Coffee Origins 101: Asia And Arabia

Americans don’t drink much coffee from Asia, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. In fact, Asian coffees are beloved in… well… Asia.

Though mostly purchased by Asian and European coffee roasters, some of these origins are making their way to the United States.

Learn about these exotic coffees - you may get to try one someday soon.

Yemen

This coffee origin’s on the near side of Asia - on the Arabian Peninsula.

Yemen, though hard to find on a map for many Americans, has a long coffee history.

  • It was the Yemeni who first traded coffee commercially from the Port Al Mokha
  • It was the Yemeni who opened the world’s first coffeehouses
  • It was the Yemeni who invented the “Turkish Coffee” method

Coffee plants themselves came to the country in the late 1600’s and commercial coffee production took off rapidly.

Sadly, after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, Yemen fell into disarray politically and economically. Modern day Yemen is in the midst of a standstill civil war - and the country is heavily impoverished and lacking fresh water.

Read: The 5 Best Coffee Brewers For Travelers

Because of these political and infrastructure issues, it’s difficult to source specialty-grade coffee (or any coffee) from Yemen. The ones we can get our hands on tend to have rich earthy, chocolatey flavors. And many have the crispy winey acidity we love in African coffees

Yemen Coffee At A Glance

Flavor: Earthy, chocolatey, winey acidity

Processing: Natural

Main Growing Regions: Bani Mater, bani Hammad, Bura’a, Haraaz, Haimateen

Harvest: October to December, March to May

Thailand

Thailand is blossoming as a coffee growing country. Most of the country’s coffee is enjoyed locally or exported to Asian buyers, so Americans are generally clueless that Thailand even produces coffee.

Though the country’s been growing coffee since the early 1900’s, Thailand only began exporting coffee in 1979, and it was only robusta at that time. Robusta still accounts for over 95% of the country’s exports, but the arabica plants in the North produce great tasting coffee.

Read: How To Taste Coffee: Bitterness

Notes of chocolate, spice, flowers, and pleasant citrus acidity are common.

Thai Coffee At A Glance

Flavor: Chocolate, spice, floral, citrus acidity

Processing: Washed

Main Growing Regions: Lanna, Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai

Laos

French colonists brought both arabica and robusta coffee plants to Laos in 1919. They realized that the southern portion of the country has particularly nutrient-rich soil, as well as a cool climate and high altitude preferred by coffee plants.

About 20,000 coffee growing communities now exist in Laos

¾ of the coffee grown is robusta, with arabica just taking ¼. However, the government is incentivizing the switch to arabica since it increases farmer revenue and is building the country’s economy.



On a specialty-coffee level, Laos doesn’t do so well. Most of the coffee is still on the lower end of quality, but the few specialty-grade beans that have been sourced (mostly by Asian buyers) typically have a medium body, citrus acidity, and floral flavor.

Read: Getting Started With Specialty Coffee: Essential Equipment

Laotian Coffee At A Glance

Flavor: Citrus acidity, floral flavor, medium body

Processing: Washed

Main Growing Regions: Saravan, Champasak and Sekong

Harvest: November to January, February to March

Cambodia

Cambodia’s coffee industry was launched in the 1700’s by French colonists.

Due to the low elevation throughout the country, arabica coffee is very difficult to grow. As a result, robusta beans are grown almost exclusively. Most of the production is enjoyed locally - very little is exported.

As you can imagine, most of the coffee produced has the typical robusta bitterness. Other than that, we’re not sure what a specialty-grade Cambodian coffee would taste like.

Sadly, the coffee industry in the country is in rapid decline. Farmers are abandoning coffee from more profitable and quality crops. However, the fate of the industry isn’t sealed, for coffee’s demand is growing among locals.

Read: 5 Ways To Make Your Coffee More Eco-Friendly

It could only be a few years before we see specialty-grade Cambodian coffees rising from this new local demand, but we’ll see.

Cambodian Coffee At A Glance

Flavor: Bitter

Processing: Washed

Main Growing Regions: Ratanakiri, Mondulkiri

Myanmar

Coffee from the relatively new country of Myanmar (formerly Burma) has a mysterious history.

We know the crop came to the land around 1815 from British settlers. And we know that coffee didn’t really take off commercially for nearly 100 years. But after that, things get a little cloudy.

The nation’s former government established a shroud that kept much information from getting in or out. Humanitarian organizations had limited access to data and the messages leaving the country were heavily censored.

Read: How Much Should You Pay For Coffee Beans?

In late 2000, the Burmese government cut off coffee exports to America. Exports were approved in 2016 by the new government of Myanmar, so many American coffee lovers are enjoying Myanmar coffee for the first time.

Most of the country’s production is high-quality arabica beans. They often have floral or fruity notes, a bright, complex acidity, and a light body.

Myanmaran Coffee At A Glance

Flavor: Floral, fruity, bright acidity, complex, light body

Processing: Washed, Natural

Main Growing Regions: Shan State, Mandalay

Harvest: November to March

Vietnam

Similar to other Southeast Asian countries, Vietnam got coffee from the French in the 1800’s. The growth of the industry was fairly rapid, spurred by massive plantations.

Even with mediocre infrastructure and political unrest, Vietnam became the second largest coffee producer in the world by the 1990’s. The only crop exported more than coffee is rice.

Read: Here's Why Some Coffees Are Very Expensive

Sadly, most coffee grown is of the robusta variety, and hence, is quite bitter. Though the government is incentivizing the production of arabica coffee, it’ll take some time before Vietnam makes a big mark on the specialty community.

Vietnamese Coffee At A Glance

Flavor: Bitter, earthy, spice

Processing: Washed

Main Growing Regions: DakLak, Gia Lai, Kontum, Dong Nai, Ba Ria–Vung tau

Harvest: October to January

India

Though rarely thought of for its coffee industry, India was actually the first area of coffee production outside Africa and Arabia.

The first plants were brought around 1600 by Muslim pilgrim Baba Budan, who smuggled seed out of Mecca. Legend has it that he strapped seven beans to his waist, despite laws forbidding green coffee from leaving Arabia.

Coffee grown for commercial export didn’t really begin until British colonization in 1840. Most plants were arabica until the coffee rust disease struck - and struck hard.

Read: 3 Reasons Buying Cheap Coffee Is Bad For The World

Many farmers in the 1860’s abandoned their arabica plants for the resilient robusta variety. Today, nearly half of the country’s production is robusta - and India is the sixth largest coffee producer worldwide.

Indian specialty-grade coffees often have a complex spice flavor profile, a full body, and a bright acidity that’s similar to Guatemalan coffee. India also has produced a large share of the world’s  few specialty-grade robusta beans.

Indian Coffee At A Glance

Flavor: Very spicy (cardamom, nutmeg, clove), full body, bright acidity

Processing: Washed, Natural, Monsooned

Main Growing Regions: Baba Budan, Niligris, Shevaroys

Harvest: November to February, January to March

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Want to experience Asian or Arabian coffee for yourself?

We rarely get our hands on coffee from this part of the world, but when we do, we’ll be sure to share it with you via our Coffee Club.

We send our subscribers specialty-grade beans from some of the best farms in the world. Then we roast them with precision and ship them to you on the same day.

That means you’re getting to try the best coffees in the world while they’re as fresh as can be.

It’s the best way to explore the world’s richest, most flavorful coffees.

Check it out!

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