Coffee ring

Coffee: How the origin makes a difference

I'm fond of saying there are only three kinds of coffee in the world -- from Central and South America, from Africa and Arabia, and from Indonesia and other Pacific rim countries. That's not literally true of course -- there can be great differences within a single region of a country -- but even a novice cupper can distinguish a Kenya from a Sumatra from a Colombia when tasted side by side. Then, some days, all the Centrals taste alike and it makes you long for something from far away.

The best way to learn what coffees from different origins taste like is to try them, but here are some general descriptions to get you started.

Current availability is on the Price List page.

Single Origins - coffee from a particular country or region.


The top export grades are supremo, which everyone is familiar with, and the slightly smaller bean excelso that we used to buy. Colombian coffee has moderately high acidity, far more than a Sumatra, but less than a Kenya, and is full-bodied but less than Sumatras and on a par with the best Africans. A top Colombian will have a slight flavor mindful of Ethiopians.

The surprising thing about Colombian coffee is that so much of it is quite good. Colombia is second only to Brazil in the amount of coffee produced, but it's all washed, high-grown on small farms, and well sorted. Nowadays most coffee from Colombia is labeled with the region it's from -- Huila, Popayan, Armenia, Bogata, Bucaramanga, or Medellin (I may have missed some)-- or the estate if its particularly distinguished or would like to be.

Our Mesa de los Santos (Table of the Saints), from a single farm in Bucaramanga, is the first Colombia I've been excited about in years. It's so good I actually drink it myself. Begun in 1840 by a Monsignor (thus the name) the farm is currently owned by Oswaldo Acevedo (whom you can meet at SCAA and other coffee shows). Oswaldo tries to do everything right -- the farm is organic, bird friendly, the coffee is shade grown, and they take care of their workers and families. The whole story is at -- coffee you can feel good about. Note that Mesa is not available fair trade because it's a single farm, not part of a coop. But don't worry, Oswaldo gets far more than the fair trade price anyway.

Our current selection of this coffee is Reserva Don Telmo, a single varietal Bourbon coffee, named for the founder Telmo J. Diaz. Here's what Royal coffee (who import Mesa) say about the estate:

Over 100 years ago, Telmo J. Diaz founded the Mesa de Los Santos Estate in Santander, Colombia. His legacy continues today through his grandson Oswaldo, who adheres to his life-long principles: generosity, integrity, and the search for perfection. Cafe Mesa de Los Santos thanks Mountain City Coffee Roasters for supporting a fair compensation program that pays wages well above the Colombian minimum salary to the 310 hardworking campesinos producing this coffee. Other benefits to the workers are: free health care for the workers and their 548 family members, education allowance for children, insurance coverage for temporary or permanent work disability, and a pension fund to provide retirement benefits. While enjoying this magnificent coffee, rest assured that you are consuming a product derived from dedicated organic and farming practices.

Costa Rica

This is the quintessential middle of the road coffee -- that's not a criticism -- a good Costa Rican has great body and high, pleasant acidity. It's a coffee no one will dislike; if you can't decide what coffee your customers might like, try one from Costa Rica. It's not always easy to tell where in Costa Rica the coffee is grown, though all of the top strictly hard bean grade (SHB) is from farms above 1200 meters. Well known regions include Tarrazu and Tres Rios, but the coffee is often labeled with the name of the farm or the exporter or something else; it's better to go by taste rather than name (or price).


Peru has often been considered the poor relation of the better known South American coffees. The quality of the coffee, however, has improved greatly in recent years. Perus tend to be lighter than Colombians -- a little less full-bodied yet with high acidity because all Perus are quite high grown. A good example will have a distinctive, often nutty, flavor lacking in Colombian coffee.When roasted longer to bring out some of the oils, it produces a mild, sweet French Roast that we've found to be popular here in Western North Carolina.