Producing Countries - Exporting - Roasting

Brazil Cultivation


Guatemala - Harvesting


Java - Washing


Zaire - Selection of Beans


Producing Countries (See Map)

The coffee-producing countries are situated between the two Tropics where the climate is hot and humid. They may be divided into 4 geographical zones:


  • With an annual crop of around 30 million sacks, Brazil (natural Arabicas) is the world's leading coffee producer. It is followed by Colombia, Venezuela, Peru and Equador (washed Arabicas). Quality is generallly very good, although Brazil's production of natural Arabicas includes both excellent and mediocre varietals, depending on area and methods of harvesting and processing.


  • From Mexico to Panama, and in the vanous Caribbean islands, coffee cultivation has assumed strategic economic importance. It is generally very high quality Arabica, hand-picked and washed.


  • Most countries in the more temperate zones produce coffee of the Robusta variety. Because water is such an expensive commodity here, quality is mostly fair and consists principally of "natural" Robusta. Great quantities of high-quality Arabica variety are carefully cultivated at high altitudes in some areas (e.g. Kenya, Tanzania, Cameroon), however.


  • In India, Thailand, and Indonesia, coffee production is developing strongly due to increasing distribution and modernised cultivation. The production includes mostly Robustas (some of unusually very high, "washed" quality).

The Export Market

Coffee cultivation and export from the areas of production has increased constantly, especially over the last century. Coffee is drunk in virtually every country in the world, which means it is important for producer and consumer alike. Alongside oil, steel and grain, it is a commodity with one of the highest export values in the entire world economy. In particular, the economies of many developing countries depend largely on coffee exports, the mainstay of their standard of living and national prosperity.

The principal coffee markets are the New York and London Commodity Exchanges, which trade Arabica and Robusta respectively. Naturally, the price of coffee varies in relation to supply and demand. It is influenced not only by the quality and quantity of the coffee produced, but also by atmospheric factors (freezing temperatures, for example) and changes in the political order.

The sale of coffee by the producer countries and its purchase by the consumer countries is regulated by international agreement. The producer-consumer organisation, I.C.O., establishes the quantities of coffee that may be exported by each member nation, and also sets out a price policy designed to reduce sudden, unjustified variations. Since the last meeting for the revision of the agreement (July '89) ended in stalemate, the market is at present free. It is impossible to predict how long this situation will last.


The most important processing operation which coffee undergoes before consumption is roasting. During this process, the beans open and the distinctive central furrow dilates. Their weight drops by about 18-20%, and their volume increases by 35%. Particularly complex chemical-physical phenomena - change of colour, development of aroma - also occur in the bean. The degree of roasting is the basis of every blend. Arabicas require a lighter roast if their distinctive, delicate aromas are to be preserved. Robustas, on the other hand, require a slightly darker roast to mask a certain woodiness.

Part of the coffee-roaster's skill consists of an expert knowledge of unprocessed coffees, because every type of coffee reacts to roasting in a different way, depending on roasting-time, percentage of swelling, colour of grains and reduction of weight. Roasting is the production phase that has made the most significant technological progress over the last few years.

The most important innovations have been the way in which heat is transmitted to the bean, and the length of the roasting process. The new generation of roasting machines is based on a completely innovative principle. The coffee no longer comes into contact with the heat-source but is heated by an enormous quantity of air at temperatures which are not extremely high. The coffee bean is thus "fluidified". Every coffee bean floats in the flow of hot air and roasts more uniformly, without coming into contact with the superheated metal walls for an extended period. After this exposure to heat, the coffee is rapidly air-cooled. This makes it possible to capture and seal the flavour and aroma which develop in the bean.

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