffee market, the country divided its coffee lands into eight specialty coffee producing areas, namely: Antigua Coffee, Fraijanes Plateau, Highland Huehue, Volconic San Marcos, New Oriente, Traditional Atitlan, Rainforest Coban, and Acatenango Valley. Coffees of these areas can be marked with their own names to represent different flavor characteristics.
5，Costa Rica: good coffees produced in good environment
Costa Rica is located in the low latitude volcanic belt of Central America. Its fertile volcanic soil, obviously-divided wet and dry seasons, high temperature and rainfall provide excellent conditions for the cultivation of quality coffees. Specialty Coffee Association of Costa Rica manages the country’s coffee industry in a unified manner and has set up a dedicated research institution to explore and improve the quality of local coffees. Costa Rica is one of the rare countries in the world that prohibits the cultivation of Robusta coffee in the form of national legislation, so its coffee beans are 100% Arabica. At present, Costa Rica coffees are produced in 8 major areas, including Brunca, Turrialba, Tres Rios, Orosi, Tarrazu, Central Valley, Western Valley and Guanacaste. Among the 8 areas, Tarrazu and Tres Rios are the most famous ones and are called “Costa Rica’s Bordeaux”. Tarrazu situates in the southeast of San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica. San Marcos and Santa Maria under its jurisdiction are important producing areas of specialty coffees. In 2014 COE competition, among 23 varieties of listed coffee beans, 17 come from Tarrazu.
6，Honduras: God’s favored children
Honduras coffees may be unfamiliar to many people. In their impression, Honduras is a very chaotic and unstable country. It seems that Honduras is an unpopular coffee producing area and it is far less recognized in international coffee consumer market than those from Colombian and Ethiopian’s producing areas. Coffee beans produced by Honduras are mainly used as “side coffee beans”, and therefore go into oblivion. But in fact, Honduras coffees are superior in both quality and yield. “Highland coffee” (grown at an altitude of 1000-1500 meters) and “selected highland coffee” (grown at an altitude of 1500-2000 meters) produced in Honduras are highly praised by coffee lovers. Their tastes are rich and mellow, being neither sour nor astringent, and sometimes have beautiful floral or fruit fragrance, making them very special.
7，Indonesia: seems to be a better choice than Kopi Luwak
Indonesia is one of the earliest countries in the world that plant coffees at large scale and also is one of the best coffee producing areas. In the late 19th century, mellow Javanese coffee became a synonym for top coffee. The low sour coffee was described as follows: “Good Javanese coffee is relatively thick, lighter and less sour than other Indonesian coffees. It has a whole style and long aftertaste, which contains slight taste of grass. The aftertaste does last long and often contains a slight spicy and smoke taste. Javanese coffee is fragrant, very gentle and very mellow in the whole.” As plants of Arabica coffee have weak resistance to pest infestations, in late 19th century, Indonesia coffees were nearly devastated. Therefore, Indonesia began to plant Robusta, whose planting area reaches more than 80% of the national total. At present, Indonesia’s famous coffees include Mandheling, Lintong, Gayo Mountain, Moosooned Coffee, Aged Coffee, Toraja, etc.
8，Rwanda: an emerging coffee producer
Since colonial period, Rwanda began to grow coffees, most of which are the bourbon variety of Arabica species. With high mountains, fertile volcanic soils and abundant rainfalls, the environment and climate in Rwanda is perfect for the growth of coffee trees. With quality variety and advantageous natural conditions, it was supposed to produce coffees of high quality. However, Rwanda’s coffees were classed below Grade C and have been unpopular in the global market until 1999. Later in 1999, 220 coffee growers set up the Abahuzamugambi cooperative. With the help of the National University of Rwanda (NUR) and the Partnership for Enhancing Agriculture in Rwanda through Linkages (PEARL), they worked hard to improve the coffee quality and managed to enter the specialty coffee market. The Maraba coffee produced in Rwanda is praised by the Union Coffee Roasters as containing “sparkling citrus flavours complemented by deep, sweet chocolate notes”.
9，Panama: treasure of the world
Located at the isthmus of Panama of Central America, the tropical oceanic climate, volcanic soils and ample rain make Panama a major specialty coffee producer in recent 20 years. Panama is one of the famous high-quality coffee producers with Chiriqui Province as the major coffee producing area Boquete, Volcan and Renacimiento are the three well-known origins. Coffee species such as Geisha, Catuai and Caturra are produced in these regions. Geisha of the Esmeralda Estate is the most famous one which is of blue green color like jade, special fragrance like grass, peach, and berry, and milky aroma like oolong tea. The roasted Geisha coffee bears attractive lemon citrus fragrance and sweet honey & cream flavor. By far, Geisha coffee has won the champion in international competitions for 12 times and set the record of highest price for three times in global online open bids. In 2013, Geisha coffee of one well-known estate was sold for $230 per pound.
10，Hawaii: the island of coffee in America
Kona coffee of Hawaiii is one of the most beautiful coffee beans with full shape, bright color, blend fragrance of wine, fruity and spicy fragrance, and caramel sweetness. A taste of kona coffee gives people special and superior pleasure and excitement. The unique flavor is critical for these coffees to become outstanding. Meanwhile, the pursuit of flavor and quality promotes the development of the third wave of coffee with specialty coffee as its core. Although in China the freshly ground coffee market is dominated by Starbucks, Coasta and Maan Coffee, and supermarkets and stores occupied by instant coffee brands such as Nestle and Maxwell, but this country, as one of the largest burgeoning consumer markets, will witness a continued strong demand for specialty coffee with emerging cafes serving specialty coffee and gradually developed coffee culture. According to the statistics of Beijing Coffee Association, the total coffee consumption in China is growing at an annual rate of 15%, over seven times of the global average growth rate. It is estimated that Chinese coffee consumption will surge significantly after 2018 and the coffee consumption market turnover in China will reach one trillion RMB in ten years.