Some of the best coffee beans in the world are grown between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn in and area known as the "Coffee Belt". South America dominates coffee plantations with Brazil contributing more than 40% of all coffee production worldwide.
The coffee bean is actually a seed, and it is tucked inside the fruit of a coffee plant similar to a pit of a cherry. The two most common coffee beans are Arabica and Robusta. Arabica beans top the charts with a smoother taste, yet Robustas, as the name suggests, provide a bold and slightly bitter taste and have twice the caffeine as their Arabica sisters.
Coffee plants need ample rainfall early months of growth, and less after the fruit begins to ripen. Rainforests prove to be an ideal location for coffee production. The hand picked coffee seeds are processed by either using a wet or dry method. For the wet method the seeds are soaked in water for a few days to remove the excess mucilage of the seed. The dry method takes the fruit picked from the seeds and laid in the sun to dry for a few weeks. Most coffee is washed, except for Ethiopians and Brazils. The drying method is less expensive and a lower quality method of processing. The reason one is done over the other generally has to do with available space, and the fact that a lot of people don't want the fruitiness associated with the wet method.
The length of time the bean is roasted will determine its flavor profile and caffeine content. Beans that are roasted longer will have a shiny black appearance and will be slightly bitter and bolder in taste. Lighter roasted beans tend to be sweeter, smoother, and even floral in flavor. The lighter roasted beans actually contain more caffeine than the darker roasted ones!
Coffee will either be sold as single origin, or blends. Blends are much like blends of wine - a red blend vs. a Merlot or Cabernet. Single origin beans come directly from one location only, exactly as you would assume. Single origin beans are typically for the coffee gurus - often no question as to their flavor profile. When you grind your coffee beans it releases their oils and grinding fresh beans allows you to change the grind for different applications. It is very important to store your beans in an airtight container immediately after grinder to keep them as fresh as possible.