When it comes to choices in coffee beans, people often consider the differences to be found in “light” and “dark,” with little-to-no consideration in between. However, nothing could be further from the truth.
See, the depth (or darkness) of the bean depends on the roast; different companies roast beans differently to emphasize different nuances, but those depend on the regions in which they’re grown.
Characteristics of Southeast Asian Beans
Considered the fourth-largest coffee producing country, Indonesian coffee tends to be earthy and, having been grown in volcanic soil, possess low acidity. While beans from the islands of Sumatra, Sulawesi, Java and Bali all fall neatly into this Southeast Asian region of beans, their flavor can vary greatly depending on the altitude at which they’re grown and how they’re processed, not to mention how long, and how dark, they’re roasted.
Characteristics of Central and South American Beans
Though it’s inherently wrong to categorize coffee beans from every Central and South American country into one lump sum, they do typically have a lighter finish to them than Indonesian beans. For example, Mexican, Guatemalan, and Costa Rican beans tend to have a higher acidity, with brighter, livelier characteristics than their Southeast Asian counterparts.
As opposed to smoky, woody, earthy, spicy goodness from the islands, the Americas present varietals with nutty or sometimes cocoa nuances. Often grown at substantially higher elevations, these beans bring with them their own timeless qualities.
Characteristics of East African Beans
Travel to East Africa, and the coffee beans provide more distinctions in aroma and taste. Here, the beans tend to be complex, with bright citrusy and floral notes. Not to be outdone, however, one may also find chocolate and berry undertones.
So, Which Beans are the Best?
The best answer is, as in most instances: That depends.
In any case, the growing regions are, in and of themselves, the offensive line. Where beans are grown has nearly everything to do with how they’ll taste – just like anything naturally grown, one might figure. Soil quality, altitude, climate…they all make a difference in the taste of the coffee beans.
Beyond that, one must consider the processing method and the roast used. Sumatra beans may be smoky and earthy when roasted dark; juicy and spicy when roasted lighter. As previously mentioned, companies will roast beans differently to emphasize a variety of nuances, but the beans’ qualities were there from the start.
So, while that’s an overview of the world’s top coffee-producing regions, it is in no way comprehensive. Beans from each region will still vary greatly from each one another. The processing method can significantly alter them. Then, the roast is the proverbial cherry on top.
All in all, what it really drips down to is that there are infinite varieties of coffee beans, and it’s up to you to keep brewing and tasting to find your own “best” scoop.