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Coffee farming has been around for over 800 years – spanning 5 continents, 4 oceans, and over 50 countries… Here at Atlas Coffee Club we take you on a world tour of coffee – from Tanzania to Colombia. In this post we will give you just a brief glimpse into the world of coffee and some of the countries we source our premium coffee from.


ASIA

Philippines

The Philippines are unique to the coffee trade as the country is extremely fertile, with enough soil varietals to grow 4 different kinds of commercial grade coffee: Arabica, Liberica (of the Barako variety), Excelsa, and Robusta. 85% of the  Robusta coffee grown is of a lower quality and is most often used in instant blends; 5% of Filipino coffee is a higher grade Arabica coffee known as Kapeng Tagalog while Kapeng Barako, a Liberica coffee varietal, makes up 3%. The Spanish, often attributed as Franciscan monks, are responsible for introducing coffee to the region in 1740. Since then, the crop has flourished throughout the country and the industry has been profitable for the Philippines- they are currently ranked #31 in the World’s Top Coffee Producers.  

Quick Sips:

  • The largest coffee plantation in the Philippines is located in the mountainous region of Alcoy.
  • The Excelsa variety grown here is resistant to drought.
  • The country is named after Spanish King, Philip II.
  • 16 new species of animals have been identified in the Philippines in the last 10 years.

Thailand

Thailand is the 23rd biggest coffee producer in the world. Arabica is grown mostly in Northern Thailand while Robusta is grown mainly in the South. Coffee has been in the region for quite a while- it was introduced to the region in the early 1900s- but wasn’t a commercial export until 1976. Thai iced coffee is a popular way to drink coffee in Thailand. It is similar to Vietnamese coffee in that it is a strong, sweet, refreshing version of the drink; Thai iced coffee can be found on many street corners being sold by vendors and on restaurant menus. The coffee industry being on a steady upward trajectory gives people work (many citizens currently live below the poverty line) and puts food on the table. Like so many others, more and more Thai people are depending on the coffee trade in order to survive.

Quick Sips:

  • Thailand is the only Southeast Asian country that was never colonized by the Europeans. Fittingly, Thailand is translated to “Prathet Thai”, which means “Land of the free”.
  • The movie, “The King and I”, was not shown in Thailand because they considered it disrespectful to their King, whom they revere.
  • The head is considered the most important body part. Thai culture forbids anyone to touch another’s head, even a child’s. If you meet someone of higher status, or an elder, it is respectful to lower one’s head in reverence.

Vietnam

Vietnam is the 2nd most significant coffee exporter in the world, bringing in 1,818,811 tons a year! One of the most popular drinks to come out of the region is Vietnamese Coffee, which features delicious strong Vietnamese Robusta coffee dripped slowly (often over ice) and finished off with condensed milk. Coffee is largely grown as an export only, with some locals partaking but most drinking more tea than coffee. The French brought coffee to Vietnam in the 19th Century; by 1950, a commercial processing plant was established, and Vietnam became serious about coffee production. Unfortunately, the Vietnam War left the region’s economy in shambles in 1975 and, after some years of struggling, the country instituted aggressive agricultural reforms. By the 90s, Vietnam’s coffee industry was booming. Today, Vietnam’s coffee production employs over 2 ½ million people with coffee trees grown all over the region.

Quick Sips:

  • Vietnam is home to Son Doong, the largest cave in the world.
  • The Perfume River, an aptly named river that flows down Central Vietnam, got its name due to the scent of the tropical flowers falling from the trees, imbuing the water with their scent during Autumn.

Other Coffee Producing Countries in Asia:

  • China
  • India
  • Laos
  • Timor Leste
  • Yemen


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AFRICA

Liberia

The third most important type of commercially grown coffee bean, Coffea Liberica, comes from the West African country of Liberia. An eastern neighbor to the Ivory Coast, coffee in this country is most often grown for local consumption- it is not ranked in the top 36 coffee producing countries. Liberia is a country trying to recuperate after two civil wars; many people fled the country due to this, so consistent manpower has been a further issue. Both of these issues are factors contributing to the country’s low yield. Many former coffee farms have been abandoned and now foster wild coffee plants (which have actually fared rather well considering).

Quick Sips:

  • The capital city of Liberia is Monrovia, named after U.S. president James Monroe. It is the largest city in the country.
  • Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is not only a Nobel Prize winner and Liberia’s president (a native Liberian herself), but Africa’s first woman President. She is endearingly known as “The Iron Lady”.

Uganda

Uganda comes in at #8, just under Honduras, in the World’s Top Coffee Producers. It is one of the most significant global providers of high quality Robusta coffee- a coffee that is indigenous to the country. There are two types of Robusta bean that are typically grown: Nganda and Erecta. Although a large portion of their market is one type of bean, Ugandan coffee still offers variety because of the way it’s grown. Coffee beans are spread all over the country (most notably the Mount Elgon, Mount Rwenzori, and West Nile regions), experiencing different growing environments which ultimately impacts the overall quality and taste of the final product. Coffee remains vital to the nation’s economy with it being the main export and employing as much as 20% of the population during peak times.

Quick Sips:

  • Ugandan Robusta coffee is grown at relatively high altitudes, with at least two major grow sites on the slopes of mountains (some are as high as ~5,000 feet!), making coffees from here especially appealing to the espresso industry.
  • As high grade as Robusta beans are from this country, they are often used in blends and instant coffee.

Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe’s temperate, lush, and mountainous climate offers the perfect conditions for growing coffee. The African country yielded high quality coffee that was harvested using the dry method (where beans are laid out to dry in the sun) during the 90s; Zimbabwean coffee was a popular export for several cultural hubs such as London, New York, and Japan. Unfortunately, in the year 2000, civil war caused several of the coffee plantation owners to flee, often leaving local workers to fend for themselves. It didn’t help that those taking over the lands were not familiar with how to take care of the crops they inherited; unfortunately, much of the once high quality cash crops went to waste due to disease and lack of care. The country was thrown into extreme poverty for a time. Thankfully, the coffee industry in Zimbabwe is beginning to recover. With proper land rehabilitation and care, the country has immense potential to be one of the World’s Top Coffee Producers again.

Quick Sips:

  • A Dutch charity, SNV Netherlands Development Organization, helps Zimbabwean coffee farmers learn how to better their business skills.
  • In Zimbabwe, it is a common belief that mermaids exist. The creatures are often blamed when unfortunate events occur.
  • Zimbabwe is home to Victoria Falls, the largest waterfall in the world. The noise of the Falls can be heard from 25 miles away!

Other coffee producing countries in Africa:

  • Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast)
  • Malawi
  • Ghana
  • Nigeria
  • Cameroon
  • Madagascar
  • Gabon
  • Angola
  • Sierra Leone
  • Zambia
  • Togo
  • Guinea
  • Central African Republic (CAR)
  • Rwanda
  • Kenya

NORTH AMERICA

United States of America: California

Stemming all the way from the mid 1800s, California has been more focused on importing coffee than actually producing it. The Gold Rush opened up trade routes, creating hubs for Latin American and Asian goods, which often included coffee beans. Today, more California coffee companies are taking advantage of the state’s coastal climate (which is said to mirror Central America’s) and growing their own; California’s central coast is the best area to support growing higher quality beans.

Quick Sips:

  • Death Valley is recognized as the hottest, driest place in the United States.
  • The first movie theater opened in Los Angeles on April 2nd, 1902.
  • If California’s economic size were measured by itself in relation to other countries, it would rank as the 7th largest economy in the world.

Dominican Republic

Coffee was brought to this Caribbean country by the Spanish in the 18th Century. Coffee from the Dominican Republic has low acidity and is usually dark, rich, and full-bodied. The locals drink it black, often with lots of sugar or with boiled milk; if you like adding sugar to your coffee, the dark Arabica bean from this region already boasts a sweeter flavor than other beans, so sweeteners compliment it well. The process for growing and harvesting coffee in the Dominican Republic is unique in that they are able to cultivate their coffee crops year round by planting trees in both the sun and the shade. About 90% of the country’s coffee is Organic and Green as farmers do not use pesticides or fertilizer.

Quick Sip:

  • Coffee is the Dominican national non-alcoholic drink. In fact, refusing a cup of coffee offered to you is considered rude and even unpatriotic

Cuba

Jose Antonio Gelabert is responsible for introducing coffee to Cuba in 1748. But it wasn’t until years later, during the Haitian Revolution, when French colonists introduced Cubans to better coffee cultivation and production practices that the cash crop started to impact the country’s economy. Cuba became the main coffee exporter for Spain, taking over sugar- its once top export-bringing in some big numbers; in the late 1950s, Cuba shipped over 20,000 tons of coffee, which brought $21 million to the country’s economy. Today, while not one of the very top producers, Cuba still ranks #34 on the world producers list. Coffee has become a large part of Cuban culture with the beverage being consumed at least twice a day and with most meals. One of the most common types of coffee served with meals is Café con leche- a coffee usually served hot that is 80% milk, mixed with pinches of both salt and sugar- which is served with Cuban staples like Cuban bread slathered with butter. Café con leche is also commonly served during breakfast and to children.

Quick Sips:

  • The island of Cuba looks like an alligator from an aerial view, so it is often referred to as El Caiman or El Cocodrilowhich translates to “alligator” in Spanish.
  • Fidel Castro is said to have been a huge John Lennon fan, to the point where he had a statue of the late Beatles member erected.
  • Cuban recipes are most often handed down orally by family members and not written down.
  • Cuba is the birthplace of the Bolero, Mambo, and Cha Cha dances.

Other Coffee Producing Countries in North America:

  • United States of America: Hawaii
  • Jamaica
  • Mexico
  • Trinidad and Tobago

SOUTH AMERICA

Bolivia

Bolivia rounds out the World’s Top Coffee Producers list, coming in at #36. In the past, the country has struggled with producing low quality coffee that was only acceptable in blends and instant coffee. The impoverished country has seen its challenges- with issues in infrastructure, technology, and lack of skilled workers that know how to deal with the fragile plant- which has made coffee production a hard uphill battle for the country over the years. Happily, these days Bolivia is making a splash in the specialty coffee industry and becoming more well known as a coffee exporter. Fair Trade initiatives, along with economic support and development projects supported by the government, have helped Bolivian coffee farmers find their footing- giving them much needed support throughout the entire coffee cultivation, harvesting, and exportation processes.

Quick Sips:

  • Crossing guards are known to dress up like zebras to help children across the street and educate drivers and pedestrians on road safety./li>
  • Salar de Uyuni is the largest salt flats in the world, it spans over 6500 miles. In fact, there’s a hotel called the Palace of Salt which was constructed entirely out of salt blocks (including some of its furnishings like beds, tables, and chairs!) made from Salar de Uyuni salt.
  • The National Congress building in La Paz has a clock that runs backward. Why? To inspire citizens to think differently.

Ecuador

Sadly, the rate of deforestation in Ecuador (the country only has 6% of its tropical forests remaining!) along with low yield and quality has made a detrimental impact on Ecuador’s coffee industry. In the few areas still producing, like the Andes region and the coastal Manabí Province, most coffee is grown on small farms and not usually for commercial purposes- Ecuador makes up less than 1% of the world’s coffee production. Even with a low world output, 500,000 Ecuadorian people on average still depend on the local coffee industry for survival; more than a few have had to flee the region in order to make a living they could survive on.

Quick Sips:

  • The Cinchona tree is the national tree of Ecuador. It produces Quinine, which was the first drug used to treat Malaria.
  • Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange, was granted political asylum by Ecuador. He has been there since June 2012.
  • Mount Chimborazo is not only Ecuador’s tallest mountain, but the closest point to the sun on Earth.
  • Charles Darwin largely based his Theory of Evolution on discoveries he made when he visited Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands.

Paraguay

This Central South American region depends largely on agriculture to survive, the bulk of their cash crops is soybeans. The Arabica varietal is mostly grown here and is processed using both wet (where the coffee bean is washed) and dry (where the beans are laid out to dry in the sun) methods. The country has seen its fair share of hardship, economically speaking. They’ve had problems with crop consistency- not producing coffee up to standard- and the landlocked country makes trade harder than that in port towns (like its neighbor Brazil). It further doesn’t help that the land itself is not prime for growing commercial grade coffee- at least not up to today’s standards and demand. Today, Paraguayan coffee is mostly grown for domestic consumption.

Quick Sips:

  • Most Paraguayans have European and Guaraní ancestry. The Guaraní culture is strongly represented through folk art and festivals.
  • Guaraní was designated an official language of Paraguay in the country’s 1992 constitution. It is spoken considerably more than Spanish.
  • “Paraguay” is said to derive from the Guaraní word meaning “river that gives birth to the sea.”
  • Paraguay is one of the world’s largest exporters of hydropower.

Other Coffee Producing Countries in South America:

  • Peru
  • Venezuela

CENTRAL AMERICA

El Salvador

In 1880, coffee surpassed Indigo as El Salvador’s main export. When it was clear that the crop was lucrative and provided great economic opportunity, the wealthy elite wasted no time exercising their power to control it. In 1881-1882, “Liberal Reforms” were enacted which claimed that in order to own land, one must possess a private title to the land; very few farmers had these titles and were forced to vacate their farms. These reforms left nearly half of El Salvador’s population landless and looking for work; as a result, many were forced to work for less and subjected to poor working conditions on plantations. These conditions got better once a new President was elected a little over 10 years later and the coffee industry expanded, surviving (and even making a profit) during the Great Depression. Today, Salvadoran coffee farmers are not without their challenges; however, with the establishment of Fair Trade cooperatives, farmers who belong to these networks are getting better market prices as well as marketing and technical assistance when it comes to coffee production and exportation processes.  

Quick Sips:

  • El Salvador was one of the first countries to introduce new technology to coffee plantations, making them one of the leading innovative producers in the industry.
  • El Salvador is the smallest country in Central America and the only one without a Caribbean coastline. Interestingly enough, it is also the most densely populated country (with a total of ~7 million people) in the Americas.
  • The national dish of El Salvador is called Pupusa. It is a “masa cake” stuffed with anything from pork, cheese, beans, or vegetables.

Honduras

Since 2011, Honduras has been busy becoming Central America’s top coffee producer, the world’s 7th top producer, and the world’s second largest exporter of high quality Arabica. The coffee industry has always been important to this nation; Hondurans are immensely proud of their coffee and its history in their country. Some people consider Honduras’ coffee production to be largely responsible for keeping the nation’s economy afloat when the country was facing political strife and a coup d’état in 2009. Honduras is one of those feel-good stories that you can’t help but cheer on: This was a nation in the midst of civil war, struggling with rapidly rising poverty levels, and due to the hard work and persistence of local coffee producers, they were able to endure. Now, Honduras is a major contender with top coffee producing countries like Brazil and Columbia. The country is divided into 6 coffee growing districts, each region features a different coffee grown for different purposes, and provides the country with ongoing widespread employment (with the ability to employ up to 2 million people!).

Quick Sips:

  • Honduran coffee is most often used in blends and is hard to distinguish on its own to an average consumer.
  • Supposedly, traders introduced coffee to Hondurans in the late 18th century.
  • The Bay Islands are home to the second largest coral reef in the world
  • The Copan Mayan Ruins are widely considered to be one of the most important ancient ruins as completely intact hieroglyphics still remain on its walls

Nicaragua

Nicaragua comes in just shy of the top 10 coffee producers of the world, coming in at #12. Coffee in this region is grown, harvested, and produced economically, with great care given to preserve Nicaragua’s lush forestland. Originally, coffee was planted on Nicaragua’s Pacific coast, but today production hails mostly from 3 Central Nicaraguan regions: the Segovias (which yields light floral coffee with high acidity), Matagalpa, and Jinotega. These regions are prime for growing coffee because of their rich volcanic soil, humid tropical climate, and lush vegetation which imbue coffee plants with more nutrients. Over 45,000 coffee farmers and their families in Nicaragua depend on this caffeinated commodity to survive; these small scale farms, where family members are usually the only workers, are often completely sustainable- with farmers also growing over 50% of the food they eat themselves. This sustainability further gives Nicaraguan coffee farmers an advantage on the markets as growing their own food (like bananas, oranges, and mangos) and chopping trees to sell as firewood also gives farmers and their families more economic opportunities to sell a variety of commodities.

Quick Sips:

  • The BOSAWAS Natural Reserve is the largest land preservation in Central America
  • During harvest, larger commercial plantations will employ hundreds (sometimes thousands!) of coffee pickers, giving work (and often shelter) to landless citizens living in extreme poverty.

Other Coffee Producing Countries in Central America:

  • Panama
  • Costa Rica

 

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