If you’re anything of a coffee connoisseur, you’re well aware that coffee beans come from coffea plants, which is grown all around the world. Depending on your preference of flavor, boldness, and acidity, you may already have a preferred location from where your coffee originates. Brazil, Ethiopia, India, Honduras, and Vietnam all grow a delicious bean. And while all of these types and their rich, complex flavors are worth exploring, the two coffee varieties that people seem to be the most drawn to at the moment are Kona and Colombian.
While there are over 120 varieties of coffea plant, and each makes its own unique bean, coffee beans are usually broken down into four categories of flavor: Arabica, Robusta, Liberica, and Excelsa.
Both Kona and Colombia coffee beans are Arabica, but their flavor profiles differ considerably. Generally, Arabica coffee is mild and smooth yet bold in flavor, with less bitterness than other types. And while this holds true for both coffees, the stark differences between Kona and Colombian beans come from their own unique terroir.
Kona coffee is grown on the slopes of Hualalai and Mauna Loa in the Kona district of Hawaii. In this balmy and rainy tropical climate, the beans develop their unique taste in part from the volcanic soil, rich with minerals and flavor.
True Kona coffee from Hawaii is known for having a light, slightly sweet flavor profile, with hints of spice and earthiness, which are accentuated differently depending on which roasting process is used. A light roast of these beans will release their fruity sweetness and taste smooth and mild. The longer they are roasted, their sweet notes will give way to darker, earthier flavors that are spicy and full-bodied. The longer the roasting time, the darker the roast.
Kona coffee flavor notes: Sweet fruit, syrup, spice, hazelnut
Colombia trails behind only Brazil and Vietnam as one of the highest coffee-producing countries in the world. And for good reason. Cultivated from tropical Colombian mountain ranges, these beans are some of the most beloved and popular worldwide.
Interestingly, because their growing range is so vast in Colombia, the flavor profiles of the beans can differ depending on the region in which they’re grown. Northern areas of Colombia grow a nuttier, richer bean; Southern areas produce beans that are brighter and more citrusy; and beans from the Central regions are sweet with slightly herbal notes.
As with Kona and all other coffee beans, Colombian coffee beans darken in flavor as they darken in color through the roasting process. Often, though, Colombian coffee brands roast just to medium, or medium-dark at the most, so that the complex flavor profile and balance have a chance to shine.
Even with its varying types, Colombian coffee overall is known for being slightly citrusy and mellow with a strong, nutty sweetness reminiscent of caramel and chocolate.
Colombian coffee flavor notes: Citrus fruit, sweet cherry, chocolate, caramel
So if you’re looking for the absolute best coffee on the market, we’re sorry to say — it can’t be done. Choosing a superior between these two is as difficult as deciding between a good Pinot Noir and a Beaujolais; a single malt Scotch and a hearty bourbon; a cool, crisp Pilsner and a beefy Stout. Everything comes down to a matter of preference, mood, and situation.
It’s important to start viewing coffee not as a mere drug to activate our brain cells each morning, but instead as a nuanced beverage, with a plethora of varieties to enjoy. While Monday morning may call for a bold Colombian brew, perhaps Thursday afternoon’s refresh should come from a gentle cup of Kona.
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