From its origins in Ethiopia, where the main coffee production is still from wild coffee tree forests, coffee
consumption has spread throughout the world. But because of its requirement for ample sunshine and rain, the
plants from which beans are produced grow only in tropical or sub-tropical regions.
From a narrow band centered on the equator of around 23 degrees North to 25 degrees South comes all of the
world's source of the liquid that a Turkish proverb calls 'black as hell, strong as death, sweet as love'. As a
commodity, coffee - from beans grown in over 70 countries - is second only to oil in dollar volume.
Brazil remains by far the largest coffee bean producer with an average output of 28% of the total. Even
world-renowned Colombia is a distant second at only 16%, with Indonesia less than half that at 7%. Mexico,
the fourth largest producer is half again at 4%.
Coffee trees produce the best beans in high altitudes but have adapted to a variety of areas.
In Brazil, the plantations cover huge areas and employ hundreds of workers to tend the plants. In Colombia
the rugged mountains and poor economic conditions mean transportation to processing centers is still largely
carried out by mule or Jeep.
While Colombia has the tree-lined mountains, Hawaiian producers plant on the slopes of the Mauna Loa
volcano. The black volcanic ash is rocky, but perfect for the plants where the intense afternoon sun is
softened by tropical clouds. Frequent island showers provide the ample rain needed.
Indonesia is composed of thousands of islands, where coffee has been grown since the Dutch colonists
introduced it in the 17th century. Though other countries have greater technology, no one exceeds the helpful
warm, damp micro-climates found here. Hundreds of one to two acre farms on the largest islands of Sumatra,
Java and Sulawesi combine to secure the country's third place position.
Plantations in Mexico, by contrast to Brazil, are primarily small farms but with over 100,000 of them the total
still makes the country a serious factor on the world market. Most are located in the south, in Veracruz,
Oaxaca and Chiapas with the special Altura beans indicating their origin in the high altitudes.
Vietnam in recent years has rapidly been challenging Indonesia's position as the Tonkin area recovers from
decades of stagnation. First planted with arabica trees in the mid-19th century by French missionaries, the
small plantations now produce robusta, one of the two main types of plant.
Africa, Kenya and the Ivory Coast, though smaller producers are world-famous for the dark, large beans
grown there. In the foothills of Mount Kenya grow some of the largest in the world which go to produce a
well-known fruity coffee. The Ivory Coast holds its position as one of the world's largest producers of
robusta, often used in espresso blends.
Whether the Brazilian Liberdade, the Costa Rican La Fuente, the Indian Monsoon Malabar or the Tanzanian
Peaberry, coffees from around the world continue to find eager consumers everywhere.
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