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Coffee is one of the most popular and widely consumed beverages worldwide. It is also the most widely traded agricultural commodity. In fact, coffee is the most widely produced commodity crop in the world.
But only a small portion of the world can grow coffee, and the so-called “coffee belt” is only growing smaller every day.
In this article, we’ll take a look at the five factors that make the coffee belt such a great region for growing coffee beans.
Where Is the Coffee Belt?
The Coffee belt (or bean belt) runs from about 23.5 degrees north of the equator to 23.5 degrees south of the equator. That’s about 3,200 miles from top to bottom, including portions of North America, South America, Asia, Oceania, and Africa.
There are roughly 70 countries in the coffee belt, including nearly all the top coffee-producing countries. Amongst others, you’ll find:
- Brazil: The largest producer of coffee beans in the world today.
- Ethiopia: Where the coffee bean was first discovered.
- Vietnam: The largest producer of Robusta beans.
What Makes the Coffee Belt So Unique?
The ideal temperature for coffee growing is between 22 and 27 degrees Celsius (73–82 degrees Fahrenheit).
The coffee belt countries tend to have temperatures at least 70 degrees year-round, which is absolutely essential for this crop. If your hometown has ever experienced a real winter, you probably can’t grow coffee there.
Coffee requires a good amount of rainfall during its growth cycle. It is almost impossible to grow coffee in a dry climate. The soil needs to be moist enough for roots to grow and water to penetrate the soil.
Coffee is typically harvested during the dry season, which tends to last 2–3 months in much of the coffee belt.
Humidity is one of the most important factors in coffee production. The ideal humidity for coffee trees is between 50% and 70%.
Higher amounts of humidity are not beneficial to the tree. They can cause problems such as disease and slow growth. Many tropical climates have humidities around 80%, which is slightly above ideal but still better than the low humidities often found outside of the bean belt.
Coffee is grown in a wide variety of soil types. The best coffees are grown in rich, fertile, well-drained soils. These soils are usually sandy loams and clays with high organic content.
Volcanic soils are particularly good due to their high levels of nitrogen and other nutrients. The fertility of these soils is important because the plants need to be able to absorb all the nutrients they need from the soil itself.
The higher the elevation, the better the Arabica coffee. Most varieties of coffee grow best at elevations between 3,300 and 6,600 ft (1,000–2,000 meters).
Along with better humidity and temperature, higher elevations have fewer pests that can devastate coffee crops. This is especially crucial for low-caffeine coffee varieties as caffeine is coffee’s natural pest deterrent.
Many countries grade their coffee based on elevation, with the highest-grade specialty coffees grown at nearly 5,000 feet above sea level. Honduran coffee beans, for example, can only achieve the coveted “strictly high grown” grade if they are grown at least 4,400 feet above sea level.
Some varieties of coffee beans, like Robusta, don’t follow this trend. They can often grow at just above sea level, partially due to their higher-than-average caffeine content.
Not every country we associate with coffee is in the coffee belt. Italian coffee brands, for example, have to import their beans because Italy is too far north for coffee to grow. Once the coffee has been grown, it still needs to be roasted and often blended, which is where the rest of the world gets involved.
If you want to sample coffee from all around the bean belt, all you need is a simple drip coffee maker. To really taste the differences, though, you should consider getting a coffee grinder and an automatic pour-over coffee maker. Those machines will help prevent stale coffee beans or poorly extracted coffee, better letting you taste the difference between Guatemalan coffees, Mexican coffees, and other premium coffee beans.