Coffee beans are the second largest traded commodity with a global reach spanning continents. Yet the coffee plant is only able to grow under specific circumstances. Warm, but not dry, humid but not too rainy, and not at sea level.
That restricts the cultivation of the coffee plant to the so-called Coffee Belt, an area roughly covering the regions of the Earth between the Tropic of Cancer and Capricorn. Only countries near the Equator are capable of offering the right environment for the coffee plant to grow with ease.
Let’s explore what those countries are and how coffee it’s cultivated.
Coffee growing regions in the Americas
A very large part of the Americas is near the Equator, has a tropical or subtropical climate, and is traversed by tall mountains that provide a perfect growing environment for the coffee plant.
From the southernmost parts of Mexico through all of Central America, coffee is grown at various altitudes in the regions where the mountains border with the jungle.
Humidity and the right altitude, along with a rich volcanic soil, make coffee from countries like Honduras, Guatemala, Panama and Mexico renowned.
Caribbeans have a smaller production but of high quality too. Jamaica has world-famous plantations, as well as the french Caribbeans. They lack the high altitudes of the continental countries but the climate is just right for the plant.
South America has been since more than a century the largest coffee producer of the world. Brazil and Colombia dominate for quantity and quality, with countries like Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia catching up with the two coffee giants. The Andes are ideal for coffee cultivation, sitting across the Equator and with enough of altitude’s variations to allow the plant to grow up to 2000-2200m above sea level.
Coffee growing regions in Africa
The continent has seen the birth of coffee cultivation. The coffee plant was naturally growing in the altiplanos of western and southern Ethiopia, and it’s still greatly diffused there. Ethiopia dominates for quality and quantity, with the neighbour Kenya being a close second.
Africa provides the coffee plant with plenty of sunlight and warmness but deserts in the south and the Sahara in the north limit the extension of the Coffee Belt in the continent. Therefore, the coffee production in Africa tends to happen in the Eastern part, where high mountains are, in countries like Kenya, Tanzania, Madagascar, Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda. All these have quality coffee, multiple times awarded for their excellence.
In the centre, the Democratic Republic of Congo is growing in importance as a coffee growing region. Smaller quantities but still great quality of coffee can be found on the western African coast, in countries like Cameroon, Nigeria, Ivory Coast and Angola.
Coffee growing regions in Asia
India and Indonesia have a long history of coffee production. Their coffee is renowned, with plenty of local differences and of excellent quality. Further west, Yemen was the first country to industrially cultivate coffee, half a millennium ago. Nowadays the production is small but of historical importance.
The largest producer in Asia is neither of these 3 countries but it’s Vietnam. Along with all of Southeastern Asia, the country has the right quantity of humidity throughout the year, it’s never cold and possesses enough mountains to allow for a large and of quality coffee production. Myanmar, Thailand and, more recently, China, have also their good share of the coffee growing region in Asia.
Island nations like the Philippines or Papua New Guinea are less known, perhaps, but also grow large amounts of coffee, of year after year increasing quality.