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Journey of a Coffee Bean: The History and Background of Coffee

Pouring Coffee with Coffee Beans on the table

If you’re anything like us, there’s nothing quite like that satisfying first sip of coffee in the morning that fires up the groggy neurons. They’re the signal that help is on the way! But how exactly did this delicious satisfaction get to you?

By the time that cup touches your lips, the little coffee bean has already gone through quite an ordeal to get to you. Bloomed, harvested, fermented, dried, depulped. And all that before its long journey halfway across the world!

So let’s jump into where they start their adventure.

Where Does Our Coffee Come From?

Where Does Our Coffee Come From?

Nearly all coffee comes from the Coffee Belt (or Bean Belt), the band of the world approximately bordering the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. The consistently warm climate and high humidity characteristic of the tropics create the ideal conditions for the coffee plant to flourish. 

The Coffee-Producing Regions

The three primary coffee-producing regions are Central and South America, Africa, and Southeast Asia. Other minor regions include parts of the Middle East, Pacific Islands, and Oceania.


  • Colombia
  • Guatemala
  • Brazil
  • Peru
  • El Salvador
  • Costa Rica
  • Honduras


  • Ethiopia
  • Kenya
  • Nigeria
  • Uganda

Southeast Asia

  • Indonesia (Sumatra, Java)
  • Papua New Guinea
  • Vietnam
  • Laos
  • Thailand
  • Southern China

The different regions and countries all produce different taste profiles based upon different climates and practices. Below we have highlighted the top three largest coffee producers and some quick facts!


Most of the coffee in the world comes from Brazil, which is the world’s leading coffee producer – it makes up almost half of the world’s supply of this liquid gold (via Statista).

Both Arabica and Robusta beans are produced. The country’s large coffee plantations have the advantage of experiencing a coffee-friendly climate so that both types of coffee plants thrive in them.

These include moderate temperature, rich soil, heavy rain, and shaded growing conditions. Coffee from Brazil tends to taste smooth, with sweet flavors, and it’s got low acidity. Nutty and chocolatey flavors are common.


Vietnam is the second largest coffee nation, owning 20 percent of the world’s supply. Some large companies, such as Nestle, even have processing plants in the country. The coffee industry in the country is responsible for the employment of approximately 2.6 million people (via BBC).

It’s common for Robusta beans to be grown in Vietnam. The use of Robusta beans makes coffee from this country have more acidity and a thicker taste.


Colombia is also known for its excellent coffee. Despite dealing with a coffee plant disease known as coffee rust in 2008 that decreased the country’s production, it has now been on the up and up.

Colombia is known for owning almost 10 percent of the coffee production in the world, as Statista reports.

The classic taste of Colombian coffee is mellow in its acidity with strong caramel or nutty flavors.

Single origin vs. blends

Single origin is, well, from one source. However it can refer to country, region, or farm of origin, though typically it’s on the farm level. Single origins tend to be more expensive compared to blends as it’s easier to discern the characteristics of a bean. A blend hides the individual components. 

It’s not that single origin is necessarily better than the blends. Blends can be quite good as well and can balance out extremities of a single bean, such as combining citrusy and earthy elements.

The Taste Pattern along the COFFEE BELT 

There is a very generalized spectrum of taste that runs along the Coffee Belt, starting from Central and South American heading East. American beans tend to be more bright and citrusy, African beans fruity and floral, Southeast Asian beans nutty and chocolatey.

Again, it is a very generalized pattern and not a hard and fast rule. You could just as well find sweet, fruit flavors in Southeast Asia and mellow, earthy tones in Central America.

The Humble Coffee Plant

What is A Coffee Bean?

You may already know that the coffee bean is not a bean at all, but actually a cherry-like fruit. The coffee plant buds out a flower, which becomes the coffee fruit. The part we refer to as the bean is actually the pit of the fruit. That’s where that deliciousness comes from. There is a film of parchment skin (sometimes known as silver skin) that surrounds the pit.

The influence of taste begins at the coffee plant coming from factors like climate, humidity exposure to sun, drought conditions, altitude, and soil composition. These conditions change from year to year, so the same farm may produce a different tasting bean from the same coffee plant.

What’s the difference between Arabica vs. Robusta Coffee?

There are two major varieties of coffee beans, Arabica and Robusta. Arabica tends to be more delicate in flavor with more sweetness. Robusta has a higher caffeine content and is a hardier plant. Robusta tends to be more robust. Get it? Robusta, robust. I know it’s a lame joke. Good thing you’re here for the coffee and not the jokes.

By and far, most coffee you drink is probably Arabica. 70 percent of the world’s production is Arabica. This coffee bean is indigenous to Ethiopia but has spread across the world. Robusta coffee makes up about the remaining 30 percent of global production. 

How Coffee Is Processed

How Coffee Is Processed

After they’re harvested from coffee plants, coffee beans are processed. This can entail dry or wet processing.

Dry processing

Dry processing is a traditional method of processing coffee, and is typically used in areas where there are limited water supplies, such as Ethiopia and Brazil.

The coffee cherries are put out to dry in the sun, typically on top of a tarp. They are raked and turned in order to prevent them from spoiling. At night, they are covered to protect them from moisture. Dry processing can take many weeks to complete.

Fermentation occurs with the pulp of the cherry surrounding the pit so fruit flavors like sugars and citrus can be imparted.

Wet processing

Wet processing is when the pulp is removed after the beans have been harvested. This ensures that the beans can dry with only their parchment skin left intact.

After being de-pulped, the coffee cherries are washed in drums, then separated before entering fermentation tanks that are filled with water. They can stay here for up to 48 hours in order for their mucilage (sticky layer) to be removed, as NCA reports.

After being processed, the coffee beans are dried by being put in the sun or with the use of machines.

Sometimes coffee beans are polished, which refers to removing any parchment skin that is still present on the bean.

Then, the beans will be sorted according to their weight and size, and then studied for any flaws. Once all the flawed beans have been removed, the beans are prepared for shipping.

Coffee Roasting And Grinding

Coffee Roasting And Grinding

When it comes to bringing out the flavor of coffee beans, roasting and grinding are two important processes.


In the roasting process, the beans are heated up to a toasty 500 degrees Fahrenheit. The beans need to be constantly turned and stirred during the process to have uniform heating across the beans and prevent burning. Even temperature across the beans throughout the roasting process is very important to have control over the flavor.

Maillard Reactions

As the beans brown, two simultaneous chemical reactions take place, Maillard reactions and pyrolysis. Maillard reactions alter and intermingle sugars and proteins in the bean. This reaction is what generates the nuances of flavors in coffee. It’s the same process which creates that crispy, outer crust of a seared steak. 


Pyrolysis occurs in the absence of oxygen. Through pyrolysis – alkalines, aromatics, and carboxylic acids are released. For our needs, all this means is that a fragrant oil is produced inside the beans which influences the taste of our cup.

Different lengths of the roast draw out different flavors. Lighter coffee roasts will have brighter flavors, such as more tartness, while darker roasts will have bolder, deeper flavors. 

The beans should be cooled immediately after roasting to arrest the process. Air is typically used to cool the beans, though water can also be used as well too.

Coffee beans are typically roasted in the country of the consumer and not at the country or origin (unless they’re one in the same of course!). The flavor of the coffee beans begins to degrade fairly quickly so the aim is to reduce the amount of time between roast and brew as much as possible. While the beans are raw and unroasted, this taste degradation occurs much slower. That said, it is best to wait for 24 hours after roast before grinding and brewing to allow the flavors to set.


Coffee grinding operates along a spectrum between extra-fine to coarse. How fine or how coarse depends on the brewing methodThe size of the coffee granules will heavily influence the flavor. 

Methods like cold brew have longer extraction periods so they use larger coffee grinds, while methods like espresso are very short, so the grinds needed are a lot finer. Generally the grind size is to balance out what the method. Larger granules will extract slower, while smaller grinds are slower.

Coffee Brewing

Brew methods

Why Is Coffee Such A Popular Drink?

The final step before that lovely coffee finally reaches your lips is the brew. There are many different ways to brew that perfect cup. Even though each method produces a different taste, they all involve controlling the contact of beans to water through temperature, duration, and filtration.  

Here are some of the popular brewing methods:

  • Pour Over
  • French Press
  • Aeropress
  • Siphon
  • Espresso
  • Cold Brew

There are also other methods some of which are variations of the above:

  • Turkish Coffee
  • Moka Pot
  • Instant
  • Japanese Cold Brew
And once those beans are brewed, all that’s left to do is enjoy!


So that little bean comes all the way from the region around the equator to be grown, harvested, processed, shipped, roasted, ground, extracted, and then finally drank. You’ve seen the whole adventure that little bean goes on to get to your cup of joe. We hope that with all this new knowledge you’re able to appreciate your hot cup of coffee that much more! 

Related Questions

What is a q Grader?

Q Graders are basically coffee sommeliers! They grade a cup of coffee based on its flavor profile, acidity, environmental-friendliness, and other factors. They must go through rigorous training and pass a series of tests before they can be certified. 

Is coffee more popular than tea? 

Coffee is definitely more popular in the Americas and continental Europe, but tea is more popular in most of Asia and the former Soviet Union, according to Pew Research.

How many cups of coffee are consumed around the world every day?

Over 2.25 billion cups of coffee are consumed every day all over the world (according to PBS)! If you love drinking coffee on a daily basis, you are in very good company.

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