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Six beans that will never be mainstream

May 15, 2013
By Brian Martell


Brian-4-cMay 15, 2013 – Rare coffees have always drawn the attention of curious coffee drinkers, and just the plain ol’ curious. Many coffees have become rare that were otherwise abundant while others are scarce due to the nature of their geography, wars, or having fallen out of favour with traditional markets. 

The following rounds up a few coffees that have been in the spotlight
at one time or continue to be, but will never break into the mainstream
due to one of the above factors.

Kivu IV The growing region of Kivu was once renowned for the quality of coffee that came from this Central African Arabica.  The Democratic Republic of the Congo, formerly Zaire prior to being a Belgian colony, was once a prolific coffee exporting nation that had a reputation for well-washed Arabica coffees.  Until just recently, consecutive wars (First Congo, Second Congo and Kivu wars) since the mid 90s have had a disastrous effect on this coffee bean and many other agricultural exports from the Kivu region.  Perhaps as stability returns to Central Africa, the fertile high lands of Kivu will once again yield great coffees for the world to enjoy.

JBM Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee is probably one of the most successful and well-recognized “exclusive” coffee names in our business.  Strict control in Jamaica coupled with a great marketing story has made JBM a coffee that demands (and gets) a price outside of its intrinsic value.  Part of the rarity of this coffee comes with a long-standing agreement between Japanese importers and Jamaican growers, which oversee a large part of their harvest going to Japan.  As with many items that become valuable by virtue of branding, JBM has the distinction of having sales far in excess of production.  Consequently much of what is sold as JBM is not the real McCoy; to paraphrase the Bard “all that smells like coffee is not JBM.”


Kona Kona, like JBM, has had the distinction of being a high-priced coffee through the mechanism of supply and demand.  Many years ago, roasters saw Kona in abundant quantities, but currently the bean’s scarcity has eclipsed its availability. Hypothenemus hampei, or more commonly known as coffee berry borer, negatively affected the Kona coffee crop bringing what was already a small part of the coffee industry to miniscule amounts.  Pest control efforts will hopefully translate into the return of production level pre-2010.

Galapagos When His/Her Magesty’s Ship (HMS) Beagle made its famous call at the Galapagos Islands (west of Ecuador, South America), the resident naturalist on board – Charles Darwin – was astounded by the way the local fauna adapted to the unique microclimate and isolation from the rest of South America.  If Darwin ever had an “aha!” moment for his theory of natural selection, this was it.  Fast-forward 180 years and these Ecuadorian islands now have a sizeable population and a thriving, but restricted, agricultural economy.  Coffee was first introduced to San Cristobal (the largest of the Galapagos Islands) in 1879 and while the current crop is not large (about 450 cultivated acres) the quality is decent.

Maragogype This coffee used to be readily available throughout Central and South America.  Commonly referred to as “elephant beans” Maragogype was remarkable by its sheer size, often twice as large as other coffee beans.  It is a sub species of coffea Arabica and therefore it is actually a type of tree.  Farmers in the coffee plantation business keep replanting other sub species that outperform Maragogype in terms of yield per acre thus maximizing their profits.  Unless the price offsets the profit equation for this type of coffee it will continue to become a scarce feature in the coffee landscape.

Kopi Luak Perhaps the most unique coffee not by virtue of its growing region, genus, or organoleptic qualities, Kopi Luak gains its fame from the way the coffee is harvested.  Nocturnal animals similar to ferrets, which are known to eat coffee cherries, will excrete undigested coffee (seeds) beans out the other end that are collected by local farmers and roasted as is without any further processing (save perhaps giving them a good wash… I hope).  This coffee has been the butt of many jokes for the past 15 years since its existence was known in North America. While the hype may still be there for many consumers, most of us are pained to part ways with a large chunk of cash for a cup of “weasel poop coffee.”

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