As you expand your coffee horizons, you naturally want to learn more about the many varieties of coffee beans and the many types of coffee available for your drinking pleasure. Like gourmet food and fine wine, enjoying fine coffee always provides new, unique, and interesting flavor sensations to experience. As you develop and educate your palette, you'll be amazed to discover just how different one coffee tastes from another.
Selecting which coffee beans and coffee varieties are your favorites becomes a matter of preference. But it starts by exploring and tasting the full range of different coffees that are available today. Sampling and comparing the different types of coffee is great fun and will open up a new and satisfying coffee experience for you.
Coffee is grown in over fifty different countries and regions around the world. The type of coffee plant, the specific growing region, the soil and the climate are just a few of the factors that contribute to the distinctive taste and flavor of the coffee. For more details, see our information on coffee regions and coffee cultivation and processing.
The most common method for identifying coffee beans typically starts with the country of origin. Followed by the name of the region or sub-region, the grower, the estate or the plantation within a particular region. For example, take Ethiopian Yirgacheffe coffee. The country of origin is Ethiopia and Yirgacheffe is a town in the Sidamo region, located in the southern central part of the country.
The following are some of the most popular and distinctive coffees from the many different growing regions around the world.
For more detailed explanation about how coffee taste and flavor is expressed and measured, see coffee flavor - the taste characteristics of coffee.
Sumatra Mandheling - some of the finest arabica coffees of great character originate from the Island of Sumatra in Indonesia. Named after the Mandailing people in the north of Sumatra, not actually a region of Sumatra, Mandheling is grown near Pandang, in the West-Central area of Sumatra. Mandheling has a rich, heavy body, subdued acidity, and a unique complex flavor.
Sumatra Lintong - grown in the Lintong region, near Lake Toba in the north central region of Sumatra. Typically a medium bodied coffee, low acid, sweet with a complex and earthy aroma.
Java - one of the most popular Indonesian coffees from the island of Java in Indonesia. A clean, thick, full body coffee, with less of the earthy characteristics than other Indonesians such as Sumatra and Sulawesi. The main growing estates are located in the east area of the island, throughout the Ijen volcanic complex. Djampit and Blawan are the largest estates, followed by Pancoer and Kayumas. The Java coffees provide a smooth complement to the lively and intense Yemen Mocha which together create the very popular and traditional Mocha Java blend.
Yemen Mocha - traded through the major Yemen port of Mocha, a complex coffee, the flavor profile, body and aroma intensify with darker roast levels. Wild, somewhat gamey characteristics, rich chocolate notes with the darker roasts, wine and fruit tones. Yemen Mocha is a big coffee, and is a component of one of the oldest and traditional blends, Mocha Java (Yemen Mocha and Indonesian Java blend).
Ethiopian Harrar - from the Harrar region of Ethiopia (now referred to as the Oromia region), a complex coffee, light spicy tones, with fruity flavor that is sometimes described to resemble a dry red wine.
Ethiopian Yirgacheffe - from the area of Yirgacheffe, a town in the Gedeo Zone of the Southern Nations of Ethiopia. Medium bodied, complex with floral tones, hints of chocolate, nutty, fragrant with citrus notes. One of the very unique coffees among the world's finest.
Ethiopian Sidamo - from the Sidamo province, grown in the highlands of Ethiopia, considered by many as the birthplace of coffee over a thousand years ago, complex and sweet, hints of spice and wine, chocolate tones, with a floral aroma, bright but soft finish.
Kenya - the major coffee growing regions in Kenya are located in the upper elevations of the High Plateaus and include Mt. Kenya, Aberdare Range, Kisii, Nyanza, Bungoma, Nakuru and Kericho. Coffee plants thrive in these higher elevations and the acidic soil creates excellent growing conditions. Kenya rates coffee beans by screen size, with the larger bean sizes considered an indication of higher quality. The Kenyan AA screen size is a bean a little over 1/4 inch in diameter. Although bean size can be one quality factor, it is not always the most relevant metric. It's not uncommon to find Kenyan AB rated beans (slightly smaller bean) that beat the AA beans for flavor and taste in the cup. The Kenyan coffees exhibit intense, bold flavor, full body and nice aroma, citrus tones, with hints of lemon-zest in the finish.
Jamaican Blue Mountain - from the Blue Mountain region of Jamaica. Due to somewhat limited production, with Japan virtually cornering the market in prior years, Jamaican Blue Mountain has gained the reputation today as one of the most premium and expensive coffees available. Popular for it's mild flavor, smooth body and lack of bitterness. The Blue Mountains of Jamaica are located between Kingston to the south and Port Maria to the north. At heights of over 7500 feet, these are some of the highest elevations in the Caribbean.
Hawaiian Kona - along the western side of the big island of Hawaii, Kona coffee farms, plantations and mills are predominantly family owned and operated small businesses. Kona coffee is mild, delicate, and clean, with a nice aftertaste and finish. If you have a preference for intense coffees, Hawaiian Kona will probably seem too simple and light. The traditional Kona Typica varietal grows only at the higher altitudes. This popular island coffee is on the more expensive side.
Sulawesi Toraja - from the island of Sulawesi in Indonesia (previously known as Celebes), Toraja is a mountainous area located in the southern region of the island. Sulawesi coffees have a lower, well-balanced acidity, a rich heavy body, with complex flavors and earthy overtones.
Papua New Guinea - New Guinea lies just north of Australia and is divided into two countries, Papua New Guinea on the east, and Indonesia's Irian Jay province on the west. Coffee cultivation was started in Papua New Guinea in 1937 using imported seeds from Jamaica's famous Blue Mountain region. Coffee from Papua New Guinea has noticeable similarities to old-style Jamaica Blue Mountain as a result of this heritage. Rich volcanic soil and excellent climatic conditions are found around the central highlands of Mt. Hagen. These conditions produce a mild and mellow, full-bodied coffee with moderate acidity and present a satisfying broad flavor with interesting and complex aromatics.
Tanzania Peaberry - harvested along the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, near the Kenyan border, the peaberry is a smaller coffee bean that comes one to a cherry (the coffee fruit) rather than the usual two beans per cherry. The single bean peaberry occurs in less than 5% of any crop, and is generally considered to produce a more concentrated flavor. Tanzania Peaberry is a bright and rich coffee, medium body with a delicate acidity, and some hints of wine.
Brazil Bourbon Santos - historically, these arabica coffee plants were brought to the island of Bourbon (known as the Island of Reunion today). The descendants of these coffee plants are grown in the Southern region of Brazil today, near the port of Santos. Brazilian Santos is a light bodied coffee, with low acidity, a pleasing aroma and a mild, smooth flavor. Growing elevations in Brazil range from 2000 to 4000 feet. These lower altitudes produce coffees low in acidity, exhibiting softer, more subtle characteristics than the bigger and brighter coffees grown at higher elevation above 5000 feet typical of Central America.
Costa Rican Tarrazu - grown in the high mountain volcanic soils of Costa Rica's central valley. Tarrazu is one of the four premium coffee growing districts surrounding he capital city of San Jose. The other noteworthy districts for growing coffee include Tres Rios, Heredia and Alajuela. Costa Rican coffee beans are graded by hardness, determined by the altitude at which they are grown. Coffee grown above 3900 feet are "Strictly Hard Beans" (SHB). Between 3300 and 3900 feet are "Good hard Beans" (GHB) and between 1600 and 3000 feet are "Medium Hard Beans" (MHB). These coffees are balanced, clean, with bright acidity with citrus or berry-like flavors, and hints of chocolate and spice in the finish.
Guatemalan Huehuetenango - from the north highland region, this coffee has distinctive but mild fruit flavors, sweet fragrance, light body, pleasant lingering finish, very clean. The flavors don't jump out, but rather a subtle coffee you can savour.
Colombia Excelso - coffee from Colombia has been heavily and successfully marketed in the United States, creating a perception that any and all Colombian coffee equates to the finest coffee. Somewhat over-marketed, a good Colombian can be well balanced, with nice body and bright acidity. More often, Colombian coffee is more mild, clean but nondescript. The more generic Colombian coffees are rated as Excelso and Supremo which simply refers to the size of the coffee beans, which does not necessarily correlate to better coffee. More noteworthy Colombian coffees will also include the name of the growing region such as Bucaramangas, South Juilas, Cauca, and Narino.
Nicaragua - coffee cultivation was introduced to Nicaragua during the mid-1800s. At one time, Nicaraguan coffee was more popular and sought after than it is today. Nicaraguan coffee trade has been impacted by hurricane devastation as well as the politics and ravages of civil war, and a long interuption during the cold war years when the US prohibited the importing of Nicaraguan coffee. Fortunately, today, Nicaragua appears to be making a comeback. Nicaraguan coffee is wet-processed, with a mild, light acidity, medium body, with hints of vanilla and a nutty bouquet.
Start Exploring different coffees today
The best way to gain an understanding of the world's great coffee varietals is to simply jump in, and start tasting and sampling the many different coffee beans. Remain open to the broadest range of distinctive coffee beans you can experience and you'll find there are always new avenues to explore. As you develop your coffee palette, it only continues to get more interesting and enjoyable.
See our coffee bean recommendations from the finest coffee regions around the world.