Coffee Regions and the Flavor Profiles They're Synonymous With

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The world wakes up with coffee — whether it’s a jolting espresso in Italy (perhaps with a shot of grappa for a caffè corretto) or a café au lait in France. Over 120 countries produce this robust brew, which is the third-most popular beverage in the world behind water and tea. Coffee comes in first place, however, in the United States, where the average American consumes nearly 90 gallons of it per year. Like wine, the distinct notes from each cup of coffee depend on terroir  — the soil and climate in which the beans are grown. Terroir gives each region a unique coffee flavor profile. Here are some of the most famous coffee regions around the world and what you can expect to taste in your morning brew if you visit.

Ethiopia

Coffea Arabica plantation, coffee beans ripening
Credit: Nawadoln/ Shutterstock

For an enriching coffee experience abroad, make sure you start at the source. As the oldest known producer of coffea arabica (the Arabian coffee plant), the highlands of Ethiopia are where the divine bean earned its popularity. However, the first instances of roasting and brewing were from Sufi shrines in Yemen during the 15th century, where the faithful relied on coffee’s stimulating caffeine to stay alert during long religious rituals. Light in body and only mildly acidic, there are notes of berry, bergamot, and jasmine in Ethiopian coffee. The country is also home to the varietal gesha (also called geisha), one of the rarest and most expensive beans in the world. Now widely produced in Central America, it has won numerous awards and can often cost over $600 a pound.

Kona, Hawaii

Bag of Kona coffee
Credit: Keith Levit/ Shutterstock

Hawaii is the only location in the United States with the right conditions to produce coffee and beans from the Big Island’s Kona coast are the most popular. Kona’s volcanic soil imparts a mild fruitiness to the beans, which are redolent with notes of cedar, fig, hazelnut, and spice. Samuel Ruggins planted the first tree on the island in 1828 and today, over 650 farms produce coffee in the region. The Kona Coffee Cultural Festival is a 10-day extravaganza each fall honoring the heritage of the island’s beloved bean — featuring art, brewing demonstrations, and dance performances.

Colombia

Old farmhouse on hill surrounded by coffee plants near Manizales, Colombia
Credit: DC_Colombia/ iStock

Since the 1950s, the iconic advertising character Juan Valdez and his faithful mule have been symbols for 100% Colombian-grown beans. The flavor profiles vary widely from region to region, but most Colombian beans are extremely smooth with mild and well-balanced notes ranging from chocolate to fruit. As the third-largest coffee producer in the world, Colombia allegedly owes its top crop to Jesuit missionaries who brought the bushes over in the mid-1700s.

Kenya

Freshly picked coffee cherries on a coffee farm in Kenya, Africa
Credit: Bartosz Hadyniak/ iStock

If you’re a fan of high acidity, Kenyan coffee is perfect for you. A warm climate, rich, volcanic soil, and abundant rainfall are key ingredients for growing Kenya’s rich arabica, which is harvested by mostly small farmers. The country even has its own grading system for its wet-processed beans and denotes size, color, shape, and density. Kenyan coffee is said to be richer than the brews of neighboring Ethiopia since it’s bright and citrusy with a bold aftertaste.

Vietnam

Basket of robusta coffee beans
Credit: em faies/ Shutterstock

This southeast Asian country is the second-largest coffee producer in the world, although the majority of the crop is coffea robusta, which is widely used in powdered instant coffees. Robusta beans contain almost twice the caffeine as coffea arabica and the plants are most pest and weather-resistant, can grow at lower altitudes, and produce beans quickly and at higher yields. The flavor is stronger and more bitter and contains a nutty aftertaste. Some varieties are prized for espresso due to their fine crema.

Brazil

Aerial view of green coffee field in Brazil
Credit: Alfribeiro/ iStock

Brazil is the largest producer of coffee on the planet and grows more than 25% of the world’s beans. From Folger’s to your favorite fussy barista’s pour over, Brazilian beans are prized for their chocolatey flavor, low acidity, and smooth, silky brew. If you’re drinking coffee of an unknown origin, it’s probably a bean from Ipanema, a neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

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