101 Coffee Guide: Where Do Coffee Beans Come From?

7 min read OCT 20, 2023

Coffee is perhaps the most beloved beverage in the world. And Americans will surely agree. After all, nearly 45% of global coffee consumption comes from the US alone.

Today, the world seems to revolve around this caffeine-packed drink. Most mornings start with a cup of freshly brewed coffee, and pulling all-nighters seems easier. And for that 62% of Americans, going a day without coffee is out of the question.

The bottom line? Coffee has become an indispensable part of daily life. But have you ever stopped and wondered, "Where does coffee actually come from?" "Who founded these magical beans?" "Where does it grow?" or "What is coffee exactly? Is it a plant? Bean? Fruit?"

If you have all these questions and more, just stick around! By the time you reach the end of our 101-coffee guide, you'll have learned everything about coffee, from its origin to how it reaches your cup.

What Exactly Is Coffee?

Everybody knows- coffee is a beverage brewed with boiling water and roasted, ground coffee beans. As for the coffee beans, they are the seeds of the coffee plant, belonging to the botanical genus Coffea.

Coffee beans are the drupe (seed) inside the fruits (a.k.a. coffee cherry) that grow on coffee plants. Technically, coffee beans are not "beans" per se. However, they're called so since they look similar to true beans.

How Was Coffee Discovered?

Let's get this straight; no strong evidence backs the exact origin of coffee. However, most people believe coffee originated in Ethiopia around the 9th century. Hence, Ethiopia is the birthplace of coffee.

As legend holds, a goat herder named Kaldi first discovered coffee. When he noticed his goats become extra energetic after eating the berries of the coffee plant, he tried it himself and was amazed at its stimulating effects. Thus, he brought the beans to a local monastery.

However, the monks claimed that the devil created the effects and threw the beans into the fire. As expected, the beans started to roast in the heat and filled the entire room with its irresistible aroma.

Where Do Coffee Beans Come From?

Coffee beans come from the coffee plant. The coffee plant is a type of bush or shrub that can grow very tall. Hence, farmers usually trim them to around 5ft to make harvesting more manageable.

Region-wise, coffee beans come from the Ethiopian region of Africa. From there, it began to spread to other regions, such as Central and South America and Southeast Asia.

Today, all coffee beans grow relatively close to the equator within the Bean Belt. Regions like Brazil, Colombia, Ethiopia, Vietnam, and Indonesia lead global coffee production. Other top producers of coffee include Honduras, India, Uganda, Mexico, and Guatemala.

Types Of Coffee Plants

There are many varieties of coffee plants. But when we speak of the coffees we drink, there are two main species: Arabica and Robusta.

Arabica beans, associated with the origin story of Ethiopian coffee, grows best in higher elevations and contain less caffeine than Robusta. They're a hit among coffee connoisseurs for their complex and nuanced flavors. Although sweeter and softer than their Robusta counterparts, these beans are more aromatic and vibrant. They have fruity, floral, chocolaty, and nutty tones. Brazil is currently the largest producer of Arabica coffee beans, followed by Colombia, Ethiopia, and Honduras.

Robusta beans, on the other hand, are much lower in acidity and have deeper flavor compounds. Hence, they're a popular blend for espressos, thanks to their rich flavor and ability to produce a delicious crema! Vietnam is the leading producer of Robusta coffee beans, accounting for 42.3% of global production.

Appearance-wise, Arabica beans appear flat and oval, while Robusta beans are more circular.

What About Decaf Coffee Beans?

You'll usually find the decaf option whenever you order coffee beverages at a store. But note this; there's no such thing as decaf coffee beans.

Decaf coffee simply refers to coffee made with regular coffee beans that go through a decaffeination process. The process removes most of the caffeine from the beans before roasting, with the help of water, organic solvents, or carbon dioxide.

Once decaffeinated, the beans are dried, roasted, and finally ground. Do note that decaf coffee still contains traces of caffeine, usually less than 0.3%.

What Do Coffee Beans Grow On?

Coffee beans grow on small evergreen coffee plants or trees. As mentioned earlier, coffee plants can grow very tall, up to 44 feet tall. For the uninitiated, any plant that grows more than 20 feet tall is considered a tree. Hence, a coffee plant starts as a plant, and most growers prune them to about 5 feet. Any coffee plant that grows above 20 feet is considered a coffee tree.

If you've ever bought whole coffee beans, you know how they look: hard, dark brown, and glossy. However, coffee beans start off as a semi-ripe fruit, a.k.a coffee cherry, and appear green in color. Growers harvest the beans once they turn into a ripened red, orange, pink, or yellow color (depending on their variety).

How Are Coffee Plants Grown?

Most coffee-growing countries have distinct dry and rainy reasons. Traditionally, coffee farmers would plant 20 unprocessed coffee seeds during the rainy season. Why? Digging a hole was much easier during the rainy season, so why not? Once planted, about half of the seeds would germinate, and the farmer would pick the healthiest saplings.

Nowadays, coffee is still planted during the rainy season because they need more rain when the fruit is developing, but they germinate indoors first. Some farmers also plant other shade trees, such as orange trees, around the coffee plants to protect them from harsh sunlight, combat drought, and maintain moisture levels.

Once the coffee cherries ripen, the farmers handpick the crops using labor-intensive methods such as "strip-picking," or "selective picking." However, the coffee-picking process has been mechanized in giant coffee-producing countries like Brazil.

Once harvested, the coffee beans go through either one of these processes:

Dry Processing: It involves drying the coffee cherry in the sun and raking them regularly.

Wet Processing: It involves de-pulping the beans with a machine. Then, the beans are put in a water tank for fermentation. The fermentation process removes the remainder of the fruit flesh.

How Do You Get Coffee Beans?

After processing, there's an optional step in coffee production known as coffee hulling. The goal is to remove the naturally occurring parchment skin from the coffee bean.

Next, the beans are graded and sorted according to weight and size. Any defective bean is removed. Then, the milled beans, also known as green coffee, are packaged, loaded onto ships, and exported.

Coffee Bean Tests

Once the coffee beans reach their designated stations, they go through quality and flavor checks. This process is known as cupping, and the person who evaluates the coffee beans is known as a cupper.

First, the cupper evaluates the overall visual quality of the beans before they're roasted, ground, and infused in boiling water. Next, the smell test: the cupper takes a strong whiff of the brewed coffee to judge its aroma and quality. Yes, coffee's aroma is a strong indicator of its quality.

Finally, the taste test: the cupper quickly slurps a spoonful of coffee before spitting it out. Doing so spreads the coffee evenly over the cupper's taste buds.

Once the coffee beans pass the quality and flavor checks, they're roasted in a drum, usually preheated to 240°F. The roasting process turns the green into dark brown, glossy beans that we know as coffee.

Where Do Starbucks Coffee Beans Come From?

Starbucks uses 100% Arabica coffee beans, given their smoother and premium taste. As mentioned on the company's website, Starbucks responsibly sources, roasts, and blends coffee beans from each region within the Coffee Belt. That includes Latin America, Asia/Pacific, and Africa.

Starbucks calls Latin American coffees the foundation of their most beloved blend. They also source more coffee from this region than any other, thanks to its consistent quality and flavor! Starbucks' Latin American coffee tastes delicious, with bursting notes of cocoa, nuts, and soft spice.


Who is the biggest importer of coffee?

Undoubtedly, the US has remained the biggest importer of coffee for years. Here are the numbers for United States' coffee imports for the last three years: $5,676 million in 2020, $6,915 million in 2021, and $9,786 million in 2022.

What are coffee beans made from?

A coffee bean is a seed inside the coffee fruit or cherry that grows on coffee plants.

What are the four types of coffee?

The four types of coffee are Arabica, Robusta, Liberica, and Excelsa. You may have already heard of the first two types, as they're the most widely used types of coffee. As for Liberica and Excelsa, the former tastes smoky, floral, and fruity, while Excelsa beans taste berry-like, popcorn-like, and woody.

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