The difference between good and bad coffee comes down to a handful of things: how and where the coffee is grown, how the coffee is harvested, and how it’s processed and sorted.

Roasting plays a big part as well – over-roasting is a major culprit in the bitter, burnt taste of most mass-market coffee. But right now let’s focus on what happens at origin: where the story of the coffee begins.

One quick note – by “good coffee” we’re referring specifically to specialty grade. In this sense, “good” is not a matter of individual preference – it’s a set of clearly defined criteria that specify what qualifies as high quality coffee. But also, specialty coffee is incredibly good and delicious 🙂


Location, Location, Location

Location matters more than you might think when it comes to growing high quality coffee. Climate, soil, and altitude all contribute to what’s called the terroir of the coffee – just like with wine, the characteristics and flavors of coffee are a unique product of its environment.

To save money, many coffee companies mass produce coffee at low altitudes (where it’s easier to grow and process). A stretch of flat land is a lot easier and cheaper to navigate than the side of a mountain.

But that’s not ideal for specialty coffee because, again, altitude matters. At higher altitudes, coffee develops in a harsher climate where it takes a longer for the crop to mature. Through this maturation process, the coffee develops more complex sugars and more complex flavors.

In fact, most of the 800+ naturally occurring flavor and aroma compounds that exist in coffee don’t have a chance to develop at lower altitudes, so you’re getting a very narrow sliver of the full coffee experience unless you’re seeking out high altitude specialty grade beans.


Do you like unripe fruit?

The coffee bean, before it becomes the roasted goodness that makes its way to your cup, actually starts as the center of a coffee cherry fruit.

Much like with any fruit you eat, the best coffee is only picked at the peak of ripeness and when done correctly, this harvesting process usually is done by hand over a 3-4 week period to ensure each fruit is ripe at the time of the picking. This is an essential part of the process for producing high quality coffees.

Unfortunately, to cut costs and expedite the harvesting process, mass market coffee companies harvest whole coffee trees in a single day, regardless of ripeness.

After being harvested, specialty coffee is also subject to much stricter regulations on sorting and processing, meaning the number of defects and unripe beans in a given batch is much, much less than in non-specialty coffee.

That also means that sorting and processing specialty coffee requires more time, effort, and care. In turn, specialty coffee growers charge more for their beans, and big coffee companies choose cheaper options.



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Coffee diversity is hard to find

Browsing the coffee available at most stores might lead you to believe that only a handful of countries produce coffee. In fact, about 70% of the world’s coffee comes from the same 5 countries.

That’s pretty staggering, because over 50 countries around the globe grow and export coffee, and thanks to terroir, each country’s coffee can taste wildly different and unique, from blueberry, fig, honey, chocolate, almond, and more.

So why is coffee from most of these countries so hard to find? You might already know the answer. Coffee from the big 4-5 coffee countries is cheaper, because it’s mass produced and grown at lower altitudes (which make for easier terrain to transport the coffee). 

Much of the coffee industry’s diversity comes from coffee grown on small farms high in the world’s mountain ranges, but these coffees are more expensive and require more effort to grow, harvest, find, and buy.

That makes coffee from countries like Malawi, Papua New Guinea, Burundi, Ecuador, and Myanmar nearly impossible to find on the shelves of your local grocery store or coffee shop, because most coffee companies don’t want to pay the premiums required to support high quality coffee production in far-flung, underdeveloped regions.


So get the world of coffee delivered

If you want to discover the vast world of coffee, find a coffee company that does the coffee sourcing work for you. Atlas Coffee Club’s subscription was designed to showcase the world of coffee (not just the 4-5 largest coffee producing countries), giving you access to coffees you can’t find on the shelves.

With 50+ countries producing coffee, we highlight both coffee and culture from a new country each month. And in order to grow the world of specialty grade coffee, we work with farmers that are passionate about quality, paying above fair trade prices so farmers can continue to invest in their production and their communities, and grow high quality coffee year after year. A win, win, win.

Throughout the year, we go to work selecting coffees for you with a meticulous process that identifies high-altitude, specialty-grade single origin coffees that are in peak season, hand-picked at peak ripeness, boast something unique and flavorful, and shine among the rest.

Cupping upwards of 300+ specialty-grade coffees a year, we select only our top 12 favorites for each year to share with subscribers.

After selecting what we find to be the most exciting coffees for both flavor profile, quality, and uniqueness, we move forward with developing different roast profiles for each coffee. Here we work to accentuate what makes each coffee unique and special so the subscriber can discover and brew the best representation of coffee from each country.

Take a world tour of amazing coffee to experience specialty coffee from 50+ countries…