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An Overview of Coffee

Coffee comes from the Latin form on the genus Coffea, a member of the Rubiaceae family which includes over 6,000 species of tropical trees and shrubs, including Gardenias. The species of coffea range from small shrubs to trees as tall as 32 feet high.

Coffee is a tropical plant which grows between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn. Coffee requires specific climate for cultivation; temperature, rainfall, sunlight, wind and soils are all important. Coffee's worst enemy is frost. Frost will severely damage the trees ability to produce flowers which are the beginning of the coffee development cycle. Plantation altitude, and wind and rainfall conditions will affect the occurrence of frost. The highest danger of frost is in the southern growing regions of Brazil. Two devastating frost in the mid 1990s caused such damage that the price of coffee nearly tripled.

When a coffee tree has reached maturity, it will begin to bear fruit in small clusters along it's branches. Clusters of 5 - 12 small white flowers, with a jasmine like fragrance, blossom, these flowers form into the coffee cherries which initially is green in color and turns red when it is ripe and ready for harvesting. The five-petal flowers fade quickly after blooming and the coffee cherry begins to form. Most coffee cherries contain two coffee beans nestled face to face. That's why coffee beans are flat on one side. But, about 5% of coffee cherries hold just one small oval-shaped bean producing an only child bean. The small, oval bean is called a "peaberry". Peaberries are unique little beans with a sassy, robust taste and are rare, simply because nature makes it so.

Two types of coffee are grown commercially, Arabica and Robusta.

Arabica Coffee

Arabica coffee makes up nearly 70% of the world's coffee production. There are several varieties of Arabica coffee; Typica, Bourbon, Caturra, Mundo Novo, Tico, and several others.

An Arabica tree is an evergreen bush, with dark green, oval leaves, that can grow up to 20 feet high. on plantations, plants are kept to nine feet for purposes of harvesting and increased nourishment of cherries. An arabica plant will bear fruit for around 50 years, although after 30 years the yield drops. Arabica trees flourish in temperature of 60 - 75 degrees, in areas receiving annual rainfall of 60 inches.

Robusta Coffee

Robusta coffee trees can grow to 32 feet high, they produce a smaller, round bean. Robusta was first discovered growing in Congo in 1898. Robusta trees produce their first crop after 3 years and continue for 20 to 30 years. Robusta flourishes in temperature of 75 - 80 degrees with annual rainfall amounts of 60 inches or more.

Robusta tends to be a hardier, more disease resistant plant than Arabica. It is less expensive to maintain and yields more coffee annually. While Robusta prospers in lowlands such as rain forest, Arabica grows best at high altitudes, from 2,000 feet to 6,000 feet above sea level.

In comparison, Robusta coffee has higher acidity with a harsh flavor. Arabica has a lower acidity than Robusta, and due to its high altitude growing conditions, the beans develop slower producing a smoother, more flavorful taste.

  Arabica Robusta
Date Named:  1753 1895
Flowering: After Rain Irregularly
Caffeine Content: average 1.2% average 2.0%
Bean Shape: Oval Round
% of World Production:  70% 30%