You can’t always pack up and leave on a trip across the world, but you can take a grand tour through coffee.
In fact, discovering unique origins is one of the things that hooked me on specialty coffee in the first place.
Just like with wine, the flavor of coffee depends on the environment it grows in. Everything from elevation to soil quality makes a marked difference.
The variety of flavors and aromas is surprising: blueberries, chocolate, herbs, nuts, and much more will stand out as you taste your way around the world.
While it’s easy to find coffee from large producers like Brazil and Ethiopia and Indonesia, many more obscure origins are also excellent.
If you’re a coffee fan, then here are five you’ve got to try…if you can find them.
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“Where in the world is St. Helena?” That’s most people’s first question, and it’s a reasonable one.
St. Helena is one of the most remote places on earth. It’s actually part of the United Kingdom even though it sits over 1,000 miles west of Africa, almost 1/3 of the way to South America!
The tiny island is best known as the site of Napoleon’s exile and death, but rumor has it the French emperor himself was a fan of St. Helena’s coffee.
With a subtropical climate, mountainous terrain, and nearly unspoiled nature, coffee grew well after its introduction in the early 18th century.
Where to get it: Check with Britain’s Sea Island Coffee for something from the Bamboo Hedge Estate, either on their website or via Amazon. Be prepared to pay up, though, since these beans are infamously expensive.
You might not think of Thailand as a coffee powerhouse, especially compared to neighboring Vietnam.
But with a thriving specialty coffee scene in every big city, and excellent coffee farming conditions in its northern regions, Thailand has both supply and demand.
Less desirable robusta coffee is quite common, but arabica production has grown quickly. That’s because arabica generally tastes much better, and can fetch far higher prices on the specialty coffee market.
Where to get it: In the US, your best bet might be Paradise Coffee Roasters out of Minneapolis, MN. I’ve had a few excellent Thai coffees from them, which were occasionally part of my Angels’ Cup subscription. You can order here or read my review to learn more.
It’s a little known fact Philippine coffee used to be consumed worldwide.
But that was much more than a century ago, so no wonder almost nobody (even Filipinos!) are aware of that history.
There’s a lot of commodity-grade robusta and increasingly some specialty-grade arabica production. It’s similar to Thailand in that respect, with plenty of good growing conditions as well as more specialty cafés in bigger cities.
But the most distinctive coffee is something else altogether. It’s known as barako, which is a local variety of the liberica subspecies. It tends to have a very earthy, aromatic flavor (much more so than arabica) but more smoothness and complexity than robusta.
If you’re curious, then check out this article for much more detail.
Where to get it: Even though barako is popular domestically, it’s hardly ever exported. The most reliable source might be the Philippine Coffee Company, which is based outside Houston. However, it looks like their barako is roasted in the Philippines before importing, so contact them to make sure it’s not more than a week old, or two at most.
(Note that 3-in-1 instant barako blends may be available on Amazon, but the taste will be terrible. Avoid them!)
You may have thought that Hawaii (Kona) and Puerto Rico were the only coffee producers in the USA.
While they’re certainly the biggest, the truth is there’s another, and almost nobody expects it: California!
In fact, only when I briefly moved to California did I learn about the Good Land Organics farm in Santa Barbara.
It’s a research-focused farm that specializes in all sorts of exotic fruit (like these), but their coffee really steals the show. I visited them personally around 2014, and even by my snobby standards, it was top-notch. Presumably, it’s only gotten better since then.
Fun fact: they even sell coffee grown by singer-turned-farmer Jason Mraz!
Where to get it: Good Land sells their roasted beans under the Frinj Coffee brand, available here on their site. It may cost even more than St. Helena coffee(!) but the quality is as good as it gets, from my experience.
Taiwan produces some of the best tea in the world. On the rare occasion I drink anything besides coffee, it’s most likely a Taiwanese oolong tea.
But it turns out coffee grows just as well in the island’s steep, steamy mountains.
According to this history, years after Dutch traders introduced coffee to all of Southeast Asia, they brought seeds from Philippine coffee plants farther north to Taiwan.
Centuries later, the British increased production significantly, only to lose it to a large fire.
Finally, the Japanese revived coffee production once again during their long rule over Taiwan.
These days, it’s a desirable origin with mature farming practices. Far from a novelty product, it’s quite popular among local coffee enthusiasts.
The only problem is production. Tea will always be king, so Taiwan cannot grow enough for domestic consumption, let alone export.
Where to get it: Unfortunately, I’ve yet to find a good source for Taiwanese coffee in the USA. If I do, then you all will be the first to know!
P.S. If you want to try a lot more interesting origins–or interesting coffees from familiar places–then you’ll enjoy Angels’ Cup. They choose well, and package it all in a monthly blind tasting kit. Check out my review here for the details.