Bolivian Coffee: A Detailed Overview

Updated

For times when you can’t travel (such as these), coffee can be a great way to experience different regions of the world from the comfort of your home. In this article, we’re going to take a sip of some of the best Bolivian coffee available and travel to this beautiful South American country.

Since every farm’s terroir or growing environment can affect the flavor of the coffee grown there, its taste and aromas will accurately reflect the character of that region.

Bolivian Coffee

Coffee is an important crop for many small growers in South America. Brazil and Columbia are two coffee-growing countries you’re probably familiar with. Many commercial brands boast their beans’ Columbian origins.

However, there are small farms all over the continent who produce some delightful single-origin beans. Some farmers have been growing beans for generations, using the same organic practices.

Location (terroir)

Beautiful view of Bolivian mountains covered with snow.

Bolivia is a country nestled between its large neighbor, Brazil, and the western coastal countries Chile and Peru. Their government is a presidential representative democratic republic, currently led by Jeanine Áñez.

Bolivia is a country about the size of Montana. Two ranges of the Andes mountains cut through the country and one of them – the Yungas – is where up to 95% of the country’s coffee is grown.

It is both the highest country in South America and the one with the highest proportion of indigenous people. There are just over 10 million people in the country, most of whom are Christian and they speak 4 different languages.

Since it’s one of the poorest countries in South America, roasters in the United States are putting in effort to ensure that coffee farmers get a fair price for their beans. If you see the Fair Trade Certified seal on a bag of coffee, you know that the roaster has met certain criteria for supporting the local economy.

Bolivian Coffee Industry

A coffee plantation located in Bolivia.

The Bolivian coffee industry got a boost when land reform laws in the early ’90s gave 23,000 indigenous families back their land. That and the introduction of the Cup of Excellence program took the country’s production to great heights.

Sadly, the Bolivian president was not a fan of the United States and the USAID program that supported coffee farmers was forced to close and leave Bolivia. At the same time, a deadly fungal parasite decimated the region’s coffee trees.

Since then, the coffee industry has been struggling with little if any support from the Bolivian government. At least for now, success seems to depend on local farming coalitions and discerning foreign roasters.

However, because of the high altitudes and treacherous terrain, harvesting and transporting coffee from the Yungas can be a dangerous ordeal. One road is so treacherous, it’s nicknamed “Death Road.”

Thankfully, the infrastructure in the area is improving and it’s getting easier to find coffee from the area’s small farms, which make up the vast majority (85-95%) of the growers in the country.

This high altitude, combined with abundant rainfall and rich soils makes the land well-suited to producing a high-quality bean. Small batch farming yields a variety of beans with subtle differences in flavor.

Bolivian Coffee Characteristics

Bolivian coffee pouring into a cup and a beautiful mountain view in the background.

At high altitudes, plants grow more slowly than their low-altitude counterparts. The same goes for the coffee plants grown high in the Yungas. So, coffee from this region takes much longer to mature than in other places.

Bolivia doesn’t yet have the reputation it deserves for gourmet coffee. Sadly, that has led to less investment in the area’s infrastructure than there could be. So, it remains a difficult and dangerous task to farm in this country, despite recent changes.

The difficulty of the harvest means that to get a fair price, coffee farmers in Bolivia must ask a higher return for their beans. Not recognizing the high level of quality in Bolivian beans, some buyers pass on these beans because they aren’t well-known.

The positive side is that more and more small roasters are taking an interest in this under-appreciated region and are willing to pay what the coffee is worth. So, we get exposure to the wonderful richness of Bolivian coffee from roasters who care.

Small batch roasts enable roasters to pay more attention to what’s going on with the beans. They can fine-tune their roasting process to bring out the very best the beans have to offer.

Flavor

Coffee stain marks on white background.

The cherries on Bolivian coffee trees take some time to mature into a harvestable crop. Because they spend so long on the tree, the beans develop a more concentrated flavor profile. They’re also more richly layered with complex flavors, making them very unique, high-quality beans.

When it comes to Bolivian beans, some great flavors are being produced. Depending on the variety of bean (Gesha, Arabica, etc.) there are some subtle differences within the region’s coffee.

In general, Bolivian beans produce a sweet, well-balanced cup with floral aromas. Most people compare this coffee’s aroma to jasmine flowers. Some even say it has delicate fruit notes, similar to pear, tangerine, and apricot.

Once sipped, Bolivian coffee has a smooth mouthfeel, rich in flavors like milk chocolate and almonds. The acidity of this coffee is pretty low, but there’s still a subtle berry-like acidity to balance out the rich cocoa flavors.

Naturally Organic

Because the traditional farming practices in Bolivia are naturally organic, there are no chemicals that will interfere with the bean’s natural richness. In most cases, the soil here has never seen pesticides or chemical fertilizers.

Most of the coffee in Bolivia is grown in the Caranavi region in the midwestern part of the country. Farmers produce mainly Arabica beans or subspecies of Arabica. One of those varieties is called Gesha or Geisha.

This special coffee is some of the most expensive in the world. If you thought Jamaican Blue Mountain was expensive, a single cup of Gesha from Panama recently went for $100. That’s roughly $1,029 per pound.

To truly appreciate the characteristics of Bolivian coffee beans, you have to drink it! So, here are five Bolivian beans you have to sip to believe.

Best Bolivian Coffee

Our Choice

Bolivia Peaberry Coffee, Organic – Volcanica Coffee Company

Volcanica’s Bolivian Peaberry offering is the cream of the crop when it comes to micro-lot beans from the region. This is a true organic Bolivian blend.

Grown high in the mountains of the Caranavi province and sourced from an organic farm to give you the best possible flavor, these certified fair-trade beans are hand-selected from the 5% – 10% of the crop that contains just one bean per berry.

The medium roast brings forward the smooth flavors of cocoa and cream. Fairtrade practices help ensure that the farmers in Bolivia get a fair price for their beans. If you’re in the mood for a smooth coffee with low acidity, this is the one for you!

Bolivian Organic – Parisi Coffee

Parisi Artisian Coffee 32 Oz., Bolivian Organic, Whole Bean
  • USDA Certified Organic
  • Whole Bean
  • A medium roast gives this coffee a full profile that is silky and smooth with gentle acidity.

Sourced from organic farms in Bolivia and roasted in small batches in Kansas City, this whole bean Arabica coffee is sure to be a crowd-pleaser. Inspired by their grandmother, two Italian brothers opened their roastery in Kansas City and have been producing excellent small-batch roasts since 2006.

Their Bolivian coffee is a medium roast with smooth milk chocolate and sweet almond flavors. This one would go great with a chocolate croissant for an indulgent morning experience.

Bolivian Single Origin – Aficionado Coffee Roasters

Afficionado Coffee Roasters Buena Vista Bolivia | 12oz Whole Bean Coffee | Single Origin
  • SINGLE ORIGIN BOLIVIAN COFFEE - Buena Vista is a Gesha varietal with tantalizing flavor notes of dark...
  • COFFEE WITH A PURPOSE - Afficionado Coffee Roasters is a purpose-driven coffee brand. We partner with the...
  • FRESH ROAST - Our whole bean coffee is roasted to order and will have the roast date and employee who...

This Bolivian coffee also comes from the Caranavi province, but the beans are a Gesha varietal. Sourced from a single origin in Bolivia, they’re roasted at the Aficionado facility in New Jersey by two friends with an appetite for travel.

They visit farms around the world to connect one-on-one with the farmers in each region. Gesha beans are known for a delicate floral aroma, reminiscent of jasmine. The flavor profile of this roast consists of Dark Rum, Green Chili, and Goji Berry.

Larry’s Bolivia Pro Agro Organic Fair Trade – Larry’s Coffee

Larry's Organic Fair Trade Whole Bean Coffee, Bolivia - Light Roast, 2.2 Pound
  • The package length of the product is 6 inches
  • The package width of the product is 5 inches
  • The package height of the product is 4 inches

Named after the farmer’s union who grew them, these Bolivian beans are a treat from 3,300 feet. Sourced from the Caranavi province, these beans are roasted to light-medium perfection by Larry’s roastery in Raleigh, NC.

Larry’s entire facility is built to operate sustainably, so not only can you feel good about this tasty fair trade organic, you can feel good about their impact on the planet. These beans have a slightly higher acidity than our other selections, which is balanced well with its smooth creamy chocolate notes.

Fair Trade Bolivian – Old Chicago Coffee Co.

Fair Trade Certified Bolivian Roasted Coffee Beans - Old Chicago Mezzo
  • A Fair Trade Certified Coffee
  • 100% Single Origin
  • Shade Grown in the Andes Mountains

These Arabica beans have been shade-grown in the Caranavi province of Bolivia and roasted in Orland Park, IL. They are “mezzo” or medium roasted whole beans that will stay fresh and vibrant longer than ground coffee will.

Remarkably affordable for a single-origin coffee, Old Chicago’s fair-trade beans are carefully harvested so that only the best beans make it to the bag. If you’re a first-timer for Bolivian beans and are hesitant to spend a lot on a style you aren’t familiar with, these beans are a great choice.

Bolivian Coffee FAQ

Now that you have a good idea of what Bolivian beans are all about, let’s talk about some of the questions you may have when it comes to these high-quality beans. There’s always more to learn about coffee and the deeper we delve into the world of this wonderful beverage, the more intriguing it becomes.

How do I brew my Bolivian coffee?

Boiling water pouring over Bolivian coffee.

The way you brew depends mainly on the roast of your coffee. Most of the Bolivian coffees on our top five list above are medium roast beans. For a medium roast, you might consider cold-brewing.

All you need to do is put your ground coffee into a jar with some water and close the lid. Then, let it refrigerate for 12 to 24 hours and filter out the grounds before drinking.

If you prefer your coffee piping hot, a pour-over is your best bet for a medium roast. If you’ve never used a pour-over, it’s a very simple one-cup option. Since there’s no heating element involved (except for the one used to heat the water), the coffee doesn’t sit on a burner and become scorched.

You should always sip the coffee before adding sweeteners and creamers to your cup. This allows you to pick out the more subtle flavors characteristic of your coffee’s region. Once you’ve appreciated its unadulterated aromas, you can decide on your favorite additions.

What food pairs with Bolivian coffee?

Since most Bolivian coffees have dessert-like flavors with floral aromas, fruits make good pairings with this coffee. Try some toast with marmalade or an orange scone with a cup of Volcanica’s Bolivian peaberry.

It may be tempting to pair Bolivian coffees with other chocolate flavors. But these flavors will compete with the cocoa tones of the coffee, rather than compliment them. Imagine if you were drinking a sweet Moscato wine. Then, you ate a spoonful of honey.

Because the honey is sweeter than the wine, when you sip the wine again, it won’t taste as sweet. The honey ruins the delicate sweetness of the wine. Something similar happens with coffee flavors.

While some chocolate does pair well with coffees, it’s best not to overshadow the Bolivian cocoa notes with too much sweetness. The citrus flavors in the jam and scone will complement the fruity undertones of the coffee while allowing the chocolate flavors to come through.

Where can I get Bolivian coffee?

If you don’t live near a specialty coffee shop or roaster, you can order coffees from Amazon. The five best Bolivian coffees recommended above are all available from Amazon, so you can taste the best Bolivia has to offer without leaving your home!

How should I store my Bolivian coffee beans?

Jute bags filled with roasted Bolivian coffee.

How you store your beans depends on what condition the beans are in when you get them. Green coffee, roasted coffee, and ground coffee all have different shelf lives and need to be treated differently in storage.

Green coffee keeps the longest. We have a dedicated article on storing green coffee beans. The most important thing to do is not to freeze or refrigerate it! This will shorten the life of the coffee and ruin the flavor.

Roasted coffee doesn’t keep as well as unroasted beans but still has a reasonable shelf life. Oxygen is the enemy of roasted coffee. For this reason, find a resealable, airtight container to keep it in. Keep it away from moisture until you’re ready to brew.

Ground coffee is the first to become stale and lose its flavor. Since the aromas have already been mostly released and it has more surface area exposed to the air, it will lose its flavor more quickly. Store as you would the whole beans, but drink sooner.

What makes Bolivian coffee different?

For the special characteristics of Bolivian coffee, take a look at the first part of this article. In a nutshell, the terrain, humidity, altitude, and natural, organic farming practices all lend a unique flavor to the beans. It also has to do with the varieties of the plants grown.

What is Gesha coffee?

This coffee variety originates in Ethiopia and is named after the Gori Gesha forest there. Now, it’s grown in several different countries, like Bolivia and Peru. It’s known for being a very high quality, fruit-forward bean with a delicate floral aroma.

Also called “Geisha,” this coffee has been described as the most expensive coffee in the world, which means you’ll rarely find it in a coffee shop. It’s a variety of the Arabica bean that mainstream drinkers rarely appreciate.

Why should I care if my Bolivian coffee is organic?

“Organic” is a term that’s been wildly popularized and not always well regulated. Unless a product has a USDA Organic certification (or other reputable certification), it hasn’t been inspected and approved.

The use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers can dramatically affect the landscape where they’re used. They can kill native plants and animals that are part of the natural ecosystem of an area. They can also interfere with age-old farming practices that have been proven effective for centuries.

Aside from the environmental effects, these chemicals can affect the flavor of a product and the health of people who consume it. Some have been linked to diseases like Parkinson’s and cancer.

What is “peaberry” coffee?

Coffee beans are the seeds of the coffee cherry. Each of these fruits typically contains two beans with the flat sides against each other. But, a natural mutation causes a small percentage of coffee cherries to produce only one round bean.

Since these special beans are undetectable by machinery, they have to be hand sorted. This process makes this coffee more labor-intensive and expensive than normal coffee. Some say these beans are sweeter and have more flavor than flat-sided beans.

Why can’t I find Bolivian coffee at my local café?

Part of the reason is that the industry in the region is struggling. Roasters and buyers who haven’t yet caught onto the delights of Bolivian coffee may not understand its higher per pound prices.

Many consumers also tend to go for very sugary, creamy coffee drinks that mask the true flavors of the bean. So, retailers can get away with selling lower quality coffee to their customers.

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