Coffee is grown around the world, but certain countries dominate the production thanks to their favorable growing climate and geography. These countries all reside within the “coffee bean belt,” which lies between 25 degrees north of the equator and 30 degrees south. Nations within these latitudes share a medium-temperature tropical climate that is ideal for growing the two main commercial varieties of coffee, Arabica, and Robusta.
Along with climate, the best coffee-growing regions have similar topography. Arabica beans, in particular, thrive at high elevations and are often found growing in mountainous regions. The slopes of volcanoes are ideal, as they are blessed with mineral-rich soils and excellent drainage.
So now that we know what all the top growing regions have in common let’s look at what makes each unique.
On the world coffee map, Brazil is the largest coffee producer by far, growing about a third of the planet’s coffee – 70% of which is Arabica. Production occupies over 2 million hectares of land in the country, which sadly has ramifications for the famous Amazon rainforest. It is estimated that 1 square inch of rainforest is destroyed for each cup of coffee consumed.
Related: Best Brazilian Coffee Beans
The Southeast Asian nation of Vietnam is the second-largest grower of coffee in the world, producing 1.9 billion kilos of coffee beans in 2018. However, the vast majority of these (97%) are lower quality Robusta beans, most of which are turned into instant coffee or mixed into blends. A few growers are venturing into high-end Arabica beans, but it remains a fledgling industry.
Colombia is among the best-known coffee-growing countries, thanks to the world-famous Juan Valdez brand name. The best Colombian coffee, some of which are the best coffee beans in the world, comes from the region known as the Coffee Growing Axis. It is blessed with high elevations up to 6,000’, distinct wet and dry seasons, and the rich soils of the Andes foothills.
Related: Top-rated Colombian Coffee Beans
Indonesia is an archipelago made up of over 17,000 islands, which means a lot of variety in coffee growing conditions. Sumatra is Indonesia’s best-known coffee region, thanks to its unique style of processing. Known as wet-hulling, Sumatran coffee must be processed this way due to the region’s humid climate. The resultant coffee has a mild, earthy flavor that makes it very popular in darker roasts and espresso blends.
If you know the history and origins of coffee, you’ll know that Ethiopia is the birthplace of Arabica coffee. There are thousands of varietals of Arabica coffee in Ethiopia, many found nowhere else on Earth. Unfortunately, they are at risk. A 2017 study in the journal Nature Plants found that Ethiopia could lose up to 59 percent of its current coffee-growing areas to climate change by the year 2100 – a devastating loss for the Ethiopian economy and coffee lovers worldwide.
Related: Ethiopian Coffee Beans Guide
Coffee from Honduras might not be as well known as that of its Central American neighbors, but it is, in fact, the largest coffee producer in the region. It produced 6 million bags of coffee in 2021, over 90% of which was Arabica. Honduras is known for having a variety of micro-climates, so each growing region within the country has unique characteristics.
As of 2020, India is the sixth-largest producer and fifth-largest exporter of coffee in the world, providing about 3% of the global supply. Most coffee is grown in the southern regions of Karnataka, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu, of which about 60% is Robusta and 40% is Arabica. Indian coffee is primarily exported to Europe and Asia, with Italy being the leading destination, so it is less well known in North America.
Like Ethiopia, Uganda is a landlocked country in East Africa with a diverse climate, from hot, dry plains to snow-capped mountains. But while Ethiopia is the home of Arabica coffee, Uganda is the birthplace of Robusta. Uganda is a poor nation, so coffee is an important economic driver. In fact, it is the country’s largest export commodity, accounting for 1.5% of the GDP and employing 5 million people.
Related: Guide to Ugandan Coffee
Peru is the 9th largest coffee producer and is well known for its Organic and Fairtrade coffee. It’s particularly notable for its diversity of growing environments. Coffee is grown on small farms throughout the country, which spans from the Pacific Ocean across the Andes Mountains to the Amazon rainforest. As a result, Peruvian coffee has a rich array of different flavor profiles.
As the second-largest producer in Central America, Coffee accounts for nearly 40% of Guatemala’s agricultural exports. It specializes in shade-grown Arabica beans, which have become an important part of the small nation’s economy. Despite a favorable growing environment, Guatemala is a challenging place to grow coffee. It is plagued by natural disasters like hurricanes, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions that can disrupt production for months or years.
Though the 11th largest coffee producer overall, Mexico is the world’s largest provider of Organic coffee. And we are increasingly seeing high-end single-origin beans emerging from the country. However, Mexico’s most famous contribution to coffee culture might be cafe de olla, which translates as “pot coffee.” This hot and spicy beverage pairs dark roast beans with cinnamon, piloncillo sugar, and other flavorful add-ins like orange peel, cloves, and star anise.
Nicaragua is the 12th largest coffee producer in the world, with most farms concentrated in the northern region of the country. Coffee is among Nicaragua’s biggest exports, having grown there commercially since 1850. Its production employs roughly 330,000 people or 15% of the labor force. In recent years, Nicaragua has gained a reputation for high-quality coffee, largely thanks to improved infrastructure and processing. This is an origin poised to be among the world’s best.
13. Ivory Coast
The Ivory Coast isn’t well known as a coffee-growing region, but this West African nation is one of the world’s largest growers of Robusta beans. In the 1980s, it was the biggest coffee producer in Africa, but production has declined in recent years. While the crop remains mostly Robusta, a few farmers are growing the unique Arabusta bean. This hybrid combines the strength of Robusta with the sweetness of Arabica, and advocates hope it will revitalize the nation’s coffee industry.
14. Costa Rica
Costa Rica is known best for its high-quality Arabica coffee beans, and that’s no accident. In a bid to develop a positive reputation among coffee connoisseurs, the government actually enforced a ban on growing Robusta beans for 30 years. The country is also recognized as the birthplace of honey processing. This method uses elements of both natural and washed processing to yield a sweet but clean cup.
As Tanzania’s largest export crop, coffee is an important part of its economy. Nearly 90% of the coffee grown in the country is destined for export, of which about 70% is Arabica, and 30% is Robusta. If you’ve heard of Tanzanian coffee, it’s likely Tanzanian peaberry, which is highly coveted in the US and Japan. It is a flavorful coffee with a bright, fruity, and floral profile similar to the more famous nearby growing regions of Ethiopia and Kenya.
Kenya shares a border with Ethiopia and produces similarly high-quality Arabica beans. They’re known for their darker fruit flavors, often described as winey or jammy. It’s common to find Kenyan coffee beans offered as a single-origin light roast, which allows you to best taste the characteristics of the origin. Interestingly, though it produces some of the world’s most sought-after coffees, most Kenyans still prefer tea to coffee.
17. Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guinea, an island nation just north of Australia, is the 17th largest coffee producer in the world, despite being a challenging place in which to grow coffee. There is a lack of training, processing plants, and even basic infrastructure like roads and electricity, and most coffee is grown independently on small farms. However, recent years have seen the emergence of more specialty coffee from the region, and it holds promise to be among the world’s best.
Laos harvests about 25,000 tons of coffee annually, about two-thirds of which is Robusta. Coffee was brought to Laos by French colonists, where it was established on the Bolaven Plateau, an ideal growing region with a high elevation and rich volcanic soils. Sadly, the Vietnam War hampered production for many years. And though the country is now making a comeback, the Bolaven Plateau remains littered with an unexploded ordinance that makes farming dangerous.
19. El Salvador
Coffee has long been important to the economy of El Salvador, regularly accounting for as much as 50% of export revenues. A period of the civil war brought production to its knees in the late 20th century, but in recent years, the government has taken an active interest in revitalizing the sector. As a result, El Salvador is becoming recognized as a specialty coffee origin – in particular, the much-sought-after Salvadoran Pacamara variety.
Thailand has only recently emerged as one of the top growing regions in the world for specialty coffee. The high-end Arabica beans driving this reputation are mainly grown in the northern highlands, where they boost the economy and support rural development. Interestingly, Thailand is one of few coffee origins to also have a booming domestic coffee scene. Specialty coffee shops abound in the country.
How are coffee beans grown?
Coffee beans are the seeds of the coffee plant, which can be either a shrub or a tree, depending on the variety. They thrive at higher elevations and in temperate climates with well-drained, mineral-rich soils. The coffee beans are obtained by harvesting the coffee cherries and removing the fruity pulp to expose the seed within.
Want to learn more? We have a whole article on where coffee beans come from.
What are the best coffee types?
The best coffee type is the Arabica variety. It is considered to be sweeter and more flavorful than the Robusta variety, which can be bitter and earthy. However, the quality of a coffee is more than just its type. The best coffees are the ones that have been carefully harvested, processed, and roasted to showcase their natural characteristics
Which country drinks the most coffee?
Finland drinks the most coffee per capita, with the average person consuming 26 pounds a year (about 4 cups a day)! Coffee is so popular in Finland that workers are granted two mandatory 10-minute coffee breaks a day. Its popularity is attributed to the fact that Scandinavian countries are cold and dark for large portions of the year.