If you’ve ever walked into a specialty coffee café, you know there are a plethora of unique single origin coffees available and, frankly, the staggering number of options can be overwhelming. Our little single origin* cheat sheet is here to cut through the confusion! Starting with regional and then moving on to country differences, we’ll help you cut through the information overload. Once you know the key coffee characteristics of a region and country, the rest is just plot nuances and roast.
African single origin coffee
African coffees are generally bright (higher acidity), winey (dominated by berry tones), smooth, and intense. Africa, largely believed to be the birthplace of coffee, possesses extraordinary coffee growing conditions with its soaring, majestic mountain ranges, consistent equatorial climate, and pristine old growth forests. From crisp and clean to exotic and honey-toned, African coffees have an elegant, assertive complexity bound to bewitch all who love a bright, crisp, powerful brew. Below are the key arabica-producing country coffee characteristics.
Burundi: clean and bright with a moderate mouthfeel, wonderful acidity, and deep chocolate notes beneath hints of exotic fruit and delicate spice.
Congo: brilliantly acidic with an excellent mouthfeel and smooth berry and floral notes.
Ethiopia: bright and delicate with a smooth, honey-like texture and gentle wine and spice notes.
Kenya: extraordinarily intense with a full mouthfeel and base notes of deep red wine, blackberry, and cocoa.
Rwanda: clean and refined with a moderate mouthfeel, good acidity, elegant floral aroma, and sweet berry and chocolate base notes.
Tanzania: bright and balanced with a rich butterscotch-like mouthfeel and vibrant citrus notes over a rich melon / delicate fruit-toned base.
Yemen: rich and chocolatey (think Yemen Mocha) with subtle wine and spice notes.
Zimbabwe: marvelous acidic with good body and a smooth caramel-like base that leads to a sharp, clean rustic close.
Asian single origin coffee
Asian coffees tend to be silky, rich, earthy, spicy, savory, and wild. These beautiful arabica beans are often grown next to exotic fruits and spices that infuse the soil, and thus the coffee seeds, with unique earthy spice tones. Spanning multiple bodies of water and countless, soaring volcanic mountain ranges, Asia’s dramatic climate, volcanic activity, and unadulterated old growth forests provide wonderful growing conditions for coffee. Below are the key arabica-producing country coffee characteristics.
India: rich, dense mouthfeel, low acidity, and an array of sweet and savory spices that create a unique, earthy cup.
Indonesia: untamed and earthy with a rich syrup-like mouthfeel, Indonesian beans, grown in volcanic ash amongst chilis and spices, are unique among coffees for their near-savory upper notes. Here’s a key coffee growing island breakdown:
Java: wonderfully rich and moderately acidic with a heavy body and dark chocolate undertones and spicy chili overtones.
Sulawesi: smooth and earthy with deep, gentle spice and sweet nut tones that give way to a bright finish.
Sumatran: rich with a thick creamy texture, low acidity, and deep almost-bitter chocolate base. The upper notes vary greatly depending on the bean’s origin, ranging from a deep, ripened fruit to a spicy chili.
Papua New Guinea: savory and wonderfully rich with delicate earth and spice tones.
Central American single origin coffee
Central American coffees are generally well-balanced, bright, and clean. Central America has near perfect growing conditions — soaring mountains, rich volcanic soil, old growth forests, and predictable micro-climates. Given this near perfect geography, Centrals consistently rank among the world’s top coffees with their good body, strong aroma, balanced acidity, and delicate array of fruit, berry, citrus, and nut tones. Below are the key arabica-producing country coffee characteristics.
Costa Rica: great mouthfeel with a creamy, chocolaty base overlaid with gentle, subtly sweet notes, such as apricot or honey.
El Salvador: wonderfully bright and smooth with a velvety texture and subtle, nutty sweetness that gives way to a rich, clean citrus close.
Guatemala: clean and well-balanced with a very smooth base, good body, and elegant, gentle sweet notes – typically berry, citrus, and natural vanilla.
Honduras: medium-to-heavy body, moderate-low acidity, and a solid mouthfeel with notes of rich chocolate.
Mexico: balanced mouthfeel with delicate flavor notes and moderate acidity that gives the cup a nice, crisp close.
Nicaragua: well-balanced with a full body and rich berry and chocolate tones.
Panama: moderate acidity with a wonderfully smooth, complex, textured base of rich chocolate and deep berry upper notes.
South American single origin coffee
South American coffees are known for their excellent body, stunning aromatics, and naturally sweet tones. Grown on soaring mountain ranges, in rich volcanic soil, beneath old growth forests, and graced with stabilizing ocean winds, South America produces consistently good coffee in massive quantities. While we do see single origin South Americans (e.g., Colombian Supremo, and Organic Peru), their subtle tones, great texture, and blend-ability inspire roasters to transform them into phenomenal blends. Below are the key arabica-producing country coffee characteristics.
Bolivia: smooth and clean with a moderate mouthfeel, mild acidity, and notes of soft fruit (e.g., peach, plum, nectarine), light sugar, and mild nut.
Brazil: textured and balanced with a light velvet mouthfeel, smooth nut-toned base, and sparkling upper notes of dewy melon and fruit flower with a touch of dark sugar-spice.
Colombia: rich with a caramel-like mouthfeel, moderate acidity, and nut-toned base notes supporting solid, balanced upper notes of sweet chocolate and Chianti wine. Colombian coffees are some of the world’s most aromatic.
Ecuador: velvety mouthful with high acidity and strong base notes of chocolate and caramel. The close is a bright, crisp citrus finish.
Peru: rich, creamy mouthfeel, moderate acidity, and delicate sweet notes elegantly spread over a nutty dark chocolate base.
Venezuela: clean with a light but rich mouthfeel, good acidity, and sweet fruit and sugary citrus notes.
*Single origin indicates that the beans originate from and reflect the characteristics of a single region within a country. The beans that create a single origin coffee may all be from a single crop, farm, and / or grower or from multiple crops, farms, and / or growers.
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