Coffee in South America: an Overview

Posted on Apr 9, 2012

Coffee in South America: an Overview

For most of the history of coffee, South America was not heavily involved in cultivating coffee. Much of coffee’s time was spent in Africa or the Middle East – it first went east toward southeast Asia before arriving in South America. And even when it arrived in South America, it took at least a century before it truly caught on to the proportions we’re familiar with today.

So what explains the late blooming nature of South American coffee? There are a number of factors. The first: geopolitical factors. It wasn’t until within the past couple of centuries that South American countries started needing to cultivate their own resources to boost their own economies as they grew as a whole. In fact, it wasn’t until these recent centuries that coffee was even introduced to South America in the first place. But once it was, the coffee of varieties like Arabica and Bourbon took strong root throughout South America and adapted particularly well to the warm, consistent climates of South American highlands.

South America is not as strict as Central America in producing only Arabica, however. Both Arabica and Robusta varieties of coffee are grown across the continent – which makes sense, given just how much space is available for growing coffee. Brazil by itself produces about one third of the world’s coffee output – you only need to look at a map and see Brazil’s raw size to understand its importance to the world coffee trade.

South America’s climate tends to be both wet and hot. Humidity can be a good thing for coffee if it is consistent – which it tends to be in higher altitudes. Although many people think of northern South America as primarily lush rainforests, there are also a lot of mountainous and hilly areas – similar to Central America – that are perfect for growing coffee.