Sudden Coffee

The Complete Guide To Coffee Bean Origins: South America

Ever tasted coffee grown on mountain slopes around Machu Picchu? What about coffee grown along ‘the most dangerous road in the world’ near La Paz, Bolivia? For many people, the South American continent is a sort of unexplored frontier, culturally, geographically, and also when it comes to its coffee.

We want to explore South America’s coffee growing countries with you. Not only will it help you learn about a bit about the history of our neighbors to the South, but it’ll also help you choose beans that are better matches for your unique taste preferences.

It’s disclaimer time: coffee flavor can change dramatically from region to region and farm to farm within a single country. When we make generalizations about a country’s coffee flavor, please keep in mind that the typical flavor profile is certainly not the only flavor profile.

Let’s get started with the most well-known coffee producing country on the continent: Colombia.

Colombia

Colombia (not ‘Columbia’) is often considered the hub for quality coffee in the region, growing 12% of the world’s coffee supply (following Brazil and Vietnam). The diverse landscapes and micro-climates generate a large amount of flavor diversity, and, considering that the country grows arabica coffee exclusively, it all tends to be pretty delicious.

Coffee arrived in Colombia in the early 1700’s, though production didn’t really take off commercially until the early 1800’s. Throughout the century, seeds were distributed across the entire country, spurring dramatic growth in the coffee industry.

In 1927, the Federación Nacional de Cafeteros de Colombia launched, signaling a new era in Colombian coffee. The organization planned a marketing campaign that went viral, 1930’s-style. Juan Valdez, the idealized typical farmer, and his donkey, Conchita, became icons of Colombian coffee around the world. The fictional character is still used to market Colombian coffee to this day.

Colombian coffee, since it’s all arabica, often has a medium body, crisp acidity, and a diverse landscape of flavors that encompases citrus fruits to chocolate to nuts and fruit.

Common Flavors:

  • Medium Acidity
  • Medium Body
  • Citrus, Nutty, Fruity Notes

Processing Methods:

  • Washed
  • Natural

Ecuador

Ecuador is one of the smaller countries on the continent and its coffee industry is often forgotten. Compared to its neighbors, Ecuador relies more on oil than coffee for its income, so it's no surprise that annual output is also fairly low. In fact, it’s the only country in Latin America that imports more coffee than it exports.

Part of the reason for the smaller industry is the late arrival of coffee. Seeds weren’t planted for commercial purposes until the mid-1800’s, when oil was already blossoming into a major world commodity. Still, specialty-grade beans from Ecuador are not uncommon and quite delicious.

Many coffees from the high-altitude Andean region of Ecuador feature a bright acidity, lighter body, and fruity and floral notes.

Common Flavors:

  • Bright Acidity
  • Low Body
  • Fruit, Floral Notes

Processing Methods:

  • Washed
  • Natural
  • Honey

Venezuela

Believe it or not, Venezuela used to be an international powerhouse in the coffee world. Like Ecuador, Venezuela received coffee in the mid-1800’s, though, unlike Ecuador, the country’s coffee economy took off rapidly. Before 1900, Venezuela’s coffee production was nearing Colombia’s, and for a couple short years it was the world’s #3 producer.

However, when massive oil reserves were discovered in Venezuela, the appeal of growing coffee disappeared. Farmers of all kinds traded their farms for work in the oil industry and the hope of a better life. For a short time, Venezuela was the richest country in South America, but, due to foreign manipulation and political corruption, the country’s currently in the midst of a low point.

Today, Venezuela produces less than 1% of the world’s coffee. You probably won’t see any specialty-grade coffee from here, since most of the remaining crops are of the robusta species. The few beans that do make it out of the country tend to have a medium body, low acidity, and gentle sweetness.

Common Flavors:

  • Medium Body
  • Low Acidity
  • Gentle Sweetness

Processing Methods:

  • Washed

Peru

Peru received coffee in the mid-1700’s, but the coffee industry didn’t really blossom commercially until around 1900, over a century later. Around this time, colonial British officials seized nearly 2 million acres of land around the Andes. British colonists then used much of the land to grow coffee to meet the growing demand in Europe. This caused an instant boom in the coffee industry, and those farms were eventually turned back over to locals in the late-1920’s.

Peru’s a sort of underdog in the coffee world, but it’s no longer a small producer. In fact, depending on the year, Peru is occasionally the world’s 5th largest producer of arabica coffee.

Coffee quality is generally very high, and the common flavor profile includes a bright acidity, light body, refreshing sweetness, and rich floral aromas.

Common Flavors:

  • Bright Acidity
  • Light Body
  • Sweet And Floral

Processing Methods:

  • Washed


Brazil

Coming in at #1 on the world scale for coffee production is Brazil. The sheer size of the country makes this massive output possible, and it also contributes to a diverse flavor landscape. Due to varying environmental needs across the massive country, Brazil uses four distinct coffee processing methods each season.

Brazil received coffee in the mid-1700’s and didn’t waste a season. By 1830, it was growing an astounding 30% of the world’s coffee supply. And when disease decimated Asia and Africa’s coffee industries in the mid-1800’s, Brazil, for a short time, produced 80% of the world’s coffee.

Brazil is also known for its genetic diversity. Dozens of new and exciting coffee varieties have been discovered or created in the country, putting the local industry on the forefront of coffee genetic research.

When it comes to flavor, the typical Brazilian coffee has a heavy body, low acidity, gentle sweetness, and notes of chocolate and spice—though some of the few higher-altitude coffees have notes of fruit or flowers.

Common Flavors:

  • Low Acidity
  • Heavy Body
  • Gentle Sweetness
  • Chocolate, Spice, Fruit, Flowers

Processing Methods:

  • Washed
  • Natural
  • Honey
  • Pulped-Natural

Bolivia

Boliva’s coffee industry hasn’t seen the boom of its neighbors. This is partly due to a lack of immigration and partly due to the extreme geography of the landlocked country. In fact, despite receiving coffee in the late-1800’s, the country’s coffee industry didn’t see a major uptick until 1990 when US-based aid groups began investing in the local economy.

Bolivia’s coffee is considered to be similar to Colombia’s. It’s grown at high altitudes (4,500+ feet), it features a bright acidity and low body, and it often has incredible floral and fruity notes. However, due to lack of infrastructure, it’s much more difficult for coffee buyers to get their hands on Bolivian coffee compared to Colombian.

Common Flavors:

  • Crisp Acidity
  • Light Body
  • Sweet, Fruity, Floral

Processing Methods:

  • Washed

Honorable Mentions

There are other countries on the South American continent that grow coffee, though their coffee industries are very small at the moment.

  • Paraguay
  • Suriname
  • Guyana
  • Chile

That’s right—Easter Island, Chile has its own coffee industry now. It’s extremely small and produces very little coffee, and it may make more sense to include it in out blog on The Pacific, but it’s still a part of Chile, so we’ll just leave it here.

Giving you a chance to taste and explore specialty-grade coffees from these countries is one of our favorite parts about Sudden. Checkout our current lineup of coffees and try one for free.

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