Drinking Coffee Around the World a Backpacker’s story
Coffee around the world. Follow two caffeine junkies drinking the world’s best and strangest coffees over Asia, Latin America, Africa, Europe and more.
The quality of a cup of coffee is determined by many factors; the variety of the plant, the chemistry of the soil, the weather, the amount of rainfall, the sunshine, very important the altitude and by the processing of the coffee cherries. The combination of factors are very complex, resulting in characteristic flavor profiles for every region.
From top quality coffee in the highlands of Colombia to ‘out of the butt into your cup’ coffee made from civet shit in Indonesia, these were our favorite coffees around the world.
South East Asia
Coffee culture vary between nothing and best in the world around here. From Thailand drinking mostly 3 in 1 instant coffee and Laos with maybe the worst coffee I have ever had, to the top quality coffee of Indonesia and the massive coffee culture in Vietnam.
Coffee in Indonesia
The country is the fourth biggest coffee producer in the world. It produces many of the worlds top quality coffees; Java Arabica, Sumatra Mandheling, Sulawesi Toraja and the world’s most famous blend Mocha Java from Java Island.
Many of the top Indonesian coffees are dark roasted and are described as toasty, smoky and herbaceous.
Indonesian specialty coffee was made famous by the movie ‘The Bucket List’. Kopi Luwak also known as ‘poop coffee’ is one of the most expensive coffees in the world.
A type of weasel ,a civet, consumes the coffee cherries, leaving the coffee beans to be collected later from the animal’s feces. The civet emits enzymes during the digestion process that alter the taste of the product, as one might expect.
The unique aroma is attributed to fermentation processes taking place inside the digestive track of the civet. It is also said to be due to selection, since the civets only eat the best beans their poop makes the best coffee!
We spent a couple of months around Indonesia, the local coffee was called Bali Coffee on most islands. I drink it black and no sugar, it was of varying quality, strong and cheap with some ground coffee on the bottom of the cup. In restaurants you can usually choose between a Bali Coffee brewed in a pot and a Americano made with espresso for triple the price.
In the mountains around Tana Toraja on Sulawesi Island I tasted some of the best coffee I have ever had. We drove around the mountain passes with rented scooters exploring some coffee farms.
During a tasting on a coffee farm on Bali I compared Kopi Luwak to some of the other ‘normal style’ coffee blends. It was just a nice cup of coffee, nothing amazing and I did not feel it justified the price.
Kopi Luwak the controversy Traditionally, civet weasels prowl coffee plantations at night, selecting the best beans for dinner. The droppings is collected in the plantations to make Kopi Luwak. Some farms however keep the civets in battery cages feeding them only coffee beans, cruel and since the civets eat all the beans there is no selection of beans by the civet.
Coffee in Vietnam
Vietnamese coffee is famous for being super strong, dark roasted robusta bean coffee served with sweetened condense milk. Robusta beans brews a bitter cup and is mostly used for manufacture of instant coffee. Coffee in Vietnam is serious business, they are the second largest coffee producer in the world!
Coffee is traditionally brewed in individual portions using a phin, this is a small filter chamber with a lid. It is placed on top of a glass filled with some condensed milk, catching the coffee slowly filtering drop by drop.
You can always find Vietnamese people drinking coffee on little plastic stools in street cafes.
We crossed Vietnam north to south by motorbike and stopped every hour or two for a coffee somewhere next to the road. You sit in suspense for a couple of minutes on your little plastic chair watching the coffee slowly dripping in to your glass. Vietnam is the biggest exporter in the world of robusta coffee beans. This bean is commonly used for making instant coffee and makes more bitter coffee than arabica beans that is used in blends of quality coffee beans.
The dripping process and robusta beans result in a very strong, bitter cup. Even the locals thought I was crazy just drinking it black! The coffee is not bad, but a bit on the bitter side, not Italian espresso! If you don’t say you want black coffee it always comes with sweetened condensed milk. In the cafes in the towns of Dalat they serve excellent coffee. Dalat is in the highlands and Arabica beans is also grown in this region.
Vietnam also produces ‘poo coffee’. Similar to Kopi Luwak, it is passed through the arse of a civit weasel, they just call it Cafe Chon. I saw some of these animals in cages in Dalat on a coffee farm, not a pretty sight.
Traveling here is a coffee lovers dream. So many of the world’s top coffee countries in a row. Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica. Sounds like the coffee bean names in your local coffee shop? The best thing here is quality coffee is dirt cheap! It is a small area, but the countries have distinct micro-climates resulting in different and unique coffees being produced in each country. Coffee from this region is often described as fruity and spicy.
The coffee blends in your local coffee shop is basically a list of the countries in Central America! Coffee around the world.
In Central America I only had a small net/filter with me. Slowly dripping coffee through the net made delicious coffee. Since coffee was very cheap I was not shy in stuffing my filter up to the brim!
Coffee in Guatemala
Guatemala with it’s lush nutritious soils produce some of the finest coffees in Central America. Currently the tenth biggest coffee producer in the world. When I imagine coffee farm heaven, I imagine Antigua!
We loved Antigua, this beautiful colonial town is located in a valley between three volcanoes. Unreal, picturesque this town is perfect for coffee production, located at altitude with high humidity and heavy rainfall.
We loved Guatemala and I will never forget traveling in the crazy, colorful chicken buses, living on tropical fruit, tortillas and amazing coffee..
Click here for our Guatemala Backpacker’s guide:
Costa Rica is one of the most beautiful countries I have had the privilege to travel to and the coffee produced here is of the same standard. The progressive environmental policies established jaw dropping rain forests, tropical forests and marine areas. Heavy rainfall, high altitudes and soil enriched by volcanic ash creates a perfect environment for top quality coffee production.
Coffee in El Salvador
El Salvador is the smallest Central American nation, but still produces a significant quantity of high quality coffee. This tiny country was the fourth largest coffee producer in the world in the early 1970’s. Politics and 10 years of civil war gave the industry a knock. Today 95% of the coffee produced in El Salvador is shade grown. Skilled farmers still produce high quality coffee. Coffee is produced all over El Salvador. High altitudes and better varietals are used for production of high quality coffee. The country also produces an abundance of lower-grown coffee off average quality.
South American countries produce most of the coffee consumed worldwide. The climate and altitude results in the perfect terroir for producing top quality coffee on the continent. Coffee in South America is usually made by the drip method
About sixty percent of the coffee drunk world wide is produced in Brazil every year! Being a huge producer the quality of coffee varies widely. It is an amazing country with unreal jungles and beaches. This beautiful country poses the perfect climate, soil quality and altitude to produce good coffee. A quality cup of Brazilian coffee is clear, sweet, medium-bodied, with chocolaty and nutty flavours.
In the most of Brazil people like their coffee very strong, really hot and without milk, they love their coffee very sweet. They call the little cups of thick and powerful coffee ‘a cafezinho’. We spent a couple of weeks traveling on the amazon on cargo boats. The boats had free coffee available, the stuff was super strong and sweet, we drank the black syrupy cafezinhos like tequila shooters!
Colombian coffee is often regarded as the highest quality coffee in the world. To produce the world’s best coffee the plantations occur at high altitude between 1500 and 2000m, only ripe arabica beans are hand picked and a demonitation of origin system is used for quality protection. Colombian coffees are mostly mild coffees, with a well-balanced citrus-like acidity. The heart of Colombian coffee prodution is the ‘coffee triangle’ with three main coffee cities: Armenia, Manisales and Pereira. Salento is located right in the middle of the area.
We loved Colombia, hiking, paragliding, white water rafting, but for me the most exiting was visiting Salento and following a bean from the plantation into my cup in the most famous coffee plantations in the world at Valle de Cocoro (the coffee triangle) surrounding the town. Salento is a small, charming colonial town with cobble stone streets and colorful houses, surrounded by green hills and coffee plantations. The Colombian coffee was mild and sweet. This is due to beans being picked very ripe and when making coffee it is not pressed but made by the drip method through a material filter. You can read all about our Salento Coffee Experience.
The most famous international coffee brand from Colombia is Juan Valdes. The coffee is sold all over the world and the Juan Valdes coffee shops are found everywhere in Colombia, the coffee is a bit closer to the Italian espresso style than we drank on the farm, but still an excellent cup of coffee.
Africa and the Middle East
So this is where everything started. Ethiopia is the birthplace of coffee. The legend goes that in the tenth century goat herder, Kaldi, discovered coffee when he noticed that after eating the berries from a certain tree, his goats became hyperactive and did not want to sleep at night. He told the monks at his local monastery that prepared a soup from it. The mystic Sufi pilgrims of Islam spread the knowledge of these energy beans to the Middle East from where it spread through the colonial empire.
Ethiopia is still the nr 1 coffee producer in Africa and nr. 7 in the world, I still have to visit this coffee mecca.
Most of the arabica beans from Tanzania are grown on the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro and Mt. Meru. These coffees are called Kilimanjaro or sometimes Moshi or Arusha after the main towns. Tanzania is the thirteenth biggest coffee in the world and produces smooth and full-bodied coffee rich in flavor.
In Arusha there are many ‘plant to cup’- tours introducing you to Tanzanian coffee on the surrounding farms. Following my climb up Mount Kilimanjaro I bought fantastic coffee grown on the slopes of the world’s highest freestanding mountain at a local market in Arusha. The coffee from these beans was delicious, smooth and full bodied.
Malawi is a small country in Central Africa. It is still relatively unknown in the coffee world, but produces several top-end varieties. The highlands of Malawi run North/South adjacent to the shores of Lake Malawi. Most of the coffee is produced in these regions. The high altitude and fertile soil in the north of Malawi allow for production of top notch coffee.
I lived in the north close to Mzuzu at Kande Beach on the lake for 8 months. I worked as a researcher and dive instructor on the lake. We drank litres of Mzuzu coffee, between dives, I loved the stuff! The coffee showed citrus, floral and toffee flavors.
Turkey does not produce any coffee beans. Turkish coffee is a method of preparing unfiltered coffee. Turkish coffee is made as follows; Arabica beans are roasted, ground very fine and then slowly simmered in a cezve or ibrik (a small, long-handled copper pot). Coffee is poured in a cup and the grounds are allowed to settle. A well-prepared Turkish coffee has a thick foam on the top and does not contain noticeable particles in the foam or the liquid. Coffee is traditionally accompanied by a sweet, such as a piece of rock candy or turkish delight candy.
Turkish coffee is described well by a local proverb “black as hell, strong as death, and as sweet as love”. We loved the stuff, served in a small fancy cup with turkish delight candy.
Europe does not produce any coffee. Coffee can only be grown successfully in The coffee belt, a region located between the Tropic of Cancer in the north and the Tropic of Capricorn in the south.
After coffee spread to the Middle East European travelers brought back stories of an unusual dark black beverage. By the 17th century, coffee was becoming popular across the continent.
Since Italy does not produce any coffee, the best coffee in the world does not come from Italy. They can however be seen as the inventors of modern coffee. Espresso originated in an italian kitchen and most modern versions of coffee are espresso based.
Espresso is a specially brewed coffee made by pushing hot water through a layer of finely ground coffee. The water is pushed with a high pressure extracting the caffeine and natural oils. Some of the natural oils in the coffee give espresso it’s richness and strength. It is not stronger than coffee made by the drip method. The extraction method results in more caffeine extraction.
My well worn Bialetti Moka Pot. This stove top coffee pot is the original Italian way to make espresso style coffee. It was a present from an Italian friend and is my favorite way to prepare coffee. Coffee around the world
I have drunk thousands of cups of coffee all over the world and coffee in Italy is still my favourite. I don’t know where beans for the famous Italian coffee, Lavazza and Illy are sourced but it always makes superb quality espresso coffee. This great coffee is now available in supermarkets all over the world.
I bought a Bialetti mocha pot in Italy, still my favourite way of preparing coffee. As a traveler my Aeropress is indispensable to me. A small, light appliance for making top quality espresso anywhere on the go!
You can buy one of my favorite coffee makers here from Amazon, no extra charge to you, small commission to us, THANK YOU!
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