While many of the top coffee-producing nations are well-known, some may come as a surprise. The coffee tree is a tropical evergreen shrub that grows between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, and the climate and conditions must be just right to grow the most popular bean in the world. Around 70 countries produce coffee, but the overwhelming majority of the supply comes from Brazil, Vietnam, Colombia, Indonesia and Honduras.
The production of coffee has played a pivotal role in the ongoing development of Brazil and continues to be a driving force for the country's economy. The plant was first brought to Brazil in the early 18th century by French settlers. With the rise in popularity of coffee among Europeans, Brazil quickly became the world's largest producer in 1840 and has been ever since.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture's Foreign Agricultural Service, in the 2017/2018 crop year, Brazil produced 3.05 million metric tons of coffee, which was over 30% of the world's production. Some 300,000 plantations are spread over more than 10,000 square miles of the Brazilian landscape.
Relatively new to the international coffee trade, Vietnam has quickly become one of the largest producers. In the 1980s, the Communist Party bet the future of the nation on coffee, and every year in the 1990s, coffee production increased by 20% to 30%, completely transforming the nation's economy. In the 2017/2018 crop year, Vietnam produced 1.76 million metric tons of coffee.
Vietnam found a niche in the international market by focusing primarily on the less-expensive robusta bean. Robusta beans can have up to twice the caffeine as arabica beans, giving coffee a more bitter taste. If you like to save money on your cup of Joe and are just looking for a caffeine jolt, there is a good chance your coffee is from Vietnam, The country is the No. 1 producer of robusta coffee in the world, accounting for more 40% of global production in the 2017/2018 crop year.
A popular advertising campaign by the National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia featuring a fictional coffee farmer named Juan Valdez helped brand Colombia as one of the most famous coffee-producing nations. Colombia is renowned for its quality coffee and produced 864,000 metric tons in the 2017/2018 crop year.
In 2008 and 2009, heavy rains resulted in Colombian coffee crops being hit by a leaf disease known as coffee rust. Output plummeted by as much as 40% but has since rebounded as the country replaced trees with rust-resistant varieties. Colombia is the second highest-producing nation of arabica beans, and millions worldwide prefer their mild, well-balanced flavor.
While not nearly as well-known as other nations for coffee, Indonesia's location and climate have helped it become the third-largest producer of robusta beans in the world. Total production, robusta and arabica, was 636,000 metric tons of coffee in the 2017/2018 crop year. The Indonesian coffee industry is comprised of 1.5 million independent smallholder farms and few large-scale operations.
Indonesia produces several types of highly sought-after specialty coffees, the most interesting of which is Kopi Luwak. Harvested from the feces of Asian palm civets, the beans have a distinctive and understandably unique flavor. The process of collecting and harvesting the beans is rather intensive, to say the least, and the result is one of the most expensive coffee beans in the world.
In the 2016/2017 crop year, Honduras took the No. 5 spot from Ethiopia, and in 2017/2018 crop year, it retained its spot, producing 450,000 metric tons of coffee. It is also the third-largest producer in Latin America. And Honduras is a big producer of specialty coffee, with exports skyrocketing 145% in the 2016/2017 crop year compared to the previous year. Honduran producers have excelled in this niche thanks in part to the amount of growing area in the country that exceeds the 3,000-foot minimum altitude required for the specialty coffee designation.
However, the country's producers may struggle going forward. A 2018 USDA Foreign Agricultural Service report said four new strains of coffee leaf rust have been found in the nation. The report also warned that due to the fact that many Honduran producers are small and lack access to lines of credit, they may not be able to invest in preventive measures. Many are still in debt from a rust outbreak in 2012.