6 Countries You Maybe Didn't Know Grew Coffee


Finca La Paz in the Dominican Republic. [Photos: Byron Jackson Holcomb]

Even the most passive coffee connoisseur can rattle off a few of the world's biggest coffee-growing origins: Brazil, obviously. Colombia (thank you, Juan Valdez). Ethiopia, the birthplace of coffee. But have you had coffee from India? Peru? East Timor? The coffee growing regions of the world—of which there are far, far more than most of us are aware—range widely in terms of the quality, quantity, and availability of what is produceds. And in many cases, it's nearly impossible to taste the best of what a producing nation has to offer: technology, infrastructure and the going models of trade can bury beautiful, heirloom coffees grown on unusually good farms among uneven blends of beans sold off in bulk.

That said, there are some growing regions whose coffee is becoming more available, and whose producers and exporters are aiming for placement in the best cafes. We're highlighting just a few here that may expand some horizons.

1. Democratic Republic of Congo

Only a political border and an African Great Lake separates the DRC from the already-lauded coffee growing regions of Rwanda, and to a lesser extent, Burundi. Durham, NC roaster Counter Culture Coffee has begun to work with a cooperative in the DRC—which has just erected the first new coffee washing station in the area in nearly half a century—to bring coffees from this region to wider audiences. These small lots of coffee remain sorted by individual growing community and are being roasted by Counter Culture to highlight the unique characteristics of each small lot. The coffee, which launches this week, bears the name Tsheya—for the larger community where the coffee is processed. Will political and economic climates allow us to see more from the DRC hills whose terroir is so similar to that of Rwanda? We can hope.

2. China

In a country where coffee culture remains an outpost of the elite—going to Starbucks is a special occasion for most, and at premium pricing—a recent movement to establish coffee growing plantations in farming terrain that's typically been used for other things, like tea, may herald a slow shift in this country.

The Yunnan province has been largely influenced by commodity export—including most notably Nestlé's investment in the region—which, for an area just beginning to grow its economic interest in a crop, is not necessarily a bad thing. Stimulating growth and interest in a region capable of producing coffee on both large and small scales is an exciting horizon, though the level of quality is still a great distance behind other countries.

3. Haiti and the Dominican Republic

With the high elevations, soil and climate conditions amenable to growing coffee, but difficult environmental and economic conditions for producing it well, neighbor nations Haiti and the Dominican Republic are long undersung coffee producers. Recent efforts in Haiti from American roaster La Colombe (and the Four Seasons Hotel chain!?) have seen this nation highlighted, as have other roasters who've taken rare advantage of the potential in the Dominican Republic, like Dallis Bros. and Dominican AprocafeGroundwork Coffee. Like most of the countries whose coffee production has been traditionally dismissed, it's from a lack of processing infrastructure and quality control methods—but as much as boutique interest from Western interests can be freighted with questionable motives, there's also a great deal to be said simply for exposure.

4. Uganda

Another East African country whose coffees could be much more recognized than they are is Uganda. "It's one of the largest producing countries in the world," said Aleco Chigounis of Red Fox Coffee Merchants, who specializes in working with countries whose coffee potential is emerging or even unknown. "There are areas that are totally discovered and untapped and that have all the prerequisites for doing something special," said Chigounis. "There's coffee at 1,800 meters, there's coffee at 2,200 meters in this area. There are older varieties, there are high producing varieties, but the farmers lack the technological ability to do it well."

Though Uganda, neighbor to Rwanda and Kenya whose coffees are by now well-known, has the ability to produce incredible coffees, they so far lack the technology and trade conditions to separate these finer coffees out, pinpoint and reward higher quality farmers, and export these products with ease.

"People in the trade don't look at Uganda as being a quality producer like they look at Ethiopia or Rwanda. There's no traceability or transparency in the business at all, and it's often really mediocre coffee, because no one's done the work of doing the separation and trying to influence the production at all." Look for Chigounis—and others like New York's Crop to Cup—to continue to unveil more of this country's better coffees to a wider audience.

5. Yemen

Coffee's history in Yemen is centuries old, but its role on the contemporary coffee stage has struggled to retain credibility. Near to Ethiopia but worlds away in in both cultural and coffee circles, Yemen is striving to get its footing back in the coffee game. It has a way to go—some farmers cut their coffee with the chewable plant stimulant qat, or khat, to make it more marketable.

But government initiatives to support farmers who wish to replace qat crops with coffee—similar to Colombian farmers being incentivized to replace coca crops with coffee—may usher in a Yemeni renaissance. The traditionally natural processed coffees can be unusual in flavor to Westerners' palates, full of herbal spice tastes drawn from the drier terrain, but the growing conditions—sometimes at elevations of more than a mile and a half—may have the potential to produce not just out-of-the-ordinary, but extraordinary coffees.