Table of Contents
on May 28, 2023
Coffee is the world’s second most traded commodity (behind crude oil) and around 2 billion cups of coffee are consumed daily worldwide. And if you’re a coffee lover, you’re probably on the lookout for the next best brews.
So where does the best coffee in the world come from? It’s a subjective question and the answer can differ from person to person, but there are some common factors that put certain growing regions in the running for the world’s best coffee.
Finding the best coffee beans comes down to several key factors, such as location, elevation, climate, and soil.
The type of coffee bean also plays a role in picking the best coffee preferences. For example, there are four types of coffee beans -- Arabica, Robusta, Excelsa, and Liberica -- all of which have vastly different flavor profiles.
Geography also plays a role in finding the best coffees -- the type of beans and altitudes they are grown in make a huge difference in flavor. Even within the same type of beans, the flavor can vary based on the growing conditions, such as soil, sun, and precipitation. Additionally, the way in which these beans are harvested and processed is essential to the flavor and ensuring that it stays fresh.
Coffee roasters bring out different flavor notes and various aspects of the brew, which is affected by the type of brew. Light brews bring out floral and fruity notes, along with a bright acidity, and dark roasts highlight notes like chocolate and nuts.
Coffee grinds are important to brewing your favorite cup of coffee: fine grinds are great for espresso while a coarse grind allows you to enjoy cold brews and French press.
Culture influences the way you consume coffee since coffee is enjoyed in unique ways in each country. Whether it’s an Italian espresso, Turkish coffee, or cafezinho, there’s something for everyone. (Want to explore the world of coffee? Here are some ways coffee is enjoyed around the globe.)
Bonus: Ethical and responsibly sourced coffee is something we love, and we encourage our readers to look into it. Fair trade practices lead to fair wages, environmental sustainability, and a delicious cup of coffee.
Finally, the best coffee is really subjective -- for example, many coffee lovers will only drink single-origin coffee as opposed to blends, while others prefer specific flavor notes or roast types. The best coffee is really the coffee that YOU love the most.
The best locations for growing coffee have ideal climate conditions; however, out of the 80 countries that are able to produce coffee, only 50 have the industrial capabilities to do so. Here are some of the countries that produce our favorite, high-quality coffees and what makes them unique.
Ethiopia is the first on our list for a multitude of reasons (such as the variety of delicious coffees), but mainly because it’s believed to be the birthplace of coffee -- and what better place to begin than there?
The story goes that in the 9th century, a goat herder named Kaldi (or Khalid) noticed his goats became more energized after eating the bright red berries on a specific brush -- which were the coffee cherries from the Arabica coffee plant. He then took the berries to a nearby monk who disapproved of them and threw them into the fire, causing a fragrant aroma, and the roasted beans were then retrieved, ground, and added to hot water -- the first cup of coffee in the world. And by the 15th century, coffee was being grown and traded all around the Arabian peninsula.
Ethiopia is also where coffee first took its name -- English took the word coffee from the Dutch word “koffie,” which came from the Turkish word “kahve,” which is borrowed from the Arabic word “qahwa.” The province of Kaffa in southern Ethiopia even took its name from “qahwa.”
The influence of coffee in Ethiopia still persists today. Even today, the largest chain of coffee shops is called Kaldi’s, and many roasters around the world name their business after Kaldi.
Ethiopian coffee ceremonies are an important social aspect with family and friends and often occurs after meals. It involves roasting green coffee beans, which are ground, brewed in a clay coffee pot called a jebena. It’s then poured from high into small cups called sini and enjoyed in three ceremonial rounds.
Some of Ethiopia’s best coffee -- the Harrar variety -- is grown in the Eastern highlands in small farms, and depending on the growing conditions, the flavors can vary from wine-like and astringent, to spicy or fruity.
The Sidamo region in the central highlands produces Arabica coffee plants that have complex flavor profiles since they mature slowly (thanks to the high elevation). The Yirgacheffe coffee is grown at the highest elevation and is a rich and smooth brew with a berry and chocolatey flavor.
After Ethiopia’s discovery of coffee, Yemen helped shine a spotlight on it due to a governor in the Ottoman Empire who was stationed there in the 16th century introducing the local coffee to Suleiman the Magnificent -- who loved it. The popularity of this new drink traveled all the way to the Ottoman Empire and made its way through Europe.
Yemen has specialty coffees such as Udaini, which has chocolate, floral, and spicy notes or Qishr, a sweet ginger coffee drink made with the husk of the coffee bean and served in a small cup.
Arabian Mocha is a world-famous coffee that has been grown and traded in the Arabian Peninsula. These beans were grown in the Yemen area in the 15th century and eventually spread to Persia, Egypt, Syria, and Turkey by the 16th century. It has a rich chocolatey and slight wine flavor.
However, in spite of the high demand, due to the low production of beans and the slower growth rate, beans from Yemen are rarely exported and tend to be pricier than other kinds of beans.
Coffee was initially brought to Kenya in 1893 by missionaries when they imported Bourbon coffee from Brazil. At the time, Kenya (then called East Africa Protectorate) was under British rule, but since that has ended, coffee farmers in Kenya work in better conditions and coffee cultivation has thrived.
Kenya’s coffee growing regions are plentiful. They are mostly located in the high plateau between Mt. Kenya and Nairobi, and other regions are in the Aberdare mountain foothills (such as Murang’a, Nyeri, Thika) -- many of these regions produce complex Arabica beans. Nyeri produces a bean called Twiga AA, which has rich, sweet, and juicy citrus and chocolate flavor notes.
Other types of beans are Arabica varieties of French Mission Bourbon, such as SL28 and African K7.
Other coffees, such as Peaberry coffee, which is a complex full-bodied and acidic with a winy flavor of black currants, and Kenya AA beans, which have a light body and floral taste with notes of fruit, berries, and wine. Kenya AA, which is grown at altitudes of 1700 to 1900 meters, qualifies for Strictly High Grown (SHG) -- also known as Strictly Hard Bean (SHB) -- which is specialty coffee grown at an altitude of 1200 meters (4000 feet) or above, resulting in coffee beans that have a higher density and mature slower.
Coffee was introduced to Indonesia in the 1600 through Dutch traders and colonists who introduced seeds from Yemen (most likely by snuggling them out). They noticed that the climate and high elevation on Java would be ideal for coffee production so they had coffee plantations built.
Java was the first island to grow coffee (pure bourbon seeds) and began commercially exporting Arabica beans by the early 1700s.
Indonesia grows both Arabica and Robusta coffee beans. Their most popular Arabica coffee beans are grown on several islands:
*Sulawesi, which produces the variety Toraja
*Bali, specifically in the region of Kintamani
Sumatran coffees typically have a smooth, rich, and earthy flavor profile (with notes of cocoa, cedar, and tobacco), full body, and low acidity. Some well-known varieties include Sumatra Mandheling (grown in the Aceh region in the north), which is smooth, fruity, earthy, and a full body; Gayo coffee, also from the Aceh region near the shores of Lake Tawar, which is sweet, clean, and has low acidity; Sumatra Lintong, grown west of Lake Toba, which has a full body, low acidity, and spicy, herbal, and chocolate flavor notes.
Sumatra produces unique coffee due to its specific processing method -- called “giling basah” -- when coffee is wet-hulled. However, there is another method of coffee processing called Kopi luwak coffee (also referred to as civet coffee). This type of coffee is made from partially digested coffee cherries that have passed through the digestive tract of a small mammal called an Asiana palm civet. It’s one of the rarest, most expensive, and controversial coffees in the world, due to the fact that civets are frequently held captive for the purpose of creating this coffee.
Costa Rica is a nation known for growing top-quality coffee. In fact, all coffee beans grown in Costa Rica are Arabica beans, which are considered to be the best. It’s actually illegal to grow any other type of bean due to a law passed in 1989 that prohibits low-quality beans.
Arabica beans thrive in high altitudes and mild temperatures, which is perfect for the mountainous regions and volcanic soil, and Costa Rica even has the perfect weather for growing coffee. Many of these beans have a smooth and rich walnut flavor.
Regions such as the Central Valley region, which has a good amount of sunshine and rainy weather, has ideal conditions for Arabica beans to grow. The Doka Estate (which is in this region) is well-known for producing some of Costa Rica’s top coffee.
The Cartago region produces catuai (a smooth, sweet, and mild-to-medium-bodied coffee with notes of chocolate, honey almond, cardamom, nutmeg, and other spices) and caturra coffee (a natural hybrid of Bourbon that is smooth, balanced, and has cherry notes).
The Tres Rios region produces a Peaberry coffee that is bright and citrusy.
The well-known Tarrazu coffee is grown in a region south of San Jose in lands up the Pirris River basin, and due to the high elevation, it grows gourmet coffee that receives an SHG designation. These coffees are sweet with a heavy body and flavor notes of milk chocolate and sweet cream.
Most coffee in Costa Rica is grown by independent coffee farmers on small coffee plantations with a large variety of flavor profiles, and much of it is wet-processed.
Some unique initiatives in Costa Rica include a certification for Bird Friendly coffees, which means that farms have taller trees that allow birds to nest. These farms also create shade that allows the slower growth of coffee and allows it to develop in complexity. It’s good for biodiversity, birds, and coffee drinkers!
Other Costa Rican certification include organic coffee, fair trade coffee, and rain forest coffee.
Guatemala is another major coffee-producing country in Central America and its coffees come in a wide variety due to the many different coffee-growing regions that allow these beans to grow with their own distinctive flavor. Because these coffees grow in mountainous regions, it typically develops a complex flavor profile.
The Huehuetenango region has a high altitude of 1500 to 1800 meters, which results in beans that are complex, fruity, bright, and acidic. Some of the coffees grown here also have a cherry aroma and smooth body with milk chocolate flavor notes.
The region around Lake Atitlán has volcanic soil that is excellent for growing beans that have nutty and chocolatey flavor notes.
Coffees from Antigua are also grown in volcanic soil and have similar flavor notes of chocolate, along with a fruity note. These tend to be sweet and full-bodied, although there are varieties that are light, bright, and acidic, and others that are strong with a sophisticated and heavy taste with a smoky aroma.
Cobán coffees from the Guatemalan rainforest are rich, spicy, and have floral and wine flavor notes.
The Fraijanes Plateau has high altitudes of 1200 to 1500 and volcanic soil that produces coffees with a full body and bright acidity.
Volcán San Marcos enjoys adequate rainfall and warmer temperatures, which produces coffees with lively acidity.
Coffee was first introduced to Brazil in 1727, when coffee seedlings were brought to Para (in northern Brazil ) from French Guiana. The first coffee tree was planted by Francisco de Melo Palheta, and coffee eventually spread south and reached Rio de Janeiro by 1770.
Brazil is the world’s largest coffee producer -- growing one third of the world’s coffee -- and you can find some of the world’s best coffee here. After all, it’s covered by 10,000+ square miles of coffee plantations, though most of them are in the southeastern state, which has the best consistent conditions to grow coffee.
Most of Brazil’s coffee is not grown at high altitudes like many other coffee-producing nations, since Brazil has sprawling rainforests, but it has plenty of excellent coffee-growing regions and produces a variety of coffee: single-origin coffee, blends, instant coffee, espresso blends, and both Arabica and Robusta beans.
Coffee from Brazil typically has low acidity and a mild, balanced flavor profile that is ideal for blending -- very often a dark roast being used in an espresso blend. Many of its coffees are also great for roasting, such as Bourbon Santos and Brazil Cerrado.
The region of northern Minas Gerais grows some fine coffee, including the aforementioned Bourbon Santos. Bourbon Santos has a medium body, low acidity, and a sweet and nutty flavor.
In the southern area of Minas Gerais, another notable Brazilian coffee called Carmo de Minas is grown. This balanced blend is characterized by flavor notes of dark chocolate, honey, and almond butter.
Coffee from Mantiqueira de Minas is considered some of the best coffee in Brazil, and has a rich aroma and notes of chocolate, coconut, and nuts.
Coffee was first introduced to Colombia in the 18th century when Jesuit priests brought it into the country. The first coffee beans were harvested in the northeastern part of Colombia and by 1835, the first bags of coffee were exported. Today, coffee harvesting is widespread across the country and it supplies 15% of the world’s coffee.
Colombia produces some of the best known coffee beans, partially due to the National Federation of Coffee Growers (Federación Nacional de Cafeteros de Colombia) promoting the coffee industry. However, it can back up this marketing with its excellent beans.
Like Costa Rica, all the coffee beans grown are Arabica and most of the coffee produced in Colombia is grown on small farms by independent coffee farmers.
Coffee growing conditions in Colombia are perfect: high altitudes, volcanic soil, and very often shade grown, which gives it time to develop complexity. It’s grown in the highlands of the Sierra Nevada and on the Andes Mountains. It’s also frequently harvested by hand due to the rugged terrain and the coffee cherries are picked at peak ripeness.
The Andean region coffee beans grown at high altitudes (1,650 meters) typically have a sweet and fruity acidity with rich, toasty aromas.
Colombia produces different qualities of coffee, such as Supremo, Extra, and Excelso. Supremo is known as the best type of Colombian coffee -- and difficult to find. It’s grown in the Andes and has a smooth and rich finish, nutty notes, and a medium to full body.
Extra grade is also a great coffee, even if it’s not as highly rated as Supremo. These beans are slightly smaller than Supremo beans and have a strong flavor.
Excelso is a blend of Supremo and Extra grade, and has an acidic flavor and a wine-like aftertaste.
Jamaican coffee is considered to be some of the best coffee in the world and it’s a rare and expensive grade of coffee -- because Jamaican coffee exports are highly regulated, a 16-ounce bag can cost around $60.
Most Jamaican coffee has a smooth, mellow flavor with a rum-like aroma. The Blue Mountain coffee -- grown at altitudes of 2,000 to 5,000 feet in the east of Jamaica in Portland, St. Andrew, and St. Thomas -- is a rare variant of Jamaican coffee that is smooth, sweet, and mild with a balanced flavor and medium acidity. This particular luxury coffee is difficult to find since it is only grown on five certified estates.