Coffee is a vital drink and culinary tradition in countries around the world. Coffee drinkers can’t get through the morning or afternoon without at least one cup of their preferred coffee beverage.
Whether you brew at home or rely on your local barista for your morning latte, you’ve probably noticed that your preferred coffee grounds come from the same group of countries and regions.
These countries fall within an area known as the coffee belt. Below, we’ll expound upon the coffee belt, its climate, and its importance for coffee production.
What is the Coffee Belt?
The coffee belt is a region that spans the tropical and subtropical latitudes of both hemispheres, responsible for nearly all coffee production in the world. To be more specific, the coffee belt encompasses regions that lie within 25 degrees north and 30 degrees south of the equator.
The rainy climates and tree shade in these regions create optimal conditions for coffee growth. Some of the most famous coffee-producing countries that are in the Coffee Belt are:
- Costa Rica
Each country has a similar climate, with differing altitudes, soil types, and weather patterns accounting for vastly different coffee aromas,
tasting notes, acidity, and textures.
When Did Coffee Start to Grow in the Coffee Belt?
Coffee has been commercially cultivated since the 15th century, starting with Yemen and Ethiopia, the first coffee trading center and the birthplace of the coffee bean, respectively.
Ethiopia and Yemen are still leaders in coffee production and sales; of course, both lie within the Coffee Belt.
As coffee gained worldwide notoriety, and with the discovery of the New World at the end of the 15th century, coffee growing then spread to the numerous countries that surround the equator in the Eastern and Western hemispheres.
Why Does Coffee Grow Better in the Coffee Belt than Elsewhere?
Coffee grows best in the Coffee Belt due to various climatic, ecological, and geographical factors that we’ll cover in detail below.
The coffee belt features similar conditions like rainfall, temperatures, and shade, but altitude changes from one country to another. Both high and low altitudes benefit coffee production while distinguishing the two major types of coffee: Arabica and Robusta.
Arabica coffee is the highest quality coffee bean, produced almost exclusively in high altitudes. Arabica beans demand specific climatic conditions for high-quality coffee, which only high altitudes can provide. High altitudes offer high temperatures during the day, lower temperatures at night, and more balanced exposure to sun and clouds.
Ethiopia and Colombia are two of the most notable high-elevation Coffee Belt countries, and their Arabica beans are lauded as some of the most flavorful on earth.
Robusta coffee beans are more adaptable and drought resistant, occupying lowland coffee regions in the coffee belt, like Brazil. Lowland regions usually get less exposure to the sun and experience higher temperatures during dry seasons.
Countries surrounding the equator are known for their warm, tropical weather, popular with visitors who want to escape the cold Northern and Southern poles. Coffee beans also enjoy these warm temperatures, as any temperature below 18 degrees Celsius (64 degrees.
Fahrenheit) will lower coffee bean production significantly.
The optimal temperature range is different for Robusta and Arabica. Lowland Robusta varieties thrive between 20–26 degrees Celsius temperatures, while highland Arabica beans thrive between 18-21 degrees Celsius.
Super-hot temperatures will also curtail coffee bean growth by speeding up fruit ripening and proliferating pest populations.
Sun exposure is also a critical factor in temperature that affects coffee growth. The sun’s rays aren’t just hotter but also more intense. If coffee plants get too many rays, they’ll ripen prematurely, damaging coffee quality.
Shade is essential for coffee growth because it reduces the temperature of the sun’s rays and protects soils from drying out.
Soil is an essential factor in coffee production for yield and flavor. All regions within the coffee belt are known for soils rich in minerals.
The Indonesian island of Sumatra, Hawaii, and Costa Rica are a few of the countries within the coffee belt that grow coffee in highlands surrounding active and inactive volcanoes.
Volcanic soils are ideal for coffee production because they have high contents of the following minerals:
Mineral content in soils is responsible for the flavor profile of coffee beans. Another mineral-rich soil type present in countries along the Coffee Belt is sandy loam. Both deep sandy loam and volcanic earth offer ideal mineral content and easy water drainage.
In the Coffee Belt, rainfall is constant, so moist soil is also a key factor in production yields. However, if the soil doesn’t drain, pooling will drown and kill crops.
One thing all coffee-producing regions share is at least one rainy season. In regions closer to the equator, two rainy seasons exist. Rainfall is of utmost importance in coffee growth. Too little rainfall places coffee plants under stress, which, in turn, limits coffee bean production. The ideal annual rainfall for coffee plants to thrive is 60–90 inches.
That said, there’s a fine line between the right amount of rainfall and too much rainfall. Super heavy rainfall may lead to fungus and mold growth on coffee plants, causing them to rot and die. Heavy rainfall can also erode soils on steep mountain terrain.
While a balance of rainy and dry seasons in the Coffee Belt is important, year-round humidity maintains the moist soils that coffee needs to flourish. That’s why tropical forests and tree-covered mountains are as critical as rainfall, as their shade’s damp, dark conditions of their shade and ecosystems provide soils with ample moisture.
How is Climate Change Affecting the Coffee Belt?
While the tropical highlands and lowlands in the Coffee Belt offer the ideal climate for coffee growth, all the factors that contribute to this climate are in peril. Climate change has increased the average temperature, decreased the average rainfall, and increased the rate and breadth of forest fires.
Coffee growth thrives within a small temperature window, so increasing temperatures create plagues of pests and lower coffee yields. Less rainfall means drier soil, which leads to plants dying or producing minimal beans due to higher stress.
Forest fires decimate tree populations, reducing shade which maintains moisture in soils. These factors have made the coffee belt less hospitable to coffee growth.
Can Coffee Grow Outside the Coffee Belt?
Technology such as greenhouses and hydroponics have made it possible to grow crops outside their ideal climates. However, growing coffee commercially isn’t tenable outside the coffee belt.
As climate changes and overall global temperatures continue to increase, regions further from the equator may enter the realm of coffee growth conditions. Recreating these climatic conditions to grow coffee outside the coffee belt requires a lot of work and money, relegating endeavors to small-scale home projects for now.
The Coffee Belt is a region that encompasses high and low-altitude tropical regions within 30 degrees north and south of the equator. These regions provide the temperatures, rainfall, soil, and humidity necessary for large-scale coffee production.
Every delicious sip of coffee at home or at an espresso bar comes from the Coffee Belt.