One of the most prominent pieces of information on a coffee bag is where it was grown, commonly referred to as the coffee’s origin. In most cases in the Speciality coffee industry, this will include the country, region, farm and sometimes even a specific tablon within a farm. The more specific the better.
Origin is a difficult thing to talk about as a barista. Although there are some very (very) broad generalisations you can make about certain origins, most of the time there are so many other things that influence how a coffee tastes (like varietal, processing and roasting) that origin can take a bit of a “background information” role.
So, can you look at a country of origin and learn anything about how a coffee will taste? Well…sort of. After you’ve been drinking coffee for a long time you come to expect certain things from certain origins, but you will always always always come across a coffee that completely defies those expectations eventually.
Pretty much always has pronounced blackcurrant acidity with a cocoa-like finish. Can be very complex and full bodied, but sometimes tastes a bit “green”.
You’ll mainly see Ethiopias from the Yirgacheffe and Sidamo regions. Washed Yirgacheffes taste of bergamot and Assam tea, and natural Yirgacheffes taste like blueberries and sometimes a bit of funk. Sidamos are clean and bright with crisp lemon and floral notes.
If you see a Brazil chances are you’re in for something chocolaty, nutty and biscuity. You probably won’t find bags of fruity acidity, although some natural Brazils can show a cherry-like sweetness.
Costa Rica / El Salvador
Clean, complex and balanced. Individual flavours can be a real mixed bag, with huge variation from farm to farm and from coffee to coffee. Usually a pretty safe bet for a good to great coffee.
One of my favourite origin countries. Most of the Colombian coffees I’ve tasted have been balanced and flavourful with a pronounced acidity leading into a long sweet finish. Lots of sugars going on here with plenty of complex acidity to keep it in check.
Aside from that I really don’t feel confident trying to describe what a coffee will taste like based on where it comes from. As with most things in coffee, the only real way to understand it is to taste a lot of different things!
Coffee is after all a natural product. There are variations and differences in each coffee you’ll try. For my money, trying to find “that one coffee you like” and sticking with it is a bit of a lost opportunity. In a world where there are so many coffees to explore, what’s the point in sticking to one thing? Variety is the spice of life!