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Kona, Arabica, Sumatra, Oh My! A Coffee Lover's Guide to the Various Roasts and Flavors

Updated on November 13, 2008

Good Coffee!!

Coffee has been traced to the highlands of Ethiopia as early back as the 9th century, discovered by a sheepherder named Kaidi. He happened to notice that his sheep were more energetic after eating the “berries” from bushes we now know to be coffee bushes. From there it spread to Egypt and Yemen. Coffee beans were first roasted and brewed in Arabia, where it was highly prized and fiercely guarded from being taken out of the country. From there, it spread to the rest of the Middle East and northern Africa, and then on to Italy, where it migrated into the rest of Europe. Coffee first came to North America it is believed by Captain John Smith.

Coffee beans are actually “seeds”. There are only two main species of coffee bean, coffea arabica and coffea robusta. Most of the World’s specialized coffee beans are form the arabica variety, while the robusta variety is used mostly as “filler” of lower grade coffee blends. Many varieties of coffee have been derived form the arabica bean, including Columbian Hawaiian Kona, Jamaican Blue Mountain and Sumatra, just to name a few. Arabica coffee is far superior in flavor, thus earning it the name the “champagne” of coffee. Robusta coffee is higher in caffeine and is more bitter and acidic in taste.

Asian countries produce full-bodied, thicker coffee with distinct flavoring and earthy tones, with low acidity. Latin American countries produce coffees that are lighter and sweet in flavor with a tangy, or high acidity, quality. This makes them excellent for blending. Coffee from Eastern Africa and the Middle East are complex and alluring with wine-like and very chocolaty undertones. The region the coffee is grown in is where it gets its unique flavor. The soil, air, weather and altitude are all contributing factors in the flavor of the coffee bean. The final contributors are of course the harvesting and roasting times of the beans.

The major chemicals in coffee are caffeine and cafestol (coffee oil or the essence of coffee).

The longer the coffee bean is roasted, the darker it becomes. As the coffee bean roasts, it is chemically altered; starches are converted into sugar, the proteins are broken dawn and the cellular structure is altered. As a bean roasts, aromatic oils, acids and caffeine weaken and changes the flavor. The longer a coffee roasts, the more it looses its individual characteristics and the more it picks up the flavor of the roasting process, sometimes making it very difficult to distinguish its origions. Roasting coffee is just as much an art as it is a science and precise heat and timing are all important here.

Here are just a few examples of different varieties of arabica beans:

Columbian – bright acidity, heavy in body and intensely aromatic

Hawaiian Kona – rich flavor, exceptional aroma with a smooth taste. Only grown in the Kona Districts on the big island of Hawaii. Kona “blends” are usually only 10% Kona coffee and 90% cheaper beans

Jamaican Blue Mountain – Mild in flavor and lack bitterness, a very prized and sought after coffee. Only grown in a recognized growing region of Jamaica.

Java – good, heavy body with a sweet overall impression. From the island Java, Indonesia.

Kenyan – intense flavor, full body and pleasant aroma

Sumatran – heavy but smooth with earthy and spicy notes

Enjoy the wonderful aroma of a fresh cup of coffee!

scale of roasted coffee beans
scale of roasted coffee beans
Coffee beans still on a bush
Coffee beans still on a bush


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    • Esrom Art profile image

      Esrom Aritonang 

      10 years ago from Indonesia

      Good information. There is no "Java" coffee exactly, but in the Dutch colonial, coffee from Indonesia (that mostly planting in Sumatra Island) was trading with name "Java", because Java more famous and known. I know that because I am Indonesia people, and my family is coffee farmer. One of famous coffee that name "Sumatra" coffee is planting in my hometown (Dairi District - north Sumatra Province). People call it "Sidikalang Coffee)- referring to name capital town of Dairi District is Sidikalang, but the coffee itself is planting in Tigalingga Vilage and around. In a nutshell, Sumatra have coffee, but Java got the name. This is funny, but its true. Thanks anyway for your coffee article.

    • Chef Kimberly profile imageAUTHOR

      Chef Kimberly 

      11 years ago from North Carolina, USA


      Thank you.

      The coffee you are referring to is called “Kopi Luwak”.  “Kopi” is the local work for coffee and “luwak” is the local name for the small marsupial called the paradoxurus, or more commonly known as the Civet Cat.  These cats live in the foliage of the coffee plantations across the islands of Indonesia.  Specifically the islands of Sumatra, Java and Sulawesi of the Indonesian Archipelago.  

      The Civet Cat is a very fussy forager, choosing only the ripest coffee cherries to consume for their meal.  As the cherries pass though the animal’s digestive tact, the outer fruit is digested and the bean passes mostly unchanged.  Farmers then collect the droppings and their caffeine-laden content.

      Reviews of this coffee are of an aroma that is rich and strong and very unique.  The coffee has an incredibly full-bodied, almost syrupy consistency with earthy, almost musty tones.

      These beans can cost up to $600 per pound or $50 a cup. 

    • Chef Kimberly profile imageAUTHOR

      Chef Kimberly 

      11 years ago from North Carolina, USA


      Thank you.  There's nothing like a good cup of coffee to get your day going or just sit and relax with.

    • Pest profile image


      11 years ago from A couch, Ionia, MI

      Informative and interesting. What is that coffee made from seeds collected from an animal poo?

    • marisuewrites profile image


      11 years ago from USA

      A delightful dance in the coffee cup! Depending on my mood, I like a like roast, but have been known to enjoy the stronger cup on occasion! =) great information and I'll refer to this when I want to brew a cuppa - i'm always rotating my purchase from mild to medium, rarely the strongest tho.


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