We at Blue Box Cafe have often stumbled upon many stories about where does coffee come from. The most favorite one is about this goat herder known as Kaldi. He ate berries belonging to a strange-looking tree located in the Ethiopian plateau. And these berries gave him the jolt that caffeine does to most of us now. It was a very unusual experience for him, obviously.
And that’s how those berries, and ultimately coffee started to spread all around the world. So much so that coffee beans today are among the world’s top-selling agricultural commodities. There are millions and millions of rich coffee plants fertilized in over 70 countries across the globe.
Now my job here is not to prove the authenticity of the story I just told you. Instead, I’m going to focus all my attention on explaining the biological aspects of coffee. So you know exactly where your coffee comes from, what its cherries look like, and how they’re grown.
Table of Contents
Where Does Coffee Come From?
It comes from a coffee plant. A coffee plant is a woody evergreen, which has the ability to grow around 10 meters long when in the wild. But you should know that coffee plants don’t just grow anywhere and everywhere. The majority of coffee produced is grown within the popular Bean Belt.
The Bean Belt is the region circling the equator between the Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn. This particular area includes sections of South and Central America, Asia, the Middle East, and Africa.
The beans of coffee are produced within the cherries that develop from the plants. These are not so much beans than they are seeds. There are two seeds present within every cherry of the coffee plant.
What the producers of coffee do is pick all these cherries just when they’re perfectly ripe. It’s only at this right level or stage of ripeness that the delicious flavors come from.
It’s only natural to assume that every coffee type demands a specific harvesting and maturity process. Meaning not all types of coffee hit their peak stage and rich, delicious taste quality at the same time.
After the producers harvest the cherries of coffee, bean extraction takes place. And soon after, the beans are eventually roasted. That’s when coffee gets its dark brown color.
What Do Coffee Plants Look Like?
A coffee plant consists of branches full of waxy, dark green leaves. These leaves develop in pairs just so you know. And the leaves are very important in the sense that they’re responsible for photosynthesis. It’s the process that converts natural sunlight into chemical energy. And this chemical energy then allows the coffee plant to produce cherries that hold coffee beans.
Let me also point out that the branches also grow coffee cherries. More often than not, coffee plants begin to flower after around 2 to 5 years. That’s when small and aromatic white blossoms grow exactly where the branches and leaves meet. These white blossoms or flowers consist of the sex cells of the plant. Therefore, they enable the reproduction of the plants as time passes.
It takes around 6 weeks for the flowers to get pollinated. Following which coffee cherries start to develop right where those flowers were present. And these coffee cherries eventually turn yellow, pink, red, or orange. The color here is based on the variety of coffee.
So for how many years do coffee plants exist? Generally speaking, the answer is 30 to 40 years. But there are coffee plants that can live for more than 80 years as well. Such plants are often known as shrubs.
These shrubs are subjected to pruning once every year.
This is done for keeping the plants from increasing in height. It’s best if they don’t exceed the 5-feet to 7-feet limit. Otherwise, maintaining and harvesting them year after year becomes very difficult.
The recommended height also paves the way for preventing abundant, direct sunlight from falling on the plant. Because too much of it tends to impede the growth process.
Now, how about I list a few interesting facts related to this particular section?
- If the harvester is well-experienced, then he/she can pick as much as 100 to 200 lbs of coffee cherries per day. That means 20 to 40 lbs of coffee beans every day.
- The plant growth and its coffee bean flavor are determined by multiple factors. Such as the variety of seed, type of soil, climate, and elevation.
- It takes around 9 months for the plant to make the transition between flowering and harvesting.
- Not all coffee cherries ripen at the same time. The same coffee plant may be harvested several times until all the cherries are picked at their peak ripeness.
- Did you know that it’s not just humans that love coffee? Bees do it too. They also consume caffeine by feeding on the flower nectars.
How Long Do Coffee Plants Take to Grow?
You may ask this question simply out of curiosity. Whatever the reason, here’s the correct answer. It takes about 1 year for a new coffee plant to start flowering. Then another 2 to 3 years for the plant or tree to produce the fruit.
On maturity, a shade-grown coffee plant has the capacity to live for 30 to 40 years.
Some can even live for over 80 years. But it’s during the first few decades that the coffee plant is of utmost value. This is during the first growth stretch where the plant reaches a point of growing coffee beans that can be commercially sold.
The most unfortunate news is that the lifespan of the productivity of coffee plants in recent times has been hindered. And that’s because most plants are not shade-grown anymore.
Such an approach, no doubt, hampers the natural habitat of coffee beans. And now farmers are compelled to employ hybrids that are able to withstand the scorching sun’s intense bouts. Particularly in the equatorial areas where the majority of coffee beans are cultivated.
As a result of this, the productivity of the coffee plant bean-producing lifecycle is reduced by 50 percent. But when grown properly, coffee plants develop fruit after 3 to 5 years. And continue to do so for almost 50 to 60 years.
Different Types of Coffee
Here are the two most popular types of coffee.
This, needless to say, is the most abundantly grown, sold, and consumed. There are multiple varieties of Arabica coffee plants grown all across the globe. Let me tell you that most of the expensive, artisan and higher-end coffees come from the Arabica branch.
Bourbon, for instance, is largely cultivated in South America. Such a variety of Arabica ranks as the best in terms of coffee beans. It’s actually known as the coffee version of pinot noir.
Arabica coffee is delicate, complex, and sweet. And the best part is that it’s the perfect choice for both rookie and snobbish coffee lovers. These beans are high-quality, thus bound to satisfy the cravings of all types of coffee drinkers.
As for Arabica coffee plant varieties, I’ve already mentioned Bourbon. Then there’s Bourbon-Typica as well, which is yet another classic variety of Arabica. Then comes the Introgressed branch that possesses some characteristics of the Robusta species as well. Even so, it still falls in the category of Arabica.
And the final one is the more recent F1 hybrid. These types of coffee plants are a direct outcome of 2 uniquely different parents.
Robusta consists of 2 different varieties. One is Robusta while the other is Nganda. But both stem from the same plant called Coffea Canephora. You should know that Robusta coffee plants deliver large quantities of low-quality cherries that meet the high demands of the world.
Most of the Robusta coffee beans are cultivated in Indonesia and Africa. But it’s Vietnam that ranks as the top producer of these heavenly caffeine-packed beans. No wonder Vietnamese coffee is such a popular and distinctive beverage.
Using Robusta coffee beans that are naturally infused with more caffeine than delicate Arabica is a rare occurrence when it comes to specialty coffee.
Coffee Bean Anatomy
Each cherry of coffee consists of two seeds. And both are well protected by multiple layers. Such as the following…
- Exocarp – It’s the outer peel or skin that’s green in color. But then it changes color slowly during maturation.
- Mesocarp – Just below the exocarp lies a thin pulp layer or flesh called mesocarp.
- Endocarp – This layer does the job of covering the bean. It’s a parchment-shaped envelope that, during maturation, hardens for limiting the final bean size.
- Spermoderm – Yet another thin membrane layer or skin for protecting the coffee bean.
- Endosperm – Now, this is the actual seed or bean itself. It’s green in color, and that changes after roasting.
Origin of Coffee Beans – How Do You Get Coffee Beans?
The beans are subjected to the mulling process prior to shipping. The mulling method includes this technique known as hulling. During this particular process, the parchment skin or layer is removed from the bean.
Sometimes hulling is not performed. And that explains why there are ‘in parchment’ coffee beans also available.
After hulling, the polishing part of the coffee processing is done. Polishing also performs the same task as hulling, in case there’s any excess skin left.
After that, coffee beans are graded, then sorted based on their weight and size. Therefore, the defective ones are eliminated. And finally, the bags of fresh coffee beans get exported around the world.
So now you have the correct, most accurate answer to where coffee comes from, right?
Coffee is prepared from coffee beans. The coffee beans are grown on coffee plants. The beans are actually present within the center of the coffee cherries. These cherries are the fruits that coffee plants develop.
And coffee plants are cultivated all across the globe. Especially in Asia, South and Central America, Africa, and the Middle East. That’s the gist of it!
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