Coffee is an exceptional product – aromatic drink with a pleasant bitterness, so invigorating and delicate. By the way, it is the second most popular product in the world (after oil). Coffee is consumed by every second inhabitant of the planet, and if you’re also coffee addicted – you’ve found the right place!
Today we will give you the most comprehensive answer on the question “what are the world’s best coffee beans?” and review the rating of coffee beans and the best varietals.
Before we start, you need to understand that “the best” is a rather personal subjective experience and it totally depends on your personal preferences and taste. Also, we’re not focusing now on professional cupping and scoring, which performed by teams of professionals from different parts of the world. We think that for most people those acidity, that cuppers enjoy, is often unpalatable.
We tried to dive into statistically proven information from the professional point of view for the average coffee consumer. So, if you didn’t find your favorite coffee here – please, don’t be upset, share with us about your preferences in comments!
First of all, we need to cover some fundamentals here, in order to give you all a solid foundation for making the best possible decision regarding your coffee drinks.
Arabica VS Robusta VS Blend
There are more than 80 types of coffee trees out there – from dwarf shrubs to 10-meter giants, among which only 4 types are distinguished. And only two types of coffee trees are in the interest of coffee connoisseurs – Coffea arabica (arabica) and Coffea canephora (robusta). Share of arabica in world production is 60%, robusta – 40% [ICO report].
Arabica and robusta beans have their unique qualities and purpose. Common differences are associated with flavor profiles, growth conditions, and price. In order to expand your knowledge in this area – we suggest to check the key differences between these two types:
- Arabica is grown at altitudes from 600 to 2200 meters above sea level, while Robusta grows at significantly lower altitudes – from 0 to 800 meters above sea level.
- The climatic conditions required are also different: robusta requires a warmer and more humid climate. An important aspect of arabica cultivation is the sensitivity of trees: they are susceptible to diseases and can’t really tolerate temperature changes. For a good harvest, trees require a stable climate.
- Also, arabica trees grow slower than robusta. This fact gives rise to more refined aromas during processing, roasting, and grinding.
Important to know: due to the more difficult cultivation process arabica is more expensive than robusta.
Flavor and taste
Arabica has a wide range of flavors – from sweet and mild to sharp and tart. Arabica beans have a smell that resembles blueberries and other fragrant fruits (when using a dry or semi-dry method of processing). It has a slight/pleasant acidity and a bit of bitterness. The smell of roasted beans resembles perfume with fruity notes and sugary tones.
The range of robusta flavors is from neutral to sharp. Often, it has a pronounced taste, described as burnt rubber or raw peanuts – this is actually the description that most truly represents the smell of raw (unroasted) robusta.
But why does it have such a specific taste? Well, one of the reasons is high caffeine content compared to arabica. At first, this may seem like a positive trait, but in fact, caffeine creates more bitter taste. Interestingly enough, some robustas, they are not only valued in espressos for deep taste and good crema but also considered as best coffee beans for espresso in general.
Sometimes you can hear about the special blends… Literally, it means that different types of coffee beans were blended in one pack. Blends allow creating new original taste with the balance of acidity, flavor and body.
Creating a blend is quite difficult and painstaking work, which is comparable to an art. After all, you need to know the characteristics of each type of beans in order to get a good mix in the end.
A “single-origin” – coffee beans selected from one region and farm, and processed by the same method. Such coffee is always discernible. It can be recognized even by its distinctive smell and flavor.
So, now you should understand the difference between arabica and robusta, and we move forward to another important aspect of “the best coffee”.
Country of Origin
When it comes to coffee beans origin, it’s a long story…. But in short, coffee is grown in more than 50 countries along the equator – they are also called the “Bean Belt” of the Earth [NCA]. As explained above, taste and coffee beans aroma depends heavily on the region where it grew.
Climatic conditions, soil, altitude and distance to the sea – absolutely all that matters. Even if it’s growing on neighboring plantations, it can vary in taste significantly. Therefore, while purchasing coffee in the store, you need to check its full name, the type of coffee, country, city, mountains, farm and even the port of shipment.
Depending on the geographical location, certain coffees have different taste characteristics:
- Brazilian coffee is strong and full-bodied with a tart-nutty taste;
- Colombian – velvety well-balanced taste with a slight acidity;
- сoffee from Costa Rica has a high density and incredible aroma;
- Guatemalan – coffee with a taste of chocolate and notes of flowers and spices;
- Indian coffee is strong and with chocolate flavor;
- coffee from Ethiopia has a slight bitterness and a light berry flavor;
- Kenya is a sort of coffee with light winey acidity and berry aroma.
What are the best coffee beans to buy? Well, again. It’s only a matter of taste! There’s no right answer here.
It’s not only about the process, it’s actually more than you think. This is mastery and art. This is many years of experience of a roaster. The roaster’s mission is to extract as much flavor from each lot of beans as possible.
Some coffees, due to their flavor and taste profiles, are better roasted to certain colors/grades. For instance, Kenyan coffee is famous for its high acidity, but it becomes bitter when it’s overroasted. Whereas, Sumatra coffee has low acidity and it becomes much better when it’s roasted longer.
Darker roasts give more bitterness in coffee flavor. Some people like when dark roast coffee is prepared in an espresso machine, which enhances this characteristic significantly. On the contrary, light roast coffees will be more acidic, comparing to dark roasted ones. Particular coffee origins, for example from Central America, will perform great in lighter roast because their acidity balances other flavor components within the beans.
Of course, coffee roasting grades are related to colors. There are light, medium, medium-dark, dark and heavy roasting types. Light roasts usually better retain original flavors of the beans, than darker roasts. That’s why light roasting is predominant for specialty coffee.
Current world trends in coffee consumption show that dark roasts are the most popular. Medium-dark and dark roasts coffees have a heavier body, comparing to light and medium roasts. Generally, dark roasts have more spicy, bitter, smoky and sometimes even burnt taste.
By the way, the lighter the roasting, the more caffeine coffee contains. Many people think vice versa.
Basically, it’s all about the taste and flavor. You can drink light roasts in the morning and dark ones – in the evening. It’s all about your preferences!
We prepared some tips for you to keep in mind while choosing the best coffee beans:
- Choose good beans: it’s impossible to make a good cup of coffee from poor quality beans. Moreover, you should choose the coffee, roasted not more than a week before using it.
- Choose coffee depending on your brewing method. For example, for the french press, it’s better to use lower acidity and full body beans. Espresso requires the usage of espresso blends to ensure the balance between body and acidity.
- Grind coffee beans right before making coffee. Use burr grinder to get a fresher taste. Using coffee which is already ground will not give that perfect taste.
- Once you opened the coffee pack, it loses its freshness very fast. The best way to store coffee beans is to keep opened pack in an airtight container so that it’ll be isolated from the air as much as possible. Actually, we’d recommend you to buy small quantities of coffee from local roasters (for example, on a weekly basis) to ensure fresh coffee experience.
- Don’t freeze coffee beans to save its freshness, as they may pick up moisture every time they are taken out of the freezer.
World’s Best Coffee Beans: TOP-10
Okay, enough fundamentals for you. And here we’ve come to our 10 best coffee beans in the world that you need to try.
Kona Coffee, Hawaii
Hawaii is the only coffee producer in the USA and is associated with Kona region, which is famous for its high-quality coffee. Kona is definitely the best island for coffee growing! By the way, you can find only arabica here.
Kona coffee trees grow on the slopes of volcanoes – the sleeping Hualalai and the active Mauna Loa. Fertile volcanic soil – that’s the secret of the amazing taste of coffee, which is considered as one of the most desirable and most expensive in the world.
A combination of soil, sunny mornings, rainy afternoons and soft winds gives us a possibility to get a drink with a smooth taste, light acidity, nutty flavor and a slightly noticeable bitterness with a smoky shade of cigar, which is peculiar only to this variety.
As mentioned above, it’s one of the most expensive coffees in the world. Actually, it’s not only due to the limited production and high demand. That’s also because it’s growing in the US and farmers are paying much higher taxes, salaries, etc. than in regular coffee countries.
Interesting fact, that Kona coffee is graded by the Hawaii Department of Agriculture [Administrative Rules, Article 143]. This grading system takes into account such factors as bean size, shape and number of defects in each bean.
Here are those primary grades:
- extra fancy (the highest quality);
- Kona No.1;
- prime (the lowest grade);
Coffee aficionados recommend to choose extra fancy and peaberry grades and promise that it’s worth each penny.
Peaberry Kona coffee is a kind of an anomaly because it’s the result of only one coffee bean development inside of a coffee cherry (usually there are two beans in it). Such beans are small in size, but have twice higher, more rich flavor and create robust coffee drinks. This is the best grade among Kona coffees and is very limited because it’s share of season harvest is only 3% to 5%.
Meanwhile, extra fancy grade takes around 20% of all harvest, has the largest and the densest beans (among other grades) with almost no defects. These beans create coffee with the fullest and the richest flavor with soft acidity. Many connoisseurs consider extra fancy grade as truly Kona coffee.
Besides, we recommend avoiding Kona blends, as they contain around 10% of Kona coffee and cannot perform the same taste and flavor.
Kona coffee flavors are best in medium roasts, which allow delivering its clean, well-balanced taste with its acidity, a bit spicy and winey notes and excellent finish. But if you prefer more roasted coffee – go ahead!
Among all Kona coffees – Koa coffee is the best one. They sell the highest quality beans directly from the farms (under the reasonable price) and offer tri-packs with different coffees, among which is Private Reserve Kona Coffee – the one that Forbes called “The Best in America”.
All beans are cultivated, sorted and hand-picked by Koa. This type of coffee is known for its smooth, rich and full-bodied taste with minimum bitterness. You cannot get it elsewhere!
Blue Mountain Coffee, Jamaica
This is arabica, a specialty coffee, which is incredibly popular among coffee connoisseurs and is a classic representative of “Pure Origins” coffee. Jamaica Blue Mountain got its name after the mountains, on which slopes coffee plantations were spread.
It is legendary and unique coffee beans. Why? Mainly it’s due to a strictly limited plantation area (not exceeding 6 thousand hectares), conditions and ripening period, all that cause an extremely limited amount of harvest.
This coffee was introduced to Jamaica back in 1728, and since then huge amounts of money have been invested in its cultivation. Now Jamaican coffee is classified according to the elevations of growth and the size of the beans [Coffee Industry Board]. Within the normal range, the size 15mm is for 3rd grade, 16mm – 2nd grade and 17mm – 1st grade.
Additionally, coffee can be called “Blue Mountain” only if it grows at an altitude higher than 1800 m relative to sea level. Such elevations do not allow using special equipment, that’s why it can be picked and sorted only by hand.
Blue Mountain is the highest altitude coffee in the world!
These coffee beans ripen at quite low temperatures and in conditions of high humidity as this part of the mountains is usually shrouded in clouds. The ripening process of Blue Mountain coffee is much longer compared to other varieties, this fact allows beans to absorb all-natural flavors from the soil and environment. To enhance flavor characteristics, green beans can be stored and transported only in oak barrels.
Jamaica Blue Mountain has a unique and recognizable taste:
- It is based on the superiority and balance of combinations of flavors and aromas, consistency of coffee emulsion and a bit astringent character.
- Fruity and nutty softness, almost complete absence of bitterness and an incredibly long aftertaste (up to 6 hours) are the results of unique natural conditions in which berries are ripening.
- Each sip gives a feeling of perfectly balanced full-body, rich sweetness with vibrant acidity and salinity.
- The aroma surprisingly combines woody and herbal notes and nutty overnotes.
- Background aromas: caramel, raspberry, and leather.
Choose medium or medium-dark roasts to feel the best quality of Blue Mountain coffee.
Of course, such coffee cannot be cheap. Actually, Blue Mountain is among the most expensive coffees on the market. But the thing is that it’s very hard to find the original one – be aware of fakes and buy it only from reliable suppliers!
AA Coffee, Kenya
This is highland Arabica from Kenya, growing at an altitude of 1400-1800 meters above sea level.
AA Arabica is the highest grade of coffee. Kenyan coffee is awarded this grade for its impeccable quality indicators: the absence of defects, the largest grain size among other varieties.
In total, Kenya has 10 official categories (AA, E, PB, AB, etc.) [Supremo]. Each batch of coffee must be checked by the quality control and sorted into different grades considering size, weight, and shape. According to the Kenyan classification, “AA” means “the best”.
It is grown in high mountains (the slopes of Kilimanjaro mountain) on volcanic soil and wet-processed. The beans are harvested and removed from cherries immediately and washed to exclude excess pulp. That gives the coffee a rich body, winey taste with citrus and berry afternotes.
According to the cuppers, a drink made from high-quality AA varieties has a full, rich, perfectly balanced taste with sparkling acidity. The aroma is subtle and well pronounced. Also, Kenya AA is well-known for its piquant aftertaste and potent sweetness.
As well as for two previous coffees, medium roast is the best option for Kenya AA. It brings out the natural taste and not allows us to lose the unique flavors from Kenya.
Yirgacheffe Coffee, Ethiopia
Ethiopia is a motherland of coffee. The best varieties of arabica are produced here. Exactly in Ethiopia, those invigorating properties of coffee beans were first discovered. And this country has remained faithful to ancient traditions until today.
Picking, sorting, and processing of coffee cherries are done only by hand. Most of the coffee trees are growing in wild together with fruit trees: higher fruit trees provide protection from the scorching sun during the day and retain warm air at night.
By the way, Ethiopian farmers do not use chemical fertilizers and mechanical devices when it comes to coffee production. For this reason, you can safely call it organic.
Yirgacheffe is the name of one of the farms of Ethiopia. It is located at an altitude of more than 1700 m above sea level. What does this mean for coffee beans? It means that thin air slows down the process of beans maturation, giving them time to get the maximum amount of necessary vitamins, minerals and develop the best flavors. Such coffee beans have much more interesting taste and aromatic bouquet.
Yirgacheffe coffee beans are the best of the Ethiopian arabica varieties. They belong to the mild varieties of coffee and have a wine-scented taste. The beans are not big and very neat, they have a strong floral aroma with notes of cherry, black currant, wild berries and citrus (surprisingly harmonious composition!).
The taste of coffee from Ethiopia always amazes with its brightness and richness. Ethiopia Yirgacheffe is distinguished by bright acidity along with complex floral, citrus and chocolate notes. An incredibly rich flavor bouquet is revealed in a new way in each next sip.
The aroma of Ethiopia Yirgacheffe simply knocks down: it may seem that you opened a basket with wild berries, seasoned with fresh mint leaves, or opened a bottle of expensive red wine. Such an explosion of aromas will make you look for more and more new notes and nuances, and no one could remain indifferent.
We recommend you to brew this coffee in a pour-over or drip method. It’ll taste perfect in light and medium roasting. And for a unique espresso shot, you can take darker roasts.
Sulawesi Toraja Coffee, Indonesia
Sulawesi is one of the four Sunda Isles of Indonesia. Tana Toraja is the famous coffee area of the island, located southwest of the central part of Sulawesi at an altitude of 900-1,250 meters above sea level near Rantepao town. Coffee has become the first notable agricultural crop that brings in money here!
Sulawesi Toraja is quite a sophisticated and unique coffee. But it’s not only due to good growing conditions (weather, volcanic soil etc.), it’s also because of the special processing method, which is exclusive and is practicing only by Sulawesi and Sumatra coffee growers.
This method is called wet-hulling (or Giling Basah). The essence of the wet-hull is quite simple:
- At first, berries are pulped and dried until the moisture indicator is somewhere near 25-40% (usual moisture level is 11-12%). At this point the parchment layer is still remaining on the beans along with the mucilage, making them gummy and sticky.
- Hereupon wet beans in a parchment membrane go to the hulling (the process of hull removal), therefore, the processing method is called – wet-hull. Exactly those mucilage and membrane affect the flavor and taste of Sulawesi coffee: so sweet, earthy, with light acidity.
Sulawesi Toraja coffee is characterized by low acidity, smooth, full-body, and taste, which makes everybody forget about everything for a while. It has a very complex character with the splash of chocolate, sweetness and spicy herb notes. There are roasted walnut, spicy pepper, and sweet-sour of red apple in the flavor profile.
Before you buy it, you need to know some peculiarities of this variety. Sulawesi coffee beans do not darken during roasting, unlike coffee beans of other varieties. The roasting process is considered completed after the second crack of the bean, and, in some cases, after the first one. Due to the fact that coffee beans of this variety remain green after roasting, they are often overroasted and the taste of the coffee drink deteriorates. Hence, buy it from reputable roasters only!
Sumatra Mandheling Coffee, Indonesia
Sumatra is the second-largest island of Indonesia. Coffee originated from Sumatra, has a rich body and high density, which is so appreciated by connoisseurs. Beans from the Mandheling plantations are especially valued. Among arabica coffees, Mandheling beans have the thickest flavor.
It is growing in the west-central region near Padang at an elevation 1,000 to 1,520 meters above sea level. Same as Sulawesi Toraja coffee beans, Sumatra Mandheling beans are hand-picked and processed with a wet-hull method.
These beans give a saturated drink with almost no acidity. Coffee aficionados from all over the world appreciate Sumatra Mandheling variety for an exquisite spicy aroma, rich, dense, earthy flavor with a hint of chocolate and brown sugar. It has a long aftertaste with a slight acidity, and such a smooth and full body so that it can be described as syrupy.
We recommend to try it in medium-dark and dark roasts to feel the sweetness and spice flavors!
By the way, this coffee is quite controversial – some people don’t like it and some people cannot live without it. But anyway it’s worth trying at least once!
Tanzania Peaberry Coffee, Tanzania
Tanzania Peaberry Coffee is grown on the slopes of Kilimanjaro mountain. Here all arabica plantations are feeling great due to abundantly fertilized with organic volcanic ash, moreover, the climate provides the best conditions for coffee trees to grow. Interesting fact, that sometimes Tanzania coffee shows similar characteristics with Kenya coffee due to the geographical proximity to Kenya’s borders.
Same as Kenya, Tanzania has its own beans grade system which is taking into account such parameters as beans size, weight and shape. The highest grade is AA, then go A, B, PB, C and so on, and peaberry as a separate category.
You’ve heard about peaberry beans in Kona coffee, so you know that this is a kind of special coffee when only one bean (instead of two) is growing inside of one coffee cherry. Such beans are usually small and round with a cleft in the middle and they have more saturated and bright aroma and taste.
Peaberry is quite rare and it takes only 5% of all harvested coffee beans in Tanzania. Also, it should be sorted by hands from regular beans, thus it requires more labor costs involvement. This aspect affects the price significantly.
Tanzania Peaberry coffee taste and flavor:
- It has a mild body and light fruit-toned acidity.
- Special rich flavor with notes of apricot and cedar, black currant and chocolate.
- Velvety, sweet aftertaste complements the pleasure of coffee drinking.
- The high content of caffeine, polysaccharides and organic acids makes this coffee variety not only delicious and fragrant but also an effective natural stimulator.
Also during our research, we’ve found that many experts believe that Tanzania Peaberry coffee deserves to be called one of the best varieties in the world. We believe they can’t be wrong!
Try it in medium roasts to enjoy this complex and sweet floral aroma with notes of citrus, pineapple, and chocolate!
Geisha Coffee, Panama
This is one of the world’s most famous coffees – Geisha from Panama. This rare variety is grown on the reputable coffee farm Hacienda la Esmeralda, located on the slopes of Baru volcano (1400 – 1700 meters above sea level) in Western Panama.
Volcanic soil enriched with minerals, a ban on deforestation and hunting — all of these factors have a very positive effect on the final quality of the product.
Producers of Geisha la Esmeralda coffee are very serious about the processing of the beans and are seeking to preserve the taste created by nature. And, in reality, they do it perfectly well: Panama Geisha coffee was repeatedly recognized as the most outstanding one and won a lot of coffee tasting awards in such nominations as:
- “Coffee of the Year” in the USA;
- “The Best Coffee” in Panama;
- “Specialty Coffee” (SCAA);
- “The Cup of Excellence” (Panama) etc.
- and even Forbes magazine wrote about it as the most expensive coffee in the world.
As a result, Panama Geisha is the most titled coffee in the world!
When this variety was first evaluated by international coffee experts in 2004 at Panama’s Best Coffee competition, one of the cuppers exclaimed: “God in a cup!” and now this phrase always accompanies this exclusive coffee.
Which features of taste amazed professional coffee experts so much? Geisha la Esmeralda is quite mysterious: due to its intense taste, you will not get what is hidden in it at first sip.
This coffee combines a huge bouquet of flavors:
- Floral notes of jasmine, tea tree, bergamot with light citrus flavors afterwards.
- It provides delicate acidity of citrus, the sweetness of figs and juiciness of papaya.
- In the aftertaste, you can feel the sparkling sunlight and the exhilarating lightness of white wine.
- Geisha coffee has a light body and really long aftertaste.
Try it in light to medium roasts and give your own award to Geisha la Esmeralda coffee!
Monsooned Malabar Coffee, India
We think it’s the most exotic variety of coffee grown in Asia. Indian Monsooned Malabar – the legendary coffee of the rainy seasons.
Monsooned Malabar India coffee is grown in the monsoon period under conditions of high humidity. The uniqueness of this coffee is that the beans are processed by the wind.
After harvesting coffee beans are exposed to moisture-laden monsoon winds during several months to accumulate moisture and, at the same time, breathe in the salty sea air. It is carried out in well-ventilated concrete-floored warehouses without walls on the West Coast of India during the Monsoon period (from June till September).
As a result of such storage, beans almost double in size, acquiring color range from pale gold to light brown and rich flavor properties. Also, such a method reduces the coffee’s acidity and enhances its body.
Monsooned Malabar India coffee has pleasant undertones of dark chocolate with a strong, well-pronounced nutty and earthy aroma and a long sweet aftertaste. This variety produces a rich, strong and balanced drink with low acidity and heavy body.
We recommend preparing this coffee in French press, stovetop pot or as an espresso. Medium roast is the best to unveil a unique flavor with a hint of spice.
Harrar Coffee, Ethiopia
Ethiopia Harrar Coffee is arabica from eastern Ethiopia. These beans are highly rated and famous for their winy and fruity taste. This is also highland coffee and it is growing on elevations up to 2,000 meters above sea level.
As explained earlier, the main feature of arabica coffee plantations in Ethiopia is semi-wild growth conditions of coffee trees. It means that there are both wild and semi-wild trees are growing on the plantation. That’s basically the main difference between Harrar coffee beans and the rest “fellows” from other coffee regions.
Arabica from Harrar province is considered to be the best Ethiopian coffee!
Also, it is important to understand that coffee in this region is still grown in ecologically clean areas without the use of chemical fertilizers, and processing is often done by hand, which guarantees to obtain a high-quality selected harvest.
Harrar coffee is classified according to beans size as follows:
- “Extra-Sifted” – big beans;
- “Longberry” – medium beans;
- “Short-berry” – small beans [Coffee Tasting Club].
But, actually, size doesn’t matter at all!
Ethiopia Harrar coffee has a strong, rich flavor with nutty and chocolaty notes. Bold rich taste with a slight bitterness and barely noticeable acidity. There are notes of bitter chocolate, caramel, tropical fruits, blueberries and red wine in the taste profile. Sometimes Harrar has wild and slightly fermented aftertaste due to the dry-processing. In one sip you can feel the fullness of the taste at once.
It’s good for pour-over or french press in medium roasts.
Here we come to the end of our rating, but it doesn’t mean that other coffees are not good! You can have your personal perfect cup of joy and you can share it with us in comments! Explore and try. The coffee world is diverse, it has many tastes, joys and emotions.