The Origin of Coffee
WRITTEN BY: Ted Stachura
Why does origin matter when it comes to great coffee? The easy answer is flavor but we would be remiss to overlook the craftspeople and communities around the world that make it so. In the early days of specialty coffee, it was well-accepted that coffees from Ethiopia tended to be floral, while coffees from the Indonesian island of Sumatra lent themselves to an earthy profile. These sweeping generalizations offer only glimpses of a coffees’ story, which is why we do our best to attribute the amazing coffees we offer to the specific growing regions, farms and the producers that make them possible.
The word origin often refers to the country where a coffee is grown, processed and prepared for export. The best-known coffee-producing countries are in Central and South America, Africa, and Asia but lesser-known locales continue to develop their coffee-producing acumen, even in exotic locations such as Southern California. Within a given coffee producing country are smaller growing regions with unique microclimates that can impart distinct flavors upon their crops. Within Guatemala alone you’ll find growing regions at super high-altitude Huehuetenango, cool and rainy Coban, and the comparatively hot and dry Antigua.
There may even be a vast spectrum of growing conditions within growing regions themselves. A farm on the northern slope of a mountain could have significantly different levels of sun exposure compared to another farm on the west side of the same mountain, each resulting in differing flavors. As coffee drinkers deepen their understanding of different origins, a single country or region no longer encapsulates the entirety of a coffee’s essence, hence the popularization of the term single-origin. This term is more specific and typically implies a coffee’s traceability to a specific farm or cooperative. In some cases, it may refer to a specific lot of coffee, processed at one time, perhaps even of the same botanical variety.
The reliance on country-of-origin to explain flavor is helpful but incomplete. Origin countries and the growing regions within them channel their history and customs through their traditions of coffee craft and knowledge. Still, we understand that a given coffee is most powerfully engaged through the senses (taste, aroma, texture) and that it’s our responsibility to give respect to the places and faces which produce it. Knowing the name of the coffee’s origin is a great first step in deciphering the way it will taste but its true story lies in the details that make it so.