The DataHero Blog

Coffee Production Visualization Through The Years

March 20th, 2014


Like most offices, we are coffee-fueled here at DataHero. Thus, when I came across some data on coffee production, I had to look into it a little more. Contributing so far only to the demand on coffee production, researching coffee distribution yielded many new perspectives and considerations. Factors like weather (Brazil’s drought could drive up coffee prices in 2014), different regions, different types of beans, etc. all play important roles in driving supply, and thus price, in coffee. Read on to find some of the interesting trends we found in coffee production.

Thanks to coffee crops favoring rich soil, steady temperatures, and moderate sunshine and rain, it grows only between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn. You can see this quite clearly in the map below, which represents overall coffee production in bags by country between 1990 and 2012.

Notice that Brazil is the most significant coffee producer, and the growing region for coffee is relatively small, compared to its expansive reach in consumption.

To see trends in coffee growing by country, take a look at the percentage area graph of coffee production by country between 1990-2012.

Brazil is the major player here, accounting for roughly a third of all coffee production. Vietnam is working hard to carve out a piece of this market, which as the graph above indicates, has been quite successful so far. Vietnam aims to capitalize specifically on the new market in sustainability. There are strict guidelines each farm must follow to be certified as “sustainable”. Once the farms meet these guidelines, they can demand a higher price for their beans, and yield better harvests with more streamlined practices.

Among the sustainably-sourced coffee trend is the impetus for the new popularity in specialty roasts and high-quality brews. Not all coffee production is created equal. Arabica beans are the most highly sought after, as these are considered better quality than Robusta beans. Arabica beans are grown at higher altitudes and generally yield a smaller harvest than Robusta beans, but are said to have a softer, sweeter and less harsh taste. Below is a chart of coffee production in Arabica vs. Robusta beans. Many countries produce both, marked in grey below.

Specialty roasts and high-end coffee is a luxury that many Westerners treat themselves to. This is the foundation on which Starbucks has built its empire; luxury for the common man. You can very clearly see that Robusta production peaked in 1999, then saw a significant drop in 2000 and has remained fairly steady since then. Robusta coffee beans are largely used for instant coffees, and as specialty roasts become more desired in Western consumers’ minds, it’s easy to see why Robusta hovers quite low on the production chart.

If we look at coffee production prices by country, we see that the countries that produce the most coffee aren’t necessarily the ones charging the most per pound. You’ll see in the following chart average coffee price in US cents per pound, broken down by country.

Jamaica, Cuba and Mexico hold the top three slots for most expensive exporting countries. Whether this is due to one specific blend/producer (Jamaicain Blue Mountain, anyone?) or due to a special growing region, or some combination thereof is difficult to say.

Take a look at the change average price of one pound of coffee in US cents (2014 dollars) by coffee type.

Robustas, interestingly enough, seem to be gaining in popularity according to this chart (except for 2009), though they were not gaining in production according to the first chart. Non-Colombian milds also appear to be the most expensive type of coffee, which is what Jamaica, Cuba and Mexico, the most expensive production countries, all grow.

1994 was a particularly rough year for coffee prices, given that a Colombian drought and unrest in Rwanda led to significantly decreased production. 1997 was another year of high prices in coffee, though there is some debate about whether low coffee reserves or El Nino is more to blame for this price spike. There was also quite a dip in coffee prices in 1998; this could be more a result of the market coming back to normal after 1997. However, this dip in prices continued from 1998 all the way to 2002. We can see from the second chart in this post that coffee production increased quite a bit in 1998 and even more dramatically in 1999, driving the cost of coffee down. Vietnam also started to become a larger player in the international coffee market around this time, upsetting the market. The coffee industry appears to be back on track though, with an upward trend in prices since 2004.

Next we’ll be taking a look at the other side of the coffee industry; consumer demand. Subscribe to our blog to stay up to date on data stories like this one, plus data analysis tips. Create a free DataHero account and import the coffee production datasets to find your own insights.

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By Kelli Simpson

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