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Coffee – A Fascinating Story

This story explores the fascinating world of coffee right up to the time that the liquid is poured into your cup and you smell the aromas of the now ground beans and enjoy the taste and the effect of the caffeine entering your bloodstream.

But first we must explore where coffee began to be used, what types of coffee trees/shrubs there are and how they came about, the varieties that are available, how the cherries from the trees are picked and processed and how the beans are fermented (if they are) and then the all-important roasting process.

All the above processes, with the exception of roasting, belong to the farms where the coffee cherries are grown. After they have been processed and the green beans are dry, they are shipped to their final destination (mostly) where the beans are roasted – one of the most important steps in the long chain, because over-roasting can cause unpalatable bitter flavours to result.

We are going to talk about the farming first and those of you who are also into grapes and wine will find some remarkable similarities between the farming and the subsequent processing of the cherries.

Coffee Farming

Coffee grows as a berry/cherry on bushes that range in size from a metre tall shrub to a tree that is many metres high. In countries such as Ethiopia it is common to find these shrubs/trees in the wild but more often they are cultivated in small plantations.

Coffee essentially grows as a fruit with a seed in the centre surrounded by pulp. The fruit is usually referred to as a cherry.

Coffee cherries
Image of coffee cherries by Stanislaw Szydlo, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

When the cherry is ripe, they are picked and subjected to a process to extract the beans from the centre of the cherry. These processes are known as the washed process and the natural process. There are many variations of these processes with some recent promising ideas taken from winemaking such as fermentation and carbonic maceration.

The following diagram shows the two central beans and the fruit-like pulp that covers the beans. The beans themselves are covered by a layer called the parchment.

Coffee cherry cross section
Picture courtesy Wikimedia and author Filo gèn’

The complexity of the structure of the berry/cherry/fruit and the central bean can be seen in the following schematic. You can see that the berry/cherry has an outer skin which is called the pericarp or exocarp. This is just like the outer skin you may (or may not) take off a peach or apricot before eating it.

The next layer is the mesocarp which is the actual pulp of the fruit which is the most desirable feature of many fruits but not in the case of coffee, although some producers are now drying the fruit to create a drink called cascara.

This is followed by a layer of pectin and then a layer of parchment called the endocarp which covers the bean itself along with the epidermis. In the centre of all this is the bean that must be extracted to expose what we require for our daily fix of coffee.

Coffee cherries cross section view
Coffee cherries cross section view

When the beans are extracted they are “green” beans. This is the state they are in for storage and transport to the final destination. Green beans last quite well provided they are not subjected to massive and irregular changes in temperature or moisture.

When the beans arrive at their destination the next process they undergo is roasting. This is also a complex process which requires both the skills of the roaster and the use of equipment that will not over heat the beans in a negative way. The beans now have a relatively short shelf life before they turn rancid and acquire a stale odour and taste.

Once the beans are roasted they are ready to be turned into the drink that we crave!

Coffee Species

Now we will turn our attention to where the coffee beans come from and how they differ from one another and where to find the best beans.

The botanical genus at the top of the coffee hierarchy is Coffea which comprises about 120 known coffee species although it has been estimated that almost 60% of coffee species left on the planet are in danger of extinction.

An analysis of coffee species is quite complicated because recent research has shown that the coffee plant has approximately 25,000 distinct genes which is greater than the number possessed by humans!

The Coffea species includes, but are not limited to, Arabica (Coffea arabica), Robusta (Coffea canephora), Eugenioides and Liberica species (Coffea liberica is the main coffee species found in the Philippines and a species often used for grafting rootstock), the rest are not often used for coffee production.

Just like grapevines, coffee plants are susceptible to many diseases and a lot of trouble is taken to create new varieties by crossing species with one another so that their susceptibility to disease is reduced.

Species in the Coffea arabica group make the “best” coffee drinks and are most likely to be represented in coffee choices in most countries, with notable exceptions being France and Vietnam where Coffea canephora (widely known as Robusta) is more commonly found. Vietnam, which is a former French colony, is a significant producer of Robusta having been introduced to Vietnam in 1857 during the French colonial occupation.

Robusta occurs in the wild across tropical Africa where there are a number of former French colonies which explains why there is so much of this species of coffee in France.

As Robusta is now considered less than desirable for high quality coffee making due to its innate bitterness and “burnt rubber” aftertaste, it is surprising that it is found so widely in France which prides itself on gastronomic excellence. Perhaps it is related to the fact that Robusta has almost double the caffeine content of Arabica or perhaps it is simply a consequence of the colonial occupation of so many central and western African countries.

However, these lesser species such as Coffea canephora and Coffea liberica do provide for cross-breeding with Coffea Arabica to reduce diseases such as leaf rust in coffee plantations.

We should also mention the chemical composition of Arabica versus Robusta coffees and how they vary in different parts of the world. The most important chemical in coffee is caffeine because that is the hit that everyone is looking for in their coffee.

Well, it just so happens that Robusta coffee has the highest level! Robusta from Vietnam has been assessed by a recent scientific paper (1) as having very high levels of caffeine (74.3 grams per kilogram). However beans from Indonesia had an even higher level (81.7 grams per kilogram) and Uganda and Laos being in between these values at 70.4 grams per kilogram.

In the same paper the values for Arabica from Brazil were much lower (36.2 grams per kilogram) and from Rwanda the figure was even lower (34.1 grams per kilogram). Now, that seems to make Robusta more attractive, however the high values come with a downside in that caffeine is actually bitter so too much of it is not necessarily an advantage.

They also analysed the amount of chlorogenic acid in each of the Robusta and Arabica beans. The average of all of the Robusta beans was 26.42 grams per kilogram of chlorogenic acid whereas the average for the Arabica beans was 15.93 grams per kilogram. Once again, the higher value of the acid in Robusta beans means that the flavour will be harsher than in the Arabica.

Where coffee started – the main varieties

The Coffea arabica shrub is an indigenous plant of current day Ethiopia. There are two main varieties of Coffea arabica, namely Typica and Bourbon. It is believed that all Arabica plants originated in Ethiopia and were transported to other countries from there.

Typica plants taken to Yemen from Ethiopia were transported to India and then on to Indonesia (on the island of Java) and also to conservatories in Europe at the beginning of the 18th Century.

At the same time, some Typica plants were taken to Réunion Island in the Indian Ocean (at the time known as Ile Bourbon after the House of Bourbon in France). These trees mutated on the island into the variety we now know as Bourbon. The following diagram shows the relationship between the main species as currently understood.

About fifty years later these mutated plants were planted across Brazil and also in Rwanda where they thrived. Thus, the two main varieties of Coffea arabica were well established by the mid 18th Century.

Just like different grape varieties, coffee varieties have evolved to suit different aspects of the terroir such as soil composition, altitude, rainfall and many other local factors.

Bourbon seems to grow best at altitudes between 1000 to 2000 metres.

As will be seen in the next section, the main varieties have been influenced by the “terroir” where they have been planted across the world. There has also been a lot of cross breeding, both natural and managed to produced new varieties.

Coffee varieties

There are literally thousands of coffee varieties that have been identified through genetic analysis over the past decades. Many varieties have been crossed with each other (or this has occurred naturally) to develop new strains which might have resistance to diseases such as coffee leaf rust and many others.

The following diagram shows how the various coffee varieties have evolved over the past three hundred years or more.

Coffee hierarchy
Coffee hierarchy of variety derivation

The following list of coffee varieties is one we have compiled from those that we have experienced in our travels.


Acaia is mainly found in Brazil as it is a variety that seems to thrive
there. In our complicated diagram of varieties above this variety can be found
by tracing down from Arabica to Typica and Bourbon and from there to the mutant
Mundo Novo which is, in turn, a parent of Acaia. The beans of Acaia are one of
the largest produced in Brazil, but the quality of the bean is quite high
provided it has been planted in suitable terroir. We first came across this
variety roasted by Style Coffee in Kyoto and imported to Tasmania by the
ever-inquisitive Brian from Somewhere Coffee in Hobart.


This variety appears to have naturally crossed between Yellow Catui and
Obata (see above) to produce a highly productive variety with large beans that
is also rust resistant. It is becoming more and more popular in Brazil. It is a
late ripening variety which means that the cherries develop more complex


Batian was developed in Kenya and is named after one of the peaks of Mount Kenya. It was developed to have a better taste profile than another variety developed in Kenya called Ruiru. It grows on a taller tree than Ruiru and can grow at high altitudes. A downside is that it tends only to fruit every second year.

Blue Mountain

First found in the Blue Mountains of Jamaica but now also grown in Hawaii.
Blue Mountain is a mutation of Typica. It has also been planted in Papua New
Guinea and Rwanda.


Bourbon and Typica are the main sub-varieties of the Coffea Arabica species.
Bourbon was created from Coffea Arabica plants that had been taken to the
island of Île de la Réunion in the Indian Ocean which, at the time, was called
Île Bourbon (named after the House of Bourbon in France). The new variety was
taken to Brazil in the early 19th Century where it quickly spread
across that continent and the Central America. This variety is particularly productive at high altitudes. There are also similar varieties called Bourbon Mayaguez 71 and Bourbon Mayaguez 139 that have been adapted for medium altitudes which flourish in Rwanda and Burundi.


Castillo is widely planted in Columbia. It was recently the subject of a
massive project to replace Caturra shrubs with this variety due to its
resistance to leaf rust. It is gaining traction again due to new natural
processing methods such as carbonic maceration which seems to bring out the
best qualities of this variety.


Catimor is a high yielding variety found mainly in Africa (including Malawi,
Zambia, and Zimbabwe) that is derived from Timor Hybrid (a Robusta variety) and
Caturra (a Bourbon variety). Like its parent Caturra the shrubs are small, but
the beans are reasonably large. This variety is also called Nyika in Malawi.


This variety forms a compact shrub which thrives at higher altitudes. It is
a cultivar resulting from a cross between Mundo Novo and Caturra which dates to
1949. It is very susceptible to coffee leaf rust. A yellow fruit version of this
variety is widely planted in Costa Rica.


Catucai is a cross between Catuai (see above) and Icatu (see below) which has both red and yellow expressions. It is relatively resistant to common diseases such as leaf rust and is highly productive.


Caturra is a natural mutation of the Red Bourbon variety that was first
discovered in Brazil in the late 1910s. The type of mutation results in smaller
plants than Bourbon. It is widely planted in Central America and produces a
coffee bean that is capable of exceptional quality.


Dega is an old Ethiopian coffee variety.  In the local Amharic language the word Dega refers to the areas where this coffee variety thrives, namely places that are cool and at a high altitude. Dega is grown in the West Guji Zone of Ethiopia where some of the best conditions for growing quality beans are found.


Also called Geisha, this tall shrub was first discovered in southern Ethiopia and taken from there to Panama in the early 1950s. The shrubs were possibly derived from the Typica variety and were found near the Gesha mountain.

There are now quite a few “sub-varieties” of the Gesha plant from it being exported to countries throughout the world and therefore growing in different “terroirs”. An example would be the Gesha grown by Ricardo Zelaya of the Santa Clara farm in Guatemala where he grows Gesha olants that he acquired from seeds that were originally from Malawi. 

Prized for the intensity of flavour and ability to flourish at high altitudes. Producers with this coffee variety are able to command the very highest prices for beans that have been carefully processed.


A relatively new variety of coffee developed in Brazil (1993) that is strongly resistant to leaf rust. It is usually a mix of Arabica and Robusta varieties.

JARC 74158

JARC 74158 is a native coffee variety of Ethiopia selected from wild plants found in the area of Western Ethiopia called Illuababora which lies south-west of the capital Addis Ababa in the direction of South Sudan. It is widely grown now in that country due to its resistance to disease and for its high yield and high quality. It is interesting to note that the beans we have seen have been much smaller than most coffee beans. The letters JARC stand for the JIMMA Agricultural Research Centre where the variety was first propagated. We first came across this variety farmed by Cup of Excellence winner Tamiru Tadesse who had processed the beans naturally rather than using the washed method which requires lots of water which is very rare in his area of Ethiopia.


Kona is a coffee region on the west coast of the state of Hawaii’s largest island Hawai’i, which is also known as the Big Island. The main variety grown here and known widely as Kona is based on the Typica species but has its own unique flavour due to the geology and climate of this area. It is a highly regarded coffee that commands high prices. Some Blue Mountain coffee from Jamaica is also grown here.

Kurume (aka Kudhumi)

Kurume is a coffee variety found throughout Ethiopia. Kurume is a landrace variety which produces a smaller bean than many others that thrive in Ethiopia.

Laurina or Bourbon pointu

Laurina is a variation of the Bourbon variety where the beans have mutated
to a pointed shape and also contain lower levels of caffeine. In addition, the
shrub is smaller and tends to grow in a “Christmas tree” shape.

Laurina is found mainly in Brazil where it has mutated from the Bourbon
brought to Brazil from the island of Reunion in the Indian Ocean.


Found in Honduras in the San Juan Intibuca region. Used sometimes in Hobart’s Straight Up Roaster Smooth Criminal Blend. It is a cross between Timor Hybrid and Caturra.


Limani is a very rare variety found in Puerto Rico. It is a cross between Timor Hybrid and Villa Sarchi which means that it inherits genetics from Arabica and Robusta. It is resistant to leaf rust and capable of high yields accompanied by good flavour.


One of the largest beans of all varieties being a natural mutation of the Typica variety. It is sometimes referred to as the “Elephant Bean” due to the size of the bean.

It is named after the town Maragogipe in Bahia, Brazil where it was first discovered in 1870. It forms a tall shrub and is relatively low yielding.


This is an Arabica variety found in the north-west highlands of Ethiopia. It is an interesting variety because studies have shown that it has a lower content of CGA (chlorogenic acid) than other varieties. The lower the CGA content the higher the quality of the beans for coffee making, and particularly for the aroma and flavour of the coffee. Merdacheriko is also more resistant to rust disease than many other varieties. 

Mundo Novo

A natural cross of the Typica and Bourbon species which is widely grown in South America. It is capable of growing into a tall bush, with below average size beans.


The Obata shrub produces a very small bean that is a cross between Timor Hybrid (a Robusta variety) and Villa Sarchi (a Bourbon). It was developed initially in Brazil and has now been introduced to Costa Rica.


This is a cultivar created in El Salvador by crossing Pacas with Maragogype. It is capable of producing beans of exceptional quality given the right conditions, however it is also susceptible to leaf rust. This variety is also genetically unstable and prone to mutate easily.


This is a variant of Typica first discovered in Guatemala. The quality of the beans is very good but the plants are quite susceptible to common diseases. One producer of Pache coffee in Guatemala that we look for is Darwin Fabian who processes his beans naturally to produce a very appealing coffee.  

Red Bourbon

A high-quality coffee bean that comes from a tall shrub. The quality seems related to altitude, with the higher it is grown the higher the quality of the bean – up to a limit of around 1600 metres approximately, although Epiphanie Mukashyaka in Rwanda grows this variety successfully at an altitude between 1800 and 2000 metres in the Kamageri district. There is also a lighter variant known as Pink Bourbon.

Ruiru 11

Ruiru is a compact, high yielding coffee variety that grows on a dwarf tree developed in Kenya. It is relatively resistant to pests. It is named as such because it was developed at the coffee research centre in the town of Ruiru in Kenya.


SL-14 is a variety that is both tolerant of common diseases and also able to grow in areas where the rainfall is low such as Kenya and Uganda. It is both high yielding and grows on bushes that are quite tall. Each of the SL varieties are named after the Scott’s Laboratories.


Developed in Kenya to suit the growing conditions there, especially able to thrive in drought conditions. Susceptible to a range of coffee diseases, however very good cup quality for berries that survive the diseases. Other countries in Africa now grow this variety including Malawi and Uganda.


Developed in Kenya to suit the growing conditions there. Very good cup quality. This variant is susceptible to a disease that attacks the coffee cherries.


Tabi is a coffee variety that has been bred in Colombia (by CENICAFE) to combat the scourge of leaf rust. It was released in 2002. It is an hybrid of Bourbon, Typica and Timor. Timor, which grows abundantly in Indonesia, is in turn, derived from Bourbon and Robusta. Tabi has the benefit of being able to be grown at high altitudes, being densely planted and the beans display very good cup quality derived from the Bourbon and Typica.

Timor Hybrid

Timor Hybrid is a natural cross between Arabica and Robusta that was discovered in Timor in the 1920s. It has been used to cross with other varieties due to its resistance to coffee leaf rust. For example it was used to create the Catimor group of varieties by crossing it with Caturra.


Topazio is a medium sized bean that is a cross between Red Catuaí and Mundo Novo. This is one of the varieties grown by Kleumon Silva Moreira, one of the up and coming producers working near the town of Piata in Bahia in Brazil.


Rasuna is an unusual Sumatran hybrid of Catimor and Typica, which appears to be grown only in Indonesia. It combines the high yield of the Catimor with the longer lifespan of the Typica varietal (Catimor is already widely established in Indonesia but its yields are shown to decrease significantly when the plant reaches 10 years of age.) The trees tend to be small with oblong leaves.


The Udaini variety of coffee bean is identified as a native variety of Yemen and a very special one of four varieties that are the most sought-after from that country.

Villa Sarchi

This variety grows as a small shrub with small sized beans. The shrub is adaptable to high altitudes and, due to its compact structure can thrive in environments with high winds. It is a natural mutation of the Bourbon variety that was discovered in Costa Rica in 1957.


Wolisho is a native variety found in Ethiopia in the Gedeo and surrounding areas. The tree on which the beans thrive produces large fruit. 

Yellow Bourbon

First noticed in the 1930s near the city of Pederneiras in Brazil which is approximately 200 kilometres north-west of Sao Paulo. It is believed to have been derived from Red Bourbon and Yellow Botucatu that were both present in the area.

Yellow Caparao

Caparao is both a region in Brazil and a variety of coffee grown in this region. This variety has been planted by Jhone Milanez Lacerda who is sought after due to the quality of his beans. His farm is in the Serra do Caparo region of Brazil.

Yellow Typica (Yellow Botucatu)

This is a mutation of the Typica shrubs planted in Brazil in the 1720s. The yellow cherries were first noticed near the city of Botucatu in the 1870s hence the name used in that country for this mutation.


How coffee beans are processed

There are two main processing methods with gradations in between. The two key methods are the widely used Washed Process and the lesser used but emerging Natural Process. This section will explore the washed process versus the natural process in coffee processing.

But the most exciting development is the use of processes that are more similar to those used in fermenting grapes. Coffee producers are now using different forms of fermentation to supplement the basic processes and even fermenting with the pulp still attached or using processes taken directly from wine making such as carbonic maceration. There are many small operations that are using various levels of the slightly misnamed “honey” process which has nothing to do with honey.

Natural process

After the cherries have been picked, they are spread out on a flat surface in the sun for 2 to 6 weeks to dry. The fruits are raked and rotated during the drying process during which some natural fermentation of the fruit will occur. Once the seeds (coffee beans) and the pulp that covers the seeds have dried they can be separated (the process is called dry milling) and the green beans are ready for marketing. This is a common process in Ethiopia, for example, where water (that is used in the washed process, see below) is very scarce in some regions.

The advantage of the natural process is that if it is handled skilfully it can result in more complex flavour and aroma than the washed process.

The Honey Process

A variant of the natural process is called pulped natural or honey processing. This sees some or most of the fruit being removed before drying using a machine designed especially for this purpose. What is left is some of the sticky “mucilage” which is high in sugar content and resembles honey – hence the name.

There are four types of honey processing normally used to mainly describe how much of the fruit/mucilage is removed before drying:

  • White honey – sees most of the mucilage removed before drying;
  • Yellow honey – sees slight less mucilage being removed than for white honey;
  • Red honey – sees around half or less of the mucilage removed;
  • Black honey – sees almost none of the mucilage removed.

Of these, the black honey process is the most demanding. Because nearly all the mucilage remains it takes much longer to ferment and much longer to dry out. The fact that there is so much fruit intact means that the cherries take up more space and they must be spread out in thinner layers because if they are buried under too much fruit then mould can occur thus giving the beans an “off” flavour. Care must be taken to turn the cherries regularly to assist with the drying process. During the drying the fruit/mucilage turns a shade of black (hence the name) and imparts complex aromas and flavours to the beans if done well.

Washed process

The washed process is more common in Central and South America where access to water is not as big a problem as it is in some parts of Africa. Here the cherries are washed with water to remove the pulp and expose the beans which are then transferred to drying racks.

There are starting to be some variations to both natural and washed processes and one we have experienced recently is the addition of yeasts to provide for anaerobic fermentation of the cherries. This is being trialled by the Kibingo Washing Station in Burundi, for example where the cherries are picked at some 1900 metres above sea level and then subjected to fermentation using the Oro yeast variety to add acidity and some floral notes to the coffee. We should note that we have the same reservations about this approach as we do with adding foreign yeasts to wine as it does not reflect the terroir of the local environment.

After the cherries have been picked, they are spread out on a flat surface in the sun for 2 to 6 weeks to dry. The fruits are raked and rotated during the drying process. Once the seeds (coffee beans) and the pulp that covers the seeds have dried they can be separated and the green beans are ready for marketing. This is a common process in Ethiopia, for example, where water (that is used in the washed process, see below) is very scarce in some regions.

The Chemistry of Coffee

One of the interesting things about coffee is the complex chemistry of the beans and how the beans should be treated to take advantage of the chemicals that provide health benefits.

One of the most interesting chemicals in coffee is chlorogenic acid which is a naturally occurring chemical compound found in coffee and other plants.

It is an antioxidant and therefore provides health benefits which include providing protection against heart disease and possibly Alzheimer’s disease. However it also contributes to the flavour and aroma of coffee provided the beans are not over-roasted.

Some interesting coffee producers and regions to seek out

There is an increasing number of regions throughout Africa, Central America, South America and Asia that are producing high quality coffee. Here we discuss some of the most important regions and producers and the style of coffee produced.

These are all regions and producers whose coffee we have recently enjoyed. The headings below show the region followed by the country.

Chapada Diamantina – Brazil

Sitio Canaã is the coffee business run by the young (he is only 28 years old) Brazilian producer Kleumon Silva Moreira who owns 10 hectares of land near the village of Piatã in the state of Bahia in the coffee producing region called Chapada Diamantina. Here he has planted a number of different coffee varieties including Obata, Topàzio, Bourbon and Red and Yellow Catuaí.

Kleumon uses a pulped natural method to process the fruit leading to an incredible depth of flavour in the beans.

Pitalito, Huila – Colombia

Pitalito is a village in the South-West region of Colombia where Luz Dary Polo tends her Caturra and Pink Bourbon coffee shrubs that she grows organically. She even produces her own biological fertiliser to ensure that the shrubs remain healthy. The shrubs also benefit from the relatively high altitudes with the area, on the slopes of the Andes, ranging from 1700 to 1850 metres above sea level.

She also allows the beans to undergo two, separate 72 hour anaerobic fermentations to enhance the flavour of the beans. The result, for us, is a beautiful cup when lightly roasted.

Norbey Quimbayo, Huila – Colombia

Norbey’s family own the La Esmeralda farm in the Huila district of southern Colombia which lies at an altitude of 1700 metres above sea level. The soil in this district is very good and perfect for the Tabi bean variety, described above. Norbey has a unique way of processing the beans, combining the washed and natural methods. The cherries are washed to remove the fruit from the beans which are then placed in a tank along with carbon dioxide to allow them to ferment naturally. They are then dried out on raised beds in the sunlight.

Serra do Caparaó – Brazil

Jhone Milanez Lacerda is a young Brazilian coffee grower from Sítio Santa Rita, in the Serra do Caparaó region, who became interested in the effects of fermentation in conjunction with natural processing of coffee. After experimenting with fermentation he became convinced that the temperature of the fermentation was an important factor in achieving a high-quality result in the cup.

His plantation is 1250 metres above sea level, and he grows Red Catuai and Yellow Caparao varieties amongst others. We particularly like the Red Catuai that we source from Straight Up Roasters in Hobart.

Minas Gerais – Brazil

The first time we tried a coffee from Lelena Oliveira, a Brazilian producer we were blown away by the purity and flavour of the coffee we made in our humble French press.

This is a perfect example of how a naturally processed coffee can exhibit advanced flavour profiles along with restraint and elegance.

Lelena’s farm, called Sítio Moinho Grande, is in the state of Minas Gerais, which is only a short distance from Rio de Janeiro.

East Guji – Ethiopia

Guji Uraga Highland Coffee Plantation is a large coffee plantation in the East Guji region of Ethiopia that concentrates on the Red Bourbon variety. The estate consists of over 200 hectares of coffee trees and they also have a large number of nearby smaller holdings that they call on for supply. Their coffee is certified organic.

We first came across their stunning coffee at Deep in Marseille where we enjoyed this naturally processed espresso (see below for more details on Deep).

 Al Hayma – Yemen

Yemen is an interesting country as it has been producing coffee ever since it was probably brought across the Red Sea from Ethiopia. Now, however, war has been raging in this dry country making it even more difficult to grow and distribute the very good coffee that is capable of being produced here, especially in the Al Hayma region which lies north-west of the city of Aden.  It is in this region that the producer Abdullah Rashed Mohammed Al-Jaberi grows the Udaini variety at the significant height of 2,250 metres above sea level.

Acatenango – Guatemala

La Senda is located on the slopes of the Feugo Volcano in Acatenango, Guatemala. Here they produce some excellent experimental batches using very modern processing techniques such as “hydro natural” which involves drying out the coffee cherries for a few days then soaking them in water overnight before they are dried again. From the examples we have tried this seems to produce a deep flavour from the natural drying combined with a cleanness from the water treatment.

They are also experimenting with wine-related processes such as carbonic maceration.

Santa Ana – El Salvador

The Santa Ana region of El Salvador is becoming known as a result of the rich volcanic soil and a group of growers who are tending their coffee shrubs with care and passion. We have noticed that a Geisha (Gesha) variety (originally from Ethiopia) is being served at one of our favourite coffee spots in Tokyo, namely Switch Coffee.

Heredia Province – Costa Rica

Hacienda Colima in the Heredia Province of Costa Rica has been run by the Castro-Kahle family for five generations. It is currently run by Alejo Kahle Castro. The Obata coffee shrubs are grown on the slopes of the Barva Volcano between 1350 and 1500 metres above sea level. The Obata shrubs are somewhat resistant to leaf rust being partly derived from Robusta stock as well as Bourbon (from the varieties Timor Hybrid and Villa Sarchi to be exact). The cherries are processed naturally.

Refisa, Nansebo – Ethiopia

Nansebo in the West Arsi region is a relatively new area for coffee production that is very high at 2065 metres above sea level. Refisa is a village that not only produces coffee beans but also has a washing station where the cherries are supplied by almost 700 small producers from the surrounding area. The coffee cherries are of the Ethiopian Heirloom varieties such as Wolisho, Kurume and many others that are gradually being identified and named. Following washing, an extended fermentation time (72 hours) is implemented before drying for up to two weeks to ensure the correct moisture levels in the beans (just over 10%).

Los Planes – Honduras

Merlin Rosibel Nolasco along with his wife Darlin are the owners of the Darpamer estate which is situated in the southern Los Planes area of Honduras. Here they cultivate two varieties of coffee namely Catuai which is a cross between Typica and Bourbon (in particular Mundo Novo and Caturra) and Lempira

Alajuela Province – Costa Rica

Cumbres del Poás in the Alajuela Province is the organic coffee farm owned by Oscar and Francisca Chacón in Costa Rica. They are widely known for their natural processing of the coffee cherries (the have Caturra, Bourbon, Catuai and Villa Sachi shrubs) including the black honey process which provides coffee beans with extraordinary depth of flavour (see black honey process in this article).

Yigacheffe Hafursa – Ethiopia

Yirgacheffe is an important Ethiopian region for the production of quality coffee. It is one of three Ethiopian regions that are protected by trade mark with Sidamo and Harrar being the other two.

Wierdly, Yirgacheffe is actually a sub-region of Sidamo, but it is identified separately due to the high quality of the beans produced in this region. The region is fairly high, ranging from about 1600 to 2400 metres above sea level. (For Australian readers this is higher than Australia’s highest mountain, Mount Kosciuszko which is 2,228 metres above sea level!)

Mogiana – Brazil

Producer Paulo Izidro Arcanjo has created beautiful beans through natural processing of the Mundo Novo variety in the Mogiana region of Brazil. We sourced the roasted beans from Straight Up roasters in Hobart.

Jinotega – Nicaragua

We are seeing more and more excellent coffee beans emerging from Nicaragua. This one is no exception. It is a naturally processed bean from producer Rolando Castillo Flores who has been operating his Santa Rosa coffee farm since 1991. Originally, he used the washed process but more recently he has been experimenting with honey and natural processing to ensure more complex flavours are delivered through the processed beans.

His farm is near the village of Jinotega at a height of 1700 metres above sea level which leads to slower development of the cherries and hence more flavour in the beans. We have sourced his beans of the Villa Sarchi variety through Pilgrim Coffee in Hobart who, in turn, purchase them from roaster Ona Coffee.

Huehuetenango – Guatemala

We recently tried a very nice Caturra-based coffee from Market Lane in Melbourne from the Rosales family in the Huehuetenango region of Guatemala. The beans were grown at a high altitude of around 1800 metres above sea level and were hand picked and wash processed.

Ana Mustafa – Colombia

Ana comes from a family that has, up till now, been involved in high volume production of coffee beans in the Risaralda region of Colombia which is in the Andes mountains to the west of the capital Bogota. However, she is now aiming for the specialty market and is adopting more complex processing methods on the three family farms which are about 1650 metres above sea level. We have been enjoying her beans which are sometimes served at Somewhere in Hobart which they source via Frukt in Finland.

Narino – Colombia

We quite enjoyed making filter coffee from some beans sourced from Colombia from a producer called Carmen Jansasoy who farms in the Narino region of Colombia which is in the very south straddling the border with Ecuador. The beans were Caturra (which is a mutation from Red Bourbon) that had been grown at a relatively high altitude where the temperature swings from high to low as day changes to night.

Good coffee venues and roasters

The following places are ones that we have enjoyed over the past few years where you can order a coffee that has been made from either single origin beans or carefully selected and blended beans. They are all places where coffee is taken very seriously.

Singapore – Wired Monkey

We have enjoyed our visits to Wired Monkey in Singapore. They certainly have a very good coffee program enhanced by the slick, black espresso machine with a tiny and understated Slayer sign – very impressive! They also have a very unusual tiered seating arrangement which allows more people to be seated in this tiny space.

You can read a more detailed story about Wired Monkey on the Web site.

Singapore – Curious Palette

Curious Palette is both a serious coffee place and a full service café where you can enjoy a substantial breakfast or lunch. They have a good range of single origin coffees (we have seen Costa Rican Don Claudio beans which had been processed naturally as were the Ethiopian Shakiso beans) and the baristas are skilled at their job resulting in our very smooth and enjoyable espressos.

You can read a more detailed story about Curious Palette on the Web site.

Venice – Caffé del Doge

Caffé del Doge can be found not too far from the famous Rialto Bridge and serves a full range of single origin coffees. It has been in operation for many years and is well worth seeking out if you are lucky enough to visit Venice.

You can read a more detailed story about Caffé del Doge on the Web site.

Rome – St Eustache

St Eustache is centrally located in Rome and is the place to head for some very serious coffee. You can even sit at the tables outside in the square to enjoy the sunshine. The crema on their espressos is exceptional.

You can read a more detailed story about St Eustache on the Web site.

Melbourne – Patricia Coffee Brewers

Patricia Coffee Brewers are in charge of their own roasting via the interesting Bureaux Collective (run by Tim Williams and Tim Varney). Order your coffee to go or to drink in-house. We like to stand at the bar in front of the coffee machine and watch the extremely professional baristas carry out their work with calm efficiency.

You can read a more detailed story about Patricia Coffee Brewers on the Web site.

279 Cafe – Melbourne

279 Cafe is a delightful place to sample small dishes of excellent Japanese food. It is not too far along Victoria St from the Victoria Market. However don’t overlook the coffee here. They do an excellent pour over coffee and source beans from Bredda Coffee who roast their beans with a singular passion. We recently tried a coffee made from beans from the Maguta Estate in Kenya that had been naturally processed using the Carbonic Maceration technique. It was delicious!

Geelong and Melbourne – Cartel Coffee Roasters

Cartel Coffee Roasters began life in the regional city of Geelong where they maintain an active presence. They also travel widely to source their beans, even venturing into remote parts of Africa.

You can read a more detailed story about Cartel Coffee Roasters on the Web site.

Marseille – Deep

You can enjoy a cup of excellent coffee at Deep in a street called Glandeves which runs off the north-east corner of the Marseille port and is one of the best places for coffee in France. We thoroughly enjoyed a naturally processed coffee made from indigenous heirloom varieties picked around the village of Hangadhi coordinated by the Guji Highland Coffee Plantation run by Wadessa Yachisa. The coffee shrubs are planted at over 2100 metres above sea level.

They change their coffee beans regularly, but they are always of a very high quality.

You can read a more detailed story about Deep on the Web site.

Paris – Dreamin’ Man

Dreamin’ Man is a tiny venue with only a few tables and stools, but it serves some of the best pour-over coffee and espresso cups in the city. The barista and owner, Yiuchiro Sugiyama, formerly of the famous, highly Instagram-able Boot Cafe attends to the coffee with a precision and professionalism that is unsurpassed in Paris.

You can read a more detailed story about Dreamin’ Man on the Web site.

Paris – l’Arbre à café

L’Arbre à Café in the trendy rue du Nil in Paris was founded by Hippolyte Courty in 2009 and has become one of the best suppliers of quality coffee to restaurants and cafes throughout France. There is also a convenient outlet in the 11th in rue Oberkampf for those who stay in this area to access the plethora of restaurants featuring natural wine.

You can read a more detailed story about l’Arbre à café on the Web site and on their own Web site.

Paris – Ten Belles, Ten Belles Bread

Ten Belles is clearly one of the best coffee houses and breakfast/brunch venues in Paris. The young staff are passionate about the coffee that they serve. The food is simple yet delicious. A great venue and a good vibe.

You can read a more detailed stories about Ten Belles and Ten Belles Bread on the Web site.

Lyon – La Boîte à Café

La Boîte à Café in Lyon in its corner location is a long time favourite. We are drawn here by the excellent coffee and the friendly service. It is a fairly small venue but there a number of outside tables where you can enjoy your coffee if the weather is clement.

As an example of what you might find here, on the last occasion we were here we tried an espresso made from Caturra and Catuai beans from the Costa Rican Palmichal region. The beans had been extracted using the Yellow Honey process. The result was an harmonious blend that had been lightly roasted to produce a satisfying caffeine hit.

You can read a more detailed story about La Boîte à Café on the Web site.

Amsterdam – Friedhats Fuku Cafe

We haven’t been to this cafe, but we often have coffee roasted by the same people. We are lucky to live in Hobart where Brian at Somewhere Coffee Bar (described immediately below) imports the beans that are roasted by Friedhats. They also source some excellent beans from producers who are not afraid to go outside the conventional both in the way the beans are grown and also in the way they are processed. If you ever see a Colombian Gesha from this roaster – go for it! 

Turku, Finland- FRUKT

FRUKT is a roaster of considerable skill based in Finland. We are lucky in Hobart that Brian from Somewhere is very adventurous and is always seeking out new roasters to try and his latest is FRUKT. We have tried two lots of beans from this roaster including a semi-washed castillo variety from Ana Mustafa in Colombia which was excellent. We also thoroughly enjoyed a naturally processed red catuai grown by Gabriel Barreto in the Minas Gerais region of Brazil which was lightly roasted and which brought out all of the positive characteristics of this bean.

Hobart – Somewhere Coffee Bar

This relatively new venue is a mecca for serious coffee lovers. The proprietor, Brian, is serious and fastidious in sourcing the best beans in the world and then making the coffee with assiduous attention to detail. Whether the beans are sourced from Hong Kong, Tokyo, Helsinki or Brisbane, you can be sure that they have been roasted with care and attention and then rested until they are ready to use. We call in here on a regular basis to buy coffee beans (Brian always has some superb naturals available), to enjoy an espresso and then to linger over a pour-over made with care and attention.

Hobart – Pilgrim Coffee

Pilgrim Coffee has slowly and steadily emerged as one of Hobart’s leading places to head to for serious coffee. The proprietor, Will Priestley, is very knowledgeable about all things to do with growing, processing and preparing coffee and each staff member has learned to match his standards.

You can read a more detailed story about Pilgrim Coffee on the Web site.

Hobart – Straight Up

Straight Up roasts their own beans at their facility in suburban Moonah. They have a revolving choice of single origin coffees including the interesting Guatemalan La Esmeralda. Over the period we have been regulars, we have admired their passion and watched as they have constantly managed to develop full flavour in the roasted beans without too the roast being too dark.

You can read a more detailed story about Straight Up on the Web site.

Kyoto and Hong Kong – %Arabica

We were delighted to find %Arabica in Hong Kong in the International Finance Centre on our latest visit to that great city. We had become addicted to their coffee on a visit to Kyoto some months earlier. Kyoto was where they started and they have established a number of branches, in the process becoming insanely popular in that city. %Arabica is now one of the fastest growing coffee franchises in the world!

You can read a more detailed story about %Arabica on the Web site.

Tokyo – Switch Coffee

Switch Coffee has a couple of outlets in Tokyo. We like the fact that they team their coffee operations with natural wine offerings so we can kill two birds with one stone here. They always have an interesting selection of single origin coffees available.

You can read a more detailed story about Switch Coffee on the Web site.

Sydney – Mecca Coffee

We have been adherents of the spacious Alexandria site of Mecca Coffee ever since it opened, both for a hearty breakfast and for their delicious coffee. They have a very strong coffee program here with links to some very good producers. There is also a site in the CBD in the ornate Grace Building.

You can read a more detailed story about Mecca Coffee on the Web site.

Hong Kong – Co:LLAB

Co:LLAB is a roaster not a coffee venue. We often see beans from this fastidious roaster at Somewhere Coffee Bar in Hobart. The beans are expensive but they are certainly worth it as the source product is always the top green beans available from the very best growers.

We recently bought a pack of Gesha beans sourced from Gesha village in Ethiopia that had undergone natural mosto fermentation which borrows from the latest techniques developed in the natural wine world. The beans produced a filter coffee that was beautifully rounded, aromatic, incredibly persistent on the palate and with a lingering sweetness. The integration of these characteristics was a signal that these beans had been treated with care in both the harvesting, the processing and the roasting. We will continue to look for their products!


(1) Jeszka-Skowron, M., Sentkowska, A., Pyrzyńska, K. et al. (2016) Chlorogenic acids, caffeine content and antioxidant properties of green coffee extracts: influence of green coffee bean preparation. Eur Food Res Technol 242, 1403–1409.

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