All coffee is grown in what is known as the Bean Belt, which roughly circles the globe and lies between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn. The only place in the United States that produces coffee is the family-owned coffee plantations on Hawaii. Coffee beans are actually the seeds inside of little, red berries that grow on trees. Although these trees can grow to be 30 feet or more, coffee trees which are being harvested commercially are kept trimmed to about 10 feet high, making it easier for the beans to be picked.
There are two major types of coffee beans: Arabica and Robusta. Each has its own unique characteristics, so when choosing coffee beans, you must first know the differences between the two.
Arabica coffee beans offer a more intense acidity, which gives the best quality coffee an almost wine-like aftertaste. The coffee brewed using Arabica beans is a subtly sweet blend of the rich coffee flavor with undertones of berries and a soft hint of sugar. Arabica tends to be more expensive, but not every container of ground coffee that is labeled Arabica is of the highest quality.
Robusta beans are easier to produce because the trees grow at lower altitudes and they are far more resistant to pests and the vagaries of weather. Robusta trees reach maturity much faster than Arabica trees and each tree produces more beans. The taste of coffee made from Robusta beans is a bit harsher than Arabica, with an almost nutty aftertaste. They also contain approximately twice the caffeine of Arabica beans. Robusta is considered by connoisseurs to be inferior to Arabica beans, but that is actually a matter of personal taste.
Once you have decided whether you prefer Arabica or Robusta beans, you should at look at where the coffee beans come from because the unique weather conditions, soil composition and growing techniques have a definite effect on the flavor.
African coffees have the distinctive berry taste of Arabica coffee, while Southeast Asian coffees tend to be smooth and very full bodied. Latin American coffee has a much cleaner taste and lighter body.
One of the most important considerations when purchasing coffee beans is how soon after roasting you can get them. Air, light and moisture all degrade the oils that give coffee its rich aroma and flavor. Look for vendors that roast their own beans on the premises. If that is not possible, you can purchase vacuum-packed coffee. Many labels contain the roasting date, so look for coffee that has been sitting for less than one week.
Make your cup of coffee taste even better by knowing that your purchase helped a third-world company support and advance the conditions of its workers. The coffee lovers at Malaysia cuisine recommend checking out the fair trade coffee available through Caffe Society for coffee beans that are as good for your spirit as they for your palate.