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Coffee Regions Central America & Mexico Caribbean South America Africa & Middle East Asia & Indonesia Hawaii

Central America & Mexico
Costa Rica
Through the years in my travels, I have heard many a coffee snoot pule incessantly about the coffees of Costa Rica. The mere thought of it could lead them to doze off in their Sarchi chairs. When awoken from their slumber, they balked that the coffees were too traditional and middle of the road to ever thrill their persnickety high maintenance palates. But that was years ago before the rise of the Costa Rican micro-mills, which are groups of small farmers who have formed cooperatives.

They control the production process by growing and processing their own coffee. The cherries are separated by the quality and elevation they were grown at, to meet strict standards. Every grower's coffee is cupped numerous times before it goes to market. This process educates the farmer on how to enhance the unique characteristics of the coffee they bring to the marketplace. Understanding the notes that the coffee buyers are looking for helps them continually improve their coffees to create a better end product.

As a result, the reputations of these micro-mills are helping small farmers stand out and make a name for themselves. Specialty coffee roasters seek out premium quality micro-lots from small farms and happily pay substantially more than the going price for their quality and uniqueness. The extra money goes a long way for the farmer to reinvest in his business and creates a huge level of pride when the name of their tiny farm becomes known, respected and celebrated by coffee enthusiasts across the globe.

So let the jaded coffee drinkers of the world rejoice, because now whether your hiking the smoldering crater at Poas or sunning on the sandy beaches of Manuel Antonio, you can enjoy some of the finest varieties of coffee in the world, right here in Costa Rica. And variety it is! Whether its sweet and fruity with floral notes, or the highly sought after berry-like flavors or nutty and yummy chocolaty flavors, you can be sure that you'll never find me face down asleep in my cup!

Ranked 9th in the world. *
Cup of Excellence Country
Best known varietals: Caturra,Catuai,Tarrazu, Villa Sarchi, Typica.
El Salvador
It has been quite awhile since I've manned my balloon over the Gulf of Fonseca into El Salvador to float over the winding mountain roads above the Ruta de Las Flores (Route of the flowers) that traverses El Salvador's coffee country. In May, coffee blossoms cover the Volcanoes to create a most beautiful and spectacular sight. The 36 kilometer/ 22-mile road is a quick ride in my balloon, but I am never too busy to stop for a few cups of the premium coffee. Sadly, this charming country, which is the smallest in Central America, has had much political instability and thus, although the coffees are excellent, the supply has not always been consistent. But things are changing.

And no doubt a woman is behind it. No discussion of El Salvadorian coffee is complete without mentioning, Aida Batlle, who runs 3 of her family's farms located on the slopes of the Santa Ana volcano. Aida has carried on the Batlle family's 40-year tradition with an unwavering commitment to excellence in the growing and handling of the beans. She has also made some changes: by converting to organic farming practices. Tending to her plants with love, like they are her children, and respecting their history. While it would be more profitable to replace her very low yielding plants with new higher producing coffee plants, she will not.

Many of these varietals have prospered there for decades and she understands the importance of preserving them. When she is not walking her fields, she is often experimenting with berries of different ripeness, de-pulping them by hand, and drying them to find what is the optimum time to handpick the cherries, when the fruity sweetness is at its peak. I would say her berries are truly made with love.

Cup of Excellence Country
Best known varietals: Bourbon, Pacas, Pacamara, Typica.
Guatemala
Ah...Guatemala. Just thinking about the superior complexity of the Guatemalan cup thrills me. Some of the world's finest specialty coffees are grown in the Highlands of this small but respected coffee growing country. The climate is ideal. The sunny days and cool nights, high altitude and rich volcanic soil make Guatemala a great place to grow.

I so enjoy packing on my well-fed mule, Ramon, onto the steep, rugged hills of the Antigua or Coban regions to visit the origin of their lively spicy, floral and chocolaty brews. The coffees from Guatemala are sold using a system that separates them by grade. The elevation that the beans are grown at is the determining factor.

Strictly hard bean (SHB) is the highest quality and is grown above 4500 feet. Beans grown at these higher elevations are more valued because they are denser and harder. The lower grade is Hard bean (HB), which is grown between 4000- 4500 feet. Because of Guatemala's proximity to the U.S., much is imported directly to your local roaster. Lucky you.

Ranked 8th in the world. *
Cup of Excellence Country

High quality coffees here are produced using the Wet- Processed.
Best known varietals: Antigua, Atitlan, Arabigo, Bourbon, Caturra, Catuai, Coban, Huehuetenango, Pacamara, Maragogype, Typica.
Honduras
If you are a fan of mild and full-bodied coffees with distinct sweet caramel flavors then you will enjoy the high grown coffees of Honduras. These coffees can be quite good yet have been devalued and punished in the past for their low quality wrap. Because of this, quality farmers have struggled and have often received less than market rate for their beans. They have also had to overcome a reputation for historically producing cheaper lower quality Arabica but now with the support of the Honduran government, NGO organizations and the Cup of Excellence things are changing rapidly.

A group of Honduras cooperatives are leading the way with an exciting goal - That 20 percent of next year's crops are to be sold as specialty varieties. Recently growers have been able to increase their profits by tapping into the socially conscious trend by certifying their products as organic, fair trade, shade grown or rain-forest friendly. A number of American specialty roasters have forged strong relationships with farms and work with them to continually refine their process in order to bring you the very best coffee.

One of my favorite cups in Honduras has notes of sweet citrus and dark fruit and is grown in the quiet mountain town of Marcala. The coffee of Marcala was the first in Central America to receive the prestigious "Denomination Of Origin" stamp, protecting the authenticity of the beans from this region. If this information does not thrill you, maybe this will: Much of the lingerie sold in the US is made in Honduras. A tasty cup in more ways than one.

Cup of Excellence Country
Best known varietals: Bourbon and Caturra.
Nicaragua
The country of Nicaragua is situated a prime coffee growing region of Central America. Once the producer of some of the finest coffees in the world, Nicaragua is working its way back after the Sandinistas and years of political unrest. At the time, many growers and their families fled the country and abandoned their farms. This country in the 1970's was producing over a million pounds of coffee beans a year!

With the return of Democratic rule in the 1990's, things are back on track with a focus on quality and sustainability as they produce a wide variety of cup flavors cultivated on thousands of small to modest-sized farms mostly from the noted Nuevo Segovia, Jinotega and Matagalpa regions. The Miraflor nature preserve is an excellent example of a protected area that utilizes Sustainable agriculture practices to promote the success of the ecotourism trade and the well being of its inhabitance. Their Miraflor coffee is an outstanding balanced cup of tart cherry and sugar sweetness.

Cup of Excellence Country
Best known varietals: Typica, Caturra, Bourbon, Java Cultivar, Pacamara and Maragogype.
Panama
Panama once historically overlooked, is no longer. The Best of Panama competition is held here ever year attracting people from across the globe competing for the best lots. Ask any coffee aficionado and they will tell you that the world famous Panama Esmeralda is considered by most to be the Holy grail of coffees. Its origin is a mystery and often debated. Its mystery makes them that much more enticing... Like women.

The Hartmann family farm, in Volcan, Panama, has 3 generations of family members who together are producing some truly exceptional coffee. The Honey Hartmann is a shade grown coffee with notes of sweet honey. Also notable is the distinct and unique coffees produced by Wolford Lamastus's Elida Estate in Boquete. Together, they are joined by a number estates producing some beautiful coffees many with bright tone floral and fruity notes.

Cup of Excellence Country
Best known varietals: Catuai, Caturra.
Mexico
"Bésame... bésame mucho,
Como si fuera esta noche la última vez..."

Ah... Spanish love songs. It's hard not to fall in love with the passionate people of Mexico and their rich, nutty, chocolaty coffees. Mexican coffee is grown in the southern, tropical regions and most often used dark roasts and blends. However, coffees in Mexico cannot easily be summed up. They vary greatly by where they are grown. Oaxaca Pluma is quite different than Coatepec, as are the excellent coffees from the southern most regions of Chiapas, near Guatemala.

If your passport isn't in order and you detest mosquitoes, take heart: Mexico is presently the largest importer of coffee to the U.S.

Ranked 5th in the world.*
Best known varietals: Altura, Bourbon, Carnica, Coatepec, Magagogype, Mundo Nuevo, Oaxaca Pluma, Typica.