Once upon a time in America there was drip or instant, milk or sugar. Folger’s was the name of the game. Then, from Australian Skybury to Kenyan Peaberry, from Kona to Barcelona, the world exploded with options. Today there’s enough variety in choices of blend, country and style to boggle the greatest coffee aficionado.
Of course there is Brazil, the world’s largest producer for more than a century. Not surprising considering a third of its landmass is suitable for coffee tree growing. This South American powerhouse produces wonderful aromatic blends from Bahia and Minas Gerais.
Colombia, perhaps even better known – even though second in volume – makes a light, sweet delight that comes in ‘supremo’ or ‘excelso’. The coffees made from Popayan or Narino are surpassed nowhere.
But beyond these two giants of coffee bean production there lies a world of different blends that add their own distinctive colors to the spectrum of choices.
Mexico refuses to bow down to its better known South or Central American cousins. The small beans grown there produce a delicate body and light acidity, giving the coffee a mellow flavor. And Cuba, with its extremely strong cafe cubano – drunk like a shot of tequila – joins its Spanish relatives for a jolt.
Indonesia is well-known for its finely aged coffees, where the warm, damp climate slowly produces a drink with deep body and less acidity. As the fourth largest producer it isn’t likely to run out soon.
Malaysia won’t be cowed by its more famous neighbor, though. The venerable practice of brewing in a muslin bag, used to filter grounds, produces a strong cup. Even the lesser grade Liberica should be experienced at least once.
Even tiny Thailand weighs in with a chicory-tinged blend served with ice and condensed milk, for those who enjoy their coffee cold.
The Kona from Mauna Loa is sweet, medium-bodied and aromatic, while the Java from Sumatra is full-flavored and rich. Even the Beanya from Kenya, grown at 17,000 feet is smooth and deep, with a slight aftertaste that defies description.
But the practice of roasting and crushing beans then filtering through hot water, born in the 15th century, has produced many more delights for the coffee addict.
Naturally, the Europeans won’t take second place to anyone. France still favors its cafe au lait – half-coffee, half-milk. And Austria still values the two-thirds dark, one-third regular that has been a traditional Viennese blend for centuries.
Thanks to Luigi Bezzera in 1901 and later M. Cremonesi in 1938, there are Italian espressos to die for. And since they contain less caffeine than others, you can have two and not feel guilty. For those for whom that’s still too strong, there are the weaker latte and cappuccino (named for the hood on a monk’s habit).
But for my money, the good old American black is the coffee, the whole coffee, and nothing but the coffee.
There are as many beans and coffees from around the world as there are grapes and wine – and as much delight to be had in sampling them.
The Colombian is, rightly so, world-renowned. La Esperanza from Tolima, for example, is grown at almost 6,000 feet and the effect shows. High-toned with a delicate aroma and cherry-like it has hints of milk chocolate and pipe tobacco. Who knew such a mixture could actually taste wonderful?
Of course, the world’s second largest producer has much more to offer. The Supremo makes a complex brew with vanilla notes and hints of semi-sweet chocolate. Be sure to drink hot, as it fades fast.
Hopping over to Hawaii, the hand-picked Kona comes in both medium and dark roast. The latter has a very light acid with the medium making for slightly more. But the espresso roast remains a favorite, where the minimally acidic, dark and strong character really shines.
Jetting off to Africa we find a Tanzanian Peaberry, grown on the southern slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro. Peaberries have a distinctive shape, making a single oval bean rather than the usual pair of flat-sided beans. One consequence is a higher acidity and lighter body. Climbers of the famous mountain can find a warming cup on their way up.
And while there, take a side jaunt to the legendary home of coffee – Ethiopia. The Yirgacheffe region is home to a citrusy brew that combines ginger, orange peel and lemon that’s both tart and chocolaty.
Trekking east to India we rest to take in another famous landmark – the Monsoon Malabar. The product of three months of the well-known wet winds, the puffy yellow beans make for a pungent brew with hints of apricot. But don’t leave without sampling one of the Jumboors, with its sweet raisin tones.
Continuing east to Indonesia we find ourselves in Sumatra, long known for the product from the Lake Toba region. A light roast, the cup is sweet and flowery. The original jasmine-like coffee flower has been retained to produce an astringent cup with cherry overtones.
And while there don’t forget about the northern provinces where the traditional dark roast gives a spicy, tropical fruit brew with hints of cedar and grapefruit.
A short flight to Vietnam puts us in a position to enjoy a Robusta from Lampung. The washing-drying-polishing process makes for a woody, astringent cup that competes well with its more high-toned Arabica cousin.
On the way home, a stopover in Jamaica provides an opportunity to discover an unusual source. The Jamaican peaberry, showing its African origins is a single bean. But the effect is altogether different. Full-bodied, sweetly acid, and full of floral notes this cup comes on strong.
Weary from the journey, but satisfied and satiated, we close our book of ‘Travels Around The Globe’ then turn out the light and switch off the coffee pot. Even with all that caffeine we should have no trouble sleeping.