wooden world map of the coffee belt

Terroir: A Comparison Between Coffee and Wine

Terroir is a French method that is widely used in the wine industry to describe the unique set of environmental factors that give a particular region its distinct character. Soil, climate, and geography all play a role in determining the final taste and quality of wine from a given region.

Recently, the term "terroir" has spilled over to coffee as well, as the unique growing conditions and environmental factors of a given region can have a significant effect on coffee beans and their quality. As with wine, the terroir of the place where coffee is grown can have a significant impact on the final coffee's flavor and aroma. Let's look at how soil, drainage, sunlight, rain, and elevation can all affect the quality of both wine and coffee.
Shovel picking up soil
The soil: The soil plays a role in the taste and quality of both wine and coffee. The nutrients that different types of soil can offer to plants can have an impact on the flavor of the coffee or wine. However, the soil composition is far more crucial because of its relationship to drainage. Wine and coffee grown in soil rich in volcanic minerals, for instance, may have a deeper, more complex flavor. Similarly, soil that is high in clay may produce coffee and wine with a heavier and more full-bodied flavor.

Some Central and South American countries, like Colombia and Costa Rica, grow coffee best in their more acidic soils. The coffee beans in these areas are known for their high acidity and bright flavor. African countries like Ethiopia and Kenya are examples of coffee growing regions with more alkaline soils. Coffee beans from these areas typically have a smoother and sweeter flavor.

Drainage: Both the production of wine and coffee depends on good drainage, which assures that the plants receive an adequate amount of water without becoming waterlogged. Clay soils are notorious for retaining water, while volcanic soils are excellent at draining quickly and retaining only the water they need.
steep vineyards overlooking the river with great drainage
Sunlight: For proper growth and development, both wine and coffee need a certain amount of sunlight. While too much sunlight can result in dry, bitter-tasting coffee, too little sunlight can cause weak, spindly plants.
Grapes grown in cooler climates, like those found in Germany and Austria, typically receive less sunlight, resulting in wine with a lighter body and a higher acidity. To a similar extent, coffee beans harvested from plants cultivated in areas with less sunlight have a lighter body and higher acidity. In contrast, grapes grown in warmer climates, such as those found in California and Italy, receive more sunlight, resulting in wine with a fuller body and lower acidity. Likewise,  coffee plants produce beans that are more robust and flavorful. 

Elevation: Altitude is a key factor in both wine and coffee production, as it can have a substantial impact on the climatic conditions experienced by the plants and has a direct relationship with sunlight and rain. At higher elevations, where the temperature is typically cooler and where there may be more rainfall in regions that are notoriously hot and dry, wine and coffee plants flourish. Slower maturation at higher altitudes (a result of more hours of sunlight and cooler temperatures) results in wine and coffee with a denser structure and a more complex flavor profile.
Mountain in Costa Rica with coffee farms in the foothills
Both the production of wine and coffee is influenced by the concept of terroir, which refers to the particular confluence of environmental elements that gives each product its distinct flavor. All of these factors—soil, drainage, sunlight, rain, and elevation—make up what we call terroir and can have a major effect on the taste and quality of the finished product. Farmers and producers can create premium wine and coffee that is loved by consumers all over the world by understanding and adapting to the unique terroir of a particular region. Discover the nuances of terroir in our single origin coffees for yourself!
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About the Author

Justin Kramp is a coffee fantatic and the owner and founder of Final Grind Coffee Co. He loves drinking single-origin specialty-grade coffee from around the world while researching interesting topics in the coffee world to share with his readers like you.

He founded Final Grind Coffee Co. in college in a quest for better coffee in a more convenient way.

To learn more about Justin and Final Grind Coffee Co., click here!