South American Coffees

Written by Helen Glenn Court
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American coffees are grown in the Caribbean, Central America, and South America. To a large extent, the crops from this region share certain qualities. For one, they are without exception Arabica beans rather than Robusta. These two, Coffea arabica and Coffea canephora robusta, make up the vast majority of the coffees consumed today worldwide. On an annual basis, that amounts to about 400 cups. That's a lot of coffee. Most of it is Arabica.

Comparing South American Coffees to their Nearby Cousins

While all the American coffees are characterized as well balanced, smooth, and medium to light weight in body, there are differences within the region. South America's varietals tend to be somewhat milder than Central America's. They are also sharper and softer.

Generally accepted flavor profiles, to put this into context, are broken into three categories--body, acidity, and balance characteristics. Each of these are scaled from one to five. This grading is not a matter of better or worse. It is instead descriptive. For body, to take one example, number one is light and number five heavy. For acidity, number one is soft and number five is assertive or sharp. For balance (which you can also think of as flavor harmony), number one is delicate or lean and number five is complete.

Central American coffees as a group are rated four-three-four. Caribbean coffees are rated four-four-five. South American coffees are rated three-four-four. That is, their body (or mouthfeel, as it's called in wine tasting) is average rather than heavier; their acidity is bold or piquant; their balance is termed "great depth." Brazilian Santos is a wonderful benchmark if you're looking for a first South American coffee to get acquainted with in the short term.


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