Producing the best coffee beans depends on many aspects along the production chain. First, you need the right combination of soil, climate, altitude, and cultivation methods to yield the best harvest. After that, the right processes go into ensuring the right blend of beans go into making your favorite cup.
The best and most popular coffee beans are Arabica coffees, though there are a few fine Robusta varieties. Some of the world’s best producers of high-quality beans are coffee farms in Kenya, Nicaragua, Hawaii, Jamaica, Yemen, Indonesia, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Guatemala, Colombia, Brazil, and Mexico.
From bean to cup, it takes special processes to bring out the intense flavor and delightful aroma of really good coffee. This guide describes some of the best coffee beans in the world and the special processes it takes to make them such a pleasure to brew with.
Kenyan Kahawa Coffee Beans
Kenyan coffee tastes so unique mostly due to its black currant flavor. Most of the top distinct Kenyan coffee varieties qualify as Strictly High Grown (SHG) and Strictly Hard Bean (SHB) status. This means Kenyan coffee is grown at altitudes from 1,400 meters (4590 feet) to 2,000 meters (6560 feet). The high elevation allows the coffee to develop slower, taking in more nutrients and flavors.
What makes Kenyan coffee so special is:
- It’s grown in the rich volcanic soils of the Great Rift Valley. The coffee grows without the extensive need for fertilizers and pesticides.
- The coffee is handpicked, allowing the farmer to only pick ripe cherries for processing. Other parts of the world use mechanized harvesters which don’t distinguish between ripe, unripe, and overripe cherries. Picking only ripe fruits leads to a more aromatic, tastier brew.
- Kenya grows the unique varieties SL-28 and SL-34 which don’t grow anywhere else in the world.
One of the major distributors of Kenyan high-quality coffee is Kahawa 1893 with stocks available at Trader Joe stores all over the US and at Target outlets. Kahawa means coffee in the Swahili language and 1893 is the year coffee plants were introduced to Kenya from Ethiopia.
Lifeboost Nicaraguan Coffee
Lifeboost Coffee is a brand name renowned for its focus on the health benefits of coffee. All their coffee is of low acidity. Lifeboost coffee beans are single-sourced from the highland farms of Nicaragua. The coffee is grown without pesticides, chemical fertilizers, or other non-natural chemicals.
Lifeboost specialty coffees come in several different roasts, grinds, and flavors. Examples include:
- Midnight Roast Organic Coffee.
- Espresso Organic Coffee
- Biotics Cold Brew Coffee
- Dark Decaf Coffee
- Dark Roast Coffee Pods
- Light Roast Coffee
- Medium Roast Coffee
Lifeboost is grown under the shade of guava trees, enabling the beans to develop a unique sweetness. Nicaraguan coffee has a smooth body with citrusy notes of chocolate and caramel. The cherries are handpicked, leaving behind the unripe cherries which can introduce an astringent taste.
Lifeboost coffee is grown at 1,200 meters (4,000 feet) to 1,750 meters (5,700 feet) altitude. The coffee is tested for mycotoxins and the brand only uses natural flavoring.
Hawaiian Kona Coffee Bean
Kona Coffee is arguably the best quality coffee grown in the US.
Kona coffee’s distinctive high quality is largely due to the temperate weather, mild nights, mineral-rich volcanic soils, and little wind.
Kona coffee comes in several top grades. In descending order, these are:
- Extra fancy
Pure Kona coffee is difficult to come by as most sellers sell blends with only 10% Kona. The other 90% is often Robusta coffee from Brazil, Indonesia, Central America, and some parts of Africa. Look for labels showing 100% Kona Coffee for the purest packs.
Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee
Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee is world renowned for its bright acidity, lack of bitter taste, and its sweet floral notes. It’s a rare varietal grown at elevations ranging from 600 meters to 1,600 meters (2,000 to 5,000 feet).
The coffee is grown in Eastern Jamaica on the slopes of the Blue Mountain in Portland, St. Thomas, and St. Andrew parishes. The crop is grown by only 5 certified coffee estates within that region.
Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee is the only coffee in the world shipped in barrels, not bags. The cultivation and processing are carefully monitored by the Coffee Industry Board of Jamaica.
Mocha Java Coffee – Yemen/Indonesia Blend
Mocha Java is a blend of two beans both with a rich history and somewhat shrouded in controversy. It’s a blend of Yemeni Mocha Coffee and Indonesian Java Coffee. Mocha Java is the world’s oldest coffee blend and the most replicated all over the world.
Yemen Mocha is a wild, full-bodied coffee with a wine-like acidity. It is dry-processed, which produces deep earthy tones and a delicious chocolate finish. Its wild nature delivers some spice tones of cinnamon and cardamom plus raisin fruit notes.
Indonesian Java Coffee is wet-processed and is grown in the Eastern side of the Ijen Volcano complex. Java is Arabica coffee grown at altitudes of between 750 meters and 1,550 meters.
Java produces a nutty aroma with a malty, chocolatey flavor and bright acidity.
Historically around the 15th century, the Yemen port of Mocha was a primary trading port for voyagers enroute to Mecca, Europe, and Southeast Asia. The port was a popular stopover for Indonesian sailors and thus the Mocha Java blend was born.
Some major importers of green coffee, such as the United States, have trade barriers against buying Yemeni products, unroasted coffee included. Political sanctions, trade barriers, conflicts, and long distribution channels make Yemeni Mocha difficult to source or produce. Thus, many outlets globally only serve variants of Mocha Java, not necessarily the true Mocha Java coffee.
Ethiopian Yirgacheffe Coffee
Ethiopia has been described by several historians as the birthplace of coffee from around 850 AD. Among Ethiopia’s choice coffee beans, the Yirgacheffe coffee is one of the most popular globally.
The Ethiopian myth about a herder and his dancing goats. The myth says that in a village in Yirgacheffe, a goat herder noticed increased energy and robustness after his flock munched on coffee beans. He sampled the beans himself, noticed the effects and shared the secret with his family and village.
Soon, people from other villages and from far and wide came to barter for these valued beans and thus began the world’s infatuation with coffee.
Ethiopia is today the world’s 5th largest coffee exporter, producing in excess of 800 million lbs. of coffee annually.
Yirgacheffe coffee beans have notes of grape, lime, cherry, and peach. The beans are bright and pretty and produce light and medium-roast brews with floral notes. They have a fruity citrusy flavor and are part of the heirloom varieties.
Yirgacheffe coffee is grown at altitudes of 1,700 meters to 2,200 meters (5,500 ft to 7200 ft) above sea level. The beans are grown organically and are trade certified.
Tanzania Peaberry Coffee
Peaberry coffee is one of the highest-quality beans in the world. They are difficult to find and unpredictable to grow to perfection. They always require hand harvesting, separate roasting, and careful handling.
Peaberry is a natural mutation where the cherry contains a single bean instead of the usual two. The bean has a pea shape with a ridge in the middle and is more dense than regular beans. Tanzanian peaberries are grown on the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro and Mt. Meru at elevations of between 1,350 meters and 1,800 meters (4,500 and 6,000 feet).
Coffee aficionados consider peaberries superior to regular berries. This is because a single bean contains all the flavor intensity and the round pea shape makes for a more even roast. However, the high quality is most likely the result of the hand-sorting process which is often much more rigorous than sorting regular beans.
Tanzanian peaberry coffee is a medium-bodied coffee with high acidity and an intense brightness. It has a rich chocolatey flavor with fruity notes of blackcurrant, pineapple, and coconut.
Guatemala Coban Coffee
Guatemala is one of the top coffee producers in the world and the 9th largest exporter, growing Arabica coffee almost exclusively. Despite being one of the world’s leading coffee producers, coffee was first brought to Guatemala by Jesuits as a decorative pot plant.
Today, Guatemala is the second top producer of Strictly Hard Bean (SHB) coffee and also among the top producers of organic and specialty coffees.
Coban coffee is probably the highest quality Guatemalan bean beloved all over the world for its rich spice flavor, lively aroma, and medium to full body. It has a dark profile with notes of rich chocolate and dark fruits.
Coban is High-grown coffee cultivated mainly in the north-central regions of the country. Coban coffee is grown at elevations between 1,200 and 1,700 meters (4,000-5,500 feet).
Colombian Eje Cafetero Coffee
Colombia is the third-largest coffee exporter in the world and has a 200-year tradition in international coffee trade. Columbia produces Arabica coffee almost exclusively, with only small pockets of Robusta growers.
Eje Cafetero is not a brand name, rather it’s the name of the Colombian Coffee Cultural Landscape (aka Coffee Zone, Coffee Belt, or Coffee Axis) in the Paisa region. The area comprises four departments, namely Caldas, Qiundio, Risaralda, Tolima, and the north of Valle. The beans from this region are the following varieties of Arabica:
Colombian coffee beans are world renown for their rich aroma. The coffee berries are handpicked, with the pickers only harvesting the fully ripe and leaving out the unripe and overripe. Colombian coffee is divided into three quality categories:
- Supremo – The best quality.
- Extra – Mid-range quality.
- Excelso – Blended coffee.
Brazilian Bourbon Santos Coffee Beans
Brazil has been the leading producer of coffee for more than 150 years. The South American country produces the widest range of both Robusta and Arabica coffees, with regular and peaberry beans produced in many parts of the country.
Of all the Brazilian varietals, Bourbon Santos (from the plant coffee arabica var. bourbon) is one considered one of the top-quality and most popular beans. It is the most traditional Brazilian coffee type and the bean is dried inside the fruit for a better fruity flavor.
Bourbon Santos coffee owes its mild acidity to the lower growing altitudes. The crop is grown at between 600 and 1,200 meters (2,000-4,000 feet) in Sao Paulo and Minas Gerais. Due to the lower elevation, Brazilian coffee isn’t as flavorful or dense as coffee from other top-grower regions. Brazilian coffee is graded into several classifications, in descending order of quality:
- Rio zona
- Strictly soft
Because of their mild flavor, Brazilian coffee can be a favorite for consumers with acidity issues. However, you should take care to buy only freshly roasted beans since roasts that have been long on store shelves may be too mild.
Altura Mexican Coffee Beans
Mexico is an awakening giant when it comes to coffee production. The country is the world’s 8th largest producer of coffee and the number one exporter to the United States.
There are different varieties of Mexican coffee, but the best and most sought after are the Altura beans. Coffee classed as Altura grows at high altitude and takes much longer to ripen.
The reason Mexico is considered a coffee awakening giant is that Mexico used to be a major producer in the 1700s.
In 1973, the government set up the National Institute for Coffee (INMECAFE) which later collapsed and paved the way for cooperatives for coffee farmers. By 2018, Mexico was exporting 2.6 million bags, accounting for 1% of global production.
Compared to other premium coffees from the rest of the world, Altura coffee has a delicate body, tart acidity, and a dry finish. Altura coffee from the Oaxaca region is especially prized and has a chocolatey nutty flavor.
Even though Mexico sells most of its coffee to the US, most of the high grade Altura varietals are sold to the European market.