The regional characteristics of coffee are useful to know so that one can find the coffee or devise blend that one is looking for. However, I find that their importance is often misunderstood and overemphasized. The result in the cup is much more a product of the processes the beans went through than their origin. A coffee from totally different regions will taste very similar if the same procedures were used from seed to cup. Whereas a coffee from the same region, pulped, milled, stored, shipped, or roasted very differently will taste discernibly to extremely different. The reason regional coffees are somewhat consistent is that certain regions use certain established processes because
1) They are the systems already in place and they work (generally) and
2) they want to bring out the potential in the coffee that their region is known for (they want to create the beans they think we see - borrowing slightly from Jung).
Nevertheless, the following is a list of some regional coffee characteristics you may find helpful. As a quick side note, wet-processing and dry-processing are ways of removing the fruit from the bean. Dry processing involves drying the fruit on the beans then separating, while wet processing involves separating the beans and berries right after harvest, then letting the beans ferment in water vats for a little bit (to loosen the remaining fruit) before washing them clean. Dry- processing lends to darker earthier smooth rich tones while wet-processing lends to cleaner lighter more acidic and brighter taste.
Costa Rica - Balanced, clean. Prized for bright citrus or berry-like flavors. The best fade into chocolate or spice aftertastes.
Guatemala - Flavorful and nuanced but varied
Antigua - sharp and rich with medium body
Huehuetenango - may have distinct fruit flavors
Coban, Fraijanes, Quiche - varied Honduras Less acidic than other Central Americans with sweet caramel flavors. Much is flat & dull. Coffee grown between 1500 - 2000m dubbed Strictly High Grown.
Mexico - Varied, but generally lightbodied & mild with delicate flavors.
Nicaragua - Great body, clean flavor, & balanced. SHG not as sharp as other Central Americans.
Panama - Quality, character, consistent, & underrated
El Salvador - Many low-grade, but also some very high quality with great acidity, refinement, & depth.
Hawaii - Mild. Kona is also clean, pleasant, with a good aftertaste
Puerto Rico - Mellow, good body, & excellent bittersweet flavors
Jamaica - Excellent mild, lush coffee, low-medium acidity, rich, & smooth.
Dominican Republic - Soft, clean, & mild, sometimes with character.
Bolivia - Delicate, bright, clean, & aromatically sweet with subtle fruit flavors like pear, apple, apricot, tangerine, & lemon. They can develop malty, mild chocolate, nutty, caramelly, & honeyed roast flavors. Much flavor emerges as cup cools.
Brazil - Largest coffee producer in the world. Much is low grade arabica & Conilon robusta. Quality Brazils can be nutty, sweet, low-acid, and develop exceptional bittersweet & chocolate roast tastes. Brazils are not dense beans and thus take on ashy flavors in the darker roasts.
Columbia - A decent clean cup with almost no aftertaste (if fresh), can be very balanced, with good body, acidity, & flavor. Peru Varied in quality, the better lots have good body, brightness, and depth of flavor.
Africa & Arabia
Burundi - Wet-processed only. Milder than many Africans, but still has significant acidity & interesting wild taste, good body, good balance
Malawi - Wet-processed only. Full body, medium acidity and distinctive flavor.
Congo - Powerful, somewhat harsh, bright, fruit & vanilla flavors.
Ethiopia - Much variety. Some dry-processed, some washed. Dry-processed
Harrar, Sidamo - are earthy, heavy, & wild tasting. Wet-processed Sidamo,
Yirgacheffe, & Limu - are lighter and less earthy & wild.
Kenya - Wet-processed only. Consistantly high quality with great acidity. Many are complex with fruit (berry, citrus) flavors, sometimes with spice. Some are clean & bright, others have cherished winey flavors.
Tanzania - Wet processed only. Varied quality, full body,.medium acidity, and flavorful.
Uganda - Wet & dry-processing. Varied quality due to shipping problems. Intense, wild (a bit leathery), heavy body, milk chocolaty notes, & sparkling acidity.
Rwanda - Wet-processing only. Smooth, full bodied, and bright acidity
Zambia - Variable quality. Many defective shipments. Quality crops are balanced with the distinct East African wild note and extremely long finish.
Zimbabwe - Wet-processed only..Variable quality. Great balance, complexity, moderate acidity, good body, & aftertaste Yemen One of the most prized & distinct coffees, earthy, complex, pungent, & wild.
Bali - Wet-processed, clean, mild, background earthy character.
Java - Wet-processed & clean with a thick, full body, not earthy or dirty.
Papua New Guinea - Varied Small farm dry-processed coffees have much depth, range, & complexity Small farm wet-processed have a unique wild note and lack the earthiness of other Indonesians. Plantation coffees are cleaner, more sophisticated & delicate, sometimes high acidity as well.
Sumatra - Available dry-processed, washed, or semi-washed. Many of the washed coffees are dull & lacking flavor. The dry-processed coffees are full of character, body, & a funky wildness.
Sulawesi - Low acidity, great body, & deep flavor profile. Available dry, semi-washed, & washed.. Also has funky wildness. Timor Somewhat varied quality, full-bodied, clean, & low acid.
India - Good balanced, mild, low acidity, subtle spicy notes, & sometimes hints of earthiness. The monsooned coffee on the other hand is potent, pungent, salty, & wild.
Some of this information was gathered from tasting reports from the wonderful people at sweetmarias in Columbus. www.sweetmarias.com