The Coffee plant

Coffee tree

The coffee plant belongs to the Rubiacea family and the Coffea class, that includes numberless species. It grows in approx. a hundred tropical countries spread over every continent except Europe, and originates from Ethiopia and the African Horn, where it still grows wild.

From the point of view of quality, the class comprehends two main species and two lesser ones: "Coffea Arabica" divided into "Brazil Coffees" if they originate from Brazil, and "Other Mild Coffee" (other sweet species) if they originate from other geographical areas.

From Coffea Canephora var. "Robusta" we obtain the coffee beans "robusta", that are often used mixed with "arabica" beans.

Coffee beans

The Arabica plant is a shrub with dark, oval green leaves, whose fruits are also oval and contain two convex-shaped beans. The word Robusta derives from the most cultivated variety of the Coffea Canephora type: it is generally a strong shrub or a tree up to 10 m high. Its beans are oval and smaller than "arabica" ones.

Currently, Arabica represents approx. 70% of the world production of coffee, but the percentage of "robusta" is increasing due to improved harvests and also because this is a variety less subject to diseases, as opposed to the "arabica" type. Both the arabica and the robusta trees have their first harvest 3/4 years after sowing and are productive for 20/30 years.

They need an abundance of sun and rain, even if the arabica type prefers temperature between 15° and 24° C, whereas the robusta type prefers a more equatorial climate with warm temperatures between 24° and 29° C. If the temperature falls below zero, the harvest will be lost and the plants will suffer damage.

As happens with cocoa plants, some coffee plantations are located near other trees, so as to be protected from the sun and maintain soil humidity. The berries, or cherries, are disposed in a row of bunches on the branches and when they are ripe for harvest they turn red. They have a fleshy pulp, followed by a sticky layer and finally a parchment-like film (the so-called "pergamino") that coats the bean.

Inside the fruits we generally find two coffee beans, one in front of the other, encased in a thin membrane. If the berry only has one bean, this type will be called "Caracolito".

The Arabica berries are ripe after 6/8 months, whereas the Robusta berries after 9/11 months, and you generally have a main and secondary harvest. According to the areas, this occurs between September and December in Ethiopia and Central America, In Brazil and Zimbabwe you have the main harvest in April or May, even if it extends to August. In equatorial countries like Uganda and Colombia, fruits are harvested all the year round, especially if plants are at different altitudes.