Coffee is grown in 3 regions; Indonesia, Africa, and Central America, all falling within the same general latitudes that straddle the equator. It’s referred to as the ‘coffee belt’; since the earth rarely wears pants, it simply holds the perfect climate to satisfy our love of this beautiful, aromatic commodity, globally traded at a volume second only to oil. Which, incidentally, is not nearly as aromatic and can be quite challenging to wash out of your favorite travel mug.
Point of note: you may frequently come across coffees labeled as ‘Italian’ or ‘French’. These are not the countries of origin; rather, this refers to the roast level of a particular coffee. Typically, the regions most suited to this level of roast are Central American beans (such as Guatemalan or Mexican), as this tends to bring forward the unique character of these coffees.
Many people mistakenly believe that darker roasts yield more caffeine; many people also believe the earth is flat (one reason it doesn’t wear pants, incidentally, but that’s neither here nor there). In reality, the more a coffee is roasted, the more the caffeine dissipates. While espressos are traditionally offered as darker roasts, the increased concentration of caffeine is due to the volume of coffee used as well as the method of extraction.
Two general types of coffee make it to our cups: higher-quality Arabica (pron. ar-AB-ica) is grown at higher altitudes with more shade, and is the most popular in your local coffeehouses as it inherently yields a more distinct flavor. This dry, bright nuanced profile is often characterized as ‘acidity’; it is simply the makeup of desirable acids that influence the taste.
The more usual astringent ‘pH-type’ of acidity (actually more present in beer, orange juice, and soda, for example), can be caused by various factors, including the roasting process and the freshness of your cup. The best way to avoid gut-wrenching astringency is simply to ensure your coffee is freshly-brewed, although picking the perfect bean and roast levels that suit your taste can be a rewarding mission!
Robusta- the more economical, higher-volume crops- is what you would typically find in some of the mass-produced, grocery store cans. However, there may be a component in various premium blends and espressos, as they bring forward a flavor profile of their own, and can provide a richer, fuller crema (the silky, light brown ‘cap’ on top) to the cup.