If you ever buy single origin coffee, either at your local coffee shop or from the grocery store, you might be a little lost when it comes to choosing your coffee based on country. Should you stick with the classic, full-bodied coffee from Colombia? Or should you try the exotically fruity Ethiopian coffee that the barista recommended? Does it even make a difference?
Believe it or not, it does.
Coffee is grown in more than 50 countries around the world. Thanks to regional differences in factors such as altitude, climate, soil, and processing methods, each country produces unique coffees with very distinct characteristics. Some countries produce smooth, chocolatey sweet coffees while others produce bright, intensely fruity coffees. Coffees from one country could have a thick, syrupy mouthfeel while others are so thin that they’re almost tea-like. The possible combinations are endless.
Before you buy your next coffee, use the guide below to find out what coffee from different countries tastes like. Then choose the one that sounds best to you!
If you’re new to coffee tasting, read our guide about how to taste coffee.
Due to their close proximity, North American coffee drinkers are most familiar with the flavors of this region. Above all else, Central American coffees are known for being exceptionally smooth and well balanced. Coffees from this region are slightly sweet and often feature milk chocolate, cocoa, brown sugar, and mild fruity notes with varying levels of acidity. For the purpose of this article, Mexico falls under the Central American coffee category.
Mexico: Mild acidity and light body. Commonly features mild notes of caramel or nutty flavors. Occasionally mildly fruity.
Costa Rica: Well balanced with a medium body. Brown sugar sweetness, stone fruit, floral aroma. Read more about Costa Rican coffee flavor profiles.
Nicaragua: Smooth with a medium body. Flavors of chocolate or citrus. Sweet aroma with notes of cocoa, caramel, or citrus. Flavors can be a bit muddled. Read more about Nicaraguan coffee flavor profiles.
Guatemala: Medium to full-bodied coffee with an intense, rich flavor. Heavy on the chocolate flavors. Can also be lightly fruity with bright, apple-like acidity.
Featuring 2 of the 3 top coffee-producing countries in the world, South America heavily influences coffee palates all over the world. Like Central American coffees, coffee from South America tends to be balanced but they tend to be a bit brighter with a more pronounced sweetness and aroma to them. You’ll commonly experience chocolate, nutty, and caramel flavors. These coffees can also be quite a bit fruitier than their Central American counterparts.
Brazil: What most people think of as the “classic” coffee taste. Flavor (and quality) varies widely in this massive country, but you can generally expect chocolatey, nutty, and slightly fruity coffees with a medium to full body and mellow acidity.
Colombia: Another “classic” coffee with a full body but often a bit more complex than Brazilian coffee. Nutty and fruity aromas with strong caramel and mild fruity flavor. Medium acidity. Learn about the cultural significance of the traditional Cafe Tinto.
See our guide that compares Brazilian and Colombian coffee.
Bolivia: Less common than coffee from Brazil or Colombia. Sweet, delicate, almost desert-like coffee. Often features nutty, cocoa, caramel, honey, and subtle fruit flavors with malty overtones.
Peru: Good light to medium body. Stone fruit and floral flavors with fruity aroma. Medium acidity with a clean finish.
African coffees are quite different than the Latin American coffees most people are used to. In fact, they’re so different that new coffee enthusiasts are often shocked to learn that coffee can taste so different. Coffees from Africa tend to be sweet with vibrant fruity notes, strong floral aromas, and high acidity. Of course, because Africa is a massive continent, coffee can vary wildly from country to country. Still, shared topography, climate, and processing methods provide a general idea of the flavors you can expect.
Ethiopia: Highly unique. Bright with a strong fruity flavor, usually blueberry or strawberry. Fragrant jasmine aroma and a tea-like body. Read more about Ethiopian coffee flavor profiles.
Kenya: Bright, bold, and juicy. Rich full body. Almost winey. Citrus flavors such as grapefruit. Black currant tartness. High acidity and a clean finish.
Rwanda: Rich and sweet with a creamy body. Dynamic. Fruity and floral. Black currant and dark berries. Cane sugar. Aroma has citrus notes such as orange and lemon.
Burundi: Very similar to coffees from Rwanda thanks to their shared border. Clean and sweet. Wild, fruity notes. Sweet berry taste. Hints of citrus and pineapple. Medium body. Bright acidity. Read more about Burundi coffee.
Tanzania: Bright and vibrant. Sweet and fruity with berry notes. Winey acidity. Cedar or tobacco aromas. Learn more about Tanzanian coffee flavor profiles.
Asian coffees can be a bit polarizing in the coffee world. Typically, they’re known for being bold, earthy, and occasionally even smoky. Though many Asian countries such as Vietnam (the world’s second largest coffee producer), The Philippines, and Malaysia grow coffee, your local coffee roaster likely only sources from a select few countries in the region. This is mainly due to varying levels of quality and infrastructure, as well as the fact that the Western world prefers Arabica coffee and many of these countries grow Robusta or other non-arabica varieties.
Sumatra: Though coffee is grown throughout Indonesia in places such as Java and Bali, coffee from the island of Sumatra is what you’re most likely to find in your local coffee shop. These coffees are typically very rich and full-bodied. Earthy and herbal tasting. Complex. Notes of spices and wood. Undertones of dark chocolate and subtle fruits. You’ll most often find this coffee available as a dark roast, though this is starting to change. Learn about Indonesian coffee flavor profiles.
Papua New Guinea: Sweet and highly complex. Clean with a full body. Molasses, herb, and caramel taste. Notes of tropical or dark fruits and chocolate. Crisp acidity.
Different countries really do produce different tasting coffees
While the origin can’t tell everything about your coffee, it’s a pretty good place to start if you want to know what you’re getting.
Next time you stumble upon a coffee that you really like, try to remember what country it came from. Then when you’re ready to try something new, you can use the guide above to venture out and pick a coffee from another country that sounds good to you. You just might find a new favorite.
While North America isn’t a huge coffee-growing region, don’t forget about Hawaii’s renowned Kona Coffee.
Zach is a writer and content marketer, specializing in coffee. His work has also been featured on Sprudge.