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Climates and growing conditions must be just right to grow the best beans in the world. Many generations, through trial and error have given coffee growers a good understanding of what a coffee bean needs to thrive, and taste incredible. Coffee needs warm weather year-round, generous rainfall, and abundant amounts of sunshine.
Where Is Coffee Grown?
The coffee tree is a tropical evergreen shrub and grows best in what’s known as the “Bean Belt” which is the ideal condition for coffee trees to thrive.
The region known as the Bean Belt extends to the north by the Tropic of Cancer and to the south by the Tropic of Capricorn, and from Hawaii to Indonesia, across the Americas, Africa, and Eurasia; or between latitudes 25 degrees North and 30 degrees South
There are more than 75 coffee-producing countries, each with their own characteristics that give them unique identities. Things like soil, rainfall, and sunlight affect the characteristics of the coffee beans; however it’s altitude that can make a coffee truly unique. Coffee can grow at lower altitudes but it can over-ripen or receive too much moisture. The beans grown at higher elevations are the ones with just a bit more zing. For example, Arabica grows best at high altitudes in rich soil, while the heartier Robusta thrives at a higher temperature and can do well at lower altitudes.
Many of the top coffee-producing nations are well-known; however, some may come as a surprise. Around 70 countries produce coffee, with the overwhelming majority of the supply coming from developing countries like Brazil, Vietnam, Colombia, Indonesia and Ethiopia.
Top 5 Coffee Producers in the World
Introduced in the early 18th century by French settlers, it became quite popular among Europeans. Brazil quickly became the world’s largest producer in 1840 and continued since. In 2014, Brazil produced 2.7 million metric tons of coffee, which was 30% of the world’s production. Over 300,000 plantations extend over more than 10,000 square miles of the Brazilian countryside. Brazilian production continues to be the driving force for the country’s economy.
Second only to Brazil, being relatively new to the international coffee trade, Vietnam has quickly become one of the largest producers. In the 1980s, the Communist Party bet the future of the nation on coffee. Coffee production increased 20 to 30% each year in the 1990’s, totally transforming the nation’s economy. In 2014, Vietnam produced 1.65 million metric tons of coffee.
The National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia created the fictional coffee farmer named Juan Valdez to help brand Colombia as one of the most famous coffee-producing nations. Colombia is renowned for its quality coffee and produced 696,000 metric tons in 2014. However some think Colombian coffee production may have been negatively impacted by the fluctuations in climate. Temperatures and precipitation amounts have increased from 1980 to 2010. Yet, Colombia is still the highest-producing nation of arabica beans.
Not nearly as well-known, Indonesia’s perfect location and climate helped it become the second-largest exporter of robusta beans in the world. The Indonesian coffee industry is made up of 1.5 million independent small farms and only a few large-scale operations. It produced 411,000 metric tons of coffee in 2014.
Indonesia produces several types of highly sought-after specialty coffees. Kopi Luwak is harvested from the feces of Asian palm civets giving the beans a distinctive and unique flavor. This intensive process of collecting and harvesting the beans results in one of the most expensive coffee bean in the world.
According to legend, a goat herder took notice of the plant when he realized the energizing effect it had on his herd. And the rest was history as the very first arabica coffee plant was found there in the ninth century.
Coffee played an integral role in the development of the Ethiopian economy. Ethiopia’s 1.2 million smallholder farmers contribute over 90% of production, and an estimated 15 million Ethiopians depend on the industry for their living. As the largest coffee producer in Africa, it produced 390,000 metric tons of coffee in 2014.