Geographic Origins : Introduction

Anyone who reads a newspaper is aware of how arbitrary the concept of nation state can be. National boundaries often divide people who are similar, and cram together those who are different. A Canadian from Vancouver has considerably more in common culturally with an American from across the border in Seattle than with a fellow Canadian from across the continent in Quebec, for example.

The concept of country often plays a similarly arbitrary and misleading role in understanding coffee. Countries tend to be large, and coffee growing areas small. Ethiopian coffee that is gathered by hand from wild trees and processed by the dry method hardly resembles coffees from the same country that have been grown on larger farms and processed by the wet method. On the other hand, some families of taste-alikes transcend national boundaries. In the big picture, for example, high-quality coffees from Latin American countries generally resemble one another, as do coffees from East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. And both tend to differ from coffees from the Malay Archipelago: Indonesia, New Guinea, and Timor.

But the notion of generally labeling coffee by country of origin is inevitable and well established. Hence the organization of the next section of this chapter by continent and country. It is well to keep in mind, however, that in tasting coffee, as in thinking about history, the notion of country is no more than a convenient starting point.