Coffee is one of the most loved beverages on the globe due to its rich caffeine content and antioxidants. The International Coffee Organization (ICO) reports that at least 1.4 billion cups of the beverage are consumed daily. About 45 percent of this figure comes from the United States alone. This information on coffee consumption shows that coffee is a favorite choice of drink for many Americans from all walks of life.
With that said, ever wondered where coffee comes from? Wondering whether it grows on trees or plants? How does a coffee bean end up in your cup? In this article, you’ll discover where coffee comes from and how it finds its way into your cup.
The Origin of Coffee Beans
So where did coffee come from and where does caffeine comes from? Well, according to the history of coffee, it was first grown in Ethiopia, a country in the horn of Africa. It was first discovered in Ethiopia by a goat herder known as Kaldi. He realized that his goats became excited after feeding on the fruits of a certain tree growing in a bush. Word spread about this fascinating crop. That’s when the potential of coffee was discovered.
The trees on which coffee fruits grow are known as coffee trees. A coffee tree is also viewed as a shrub. A coffee fruit is typically known as a coffee cherry. Coffee cherries hang on a branch in bulk. Each tree has several branches.
After its discovery, coffee spread to Mocha (in Yemen, Middle East). It became a favorite drink among Sufi monks in Yemen. In Yemen, coffee was grown on monastery gardens and nurseries. The Arab name for coffee drinks in Yemen is Qahwah, which originally referred to wine.
Next, it spread to the Persia region, Turkey, North Africa in Egypt, Syria, South East Asia in India, Americas, and in Europe including countries such as Italy and France. The Dutch played a huge role in the spread of Java from Yemen to Europe.
Gabriel de Clieu, a French naval officer, is believed to have taken the coffee seedling to France from Martinique. At some point, coffee was banned in Turkey by the Ottoman Empire. Coffee was also banned at some point in Mecca. In Europe, Pope Clement Viii declared coffee as precious.
Coffee also found its way to coffee belt regions such as the Caribbean region of Costa Rica, Central America and South America, West Africa in Ivory Coast and the East Africa subcontient in Kenya and Uganda.
Coffee also spread to Southeast Asia. Today, the top 5 producers are Ethiopia, Brazil, Indonesia, Colombia, and Vietnam. These countries grow coffee as a cash crop. Brazil is the leading coffee producer in the world for at least 150 years now. Coffee exports account to a significant part of its economy.
Coffee Plants Described
Coffee comes from two plant varieties, including Robusta and Arabica coffee plants. Both plants belong to the rubiaceae family of flowering plants and the genus Coffea. To start with, Robusta coffee species (also referred to as Coffea canephora/Coffea robusta) is loved for making coffee with earthy notes. Also, robusta coffee has a bold flavor and tastes a little grainy and off bitter. It leaves a smooth aftertaste that feels like peanut butter.
On the other hand, Arabica varietals (Coffea arabica), are preferred by coffee lovers who dislike the harsher notes that come with Robusta coffee. Arabica coffee beans are loved for their softer and sweeter flavor. Arabica trees produce beans that feature fruity, berry, and sugary notes. Also, an Arabica plant produces beans with more acidity than Robusta. Arabica bean specialty coffee is characterized by a winey taste, thanks to its higher acidity.
Are Coffee Beans Grown on Plants or Trees?
So where do coffee beans grow? Coffee beans are categorized as seeds. Coffee seeds are known as coffee cherries or coffee berries. When a farmer plants a new coffee tree, it takes about 2 to 4 years to produce flowers and ripe beans that can be harvested. However, you may be wondering whether coffee beans grow on trees or plants. To answer this question, it’ll help to explain the distinguishing factor between trees and plants.
Essentially, a well-grown and mature coffee plant grows to about 30 to 40 ft. tall. A plant that can grow longer than 20 ft. tall and a trunk diameter measuring at least 3 inches is considered a tree. Coffee plants start off as plants and eventually grow taller and larger to become trees upon maturity.
Their growth can occur under shade or under the sun. Coffee plants have a lifespan up to 100 years. They are most productive up to 20 years.
Once the coffee cherries (also known as berries or cascara) turn yellow or red in colour, they’re ripe and ready for harvesting.
How is Coffee Grown?
After planting new coffee plants or seedlings, the roots absorb moisture and soil nutrients. Eventually, the crop matures over time to produce cherries. Thus, coffee production starts with cultivation of coffee plants, be it Arabica plants or Robusta plants.
Coffee plants are typically grown in coffee plantations or large farms at a high altitude above the sea level, just like tea. That’s why coffee is mostly grown near the mountains due to the favorable weather and altitude.
The equator region has the most favorable climate conditions, elevations, and sufficient rainfall to grow coffee. Climates and temperatures in other areas of the continent are not very favorable. Also, coffee doesn’t grow well at low altitudes.
Coffee is usually grown in the coffee bean belt. The coffee belt is described as the area between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, which is north and south of the equator. Generally, the coffee belt touches several countries with tropical climates that offer ideal environments for growing coffee.
The cherries are harvested upon ripening. Harvesting is done by picking ripe cherries by hand. Thus, harvesting them is a labor-intensive exercise. It requires the effort of several farmers or laborers to harvest coffee. However, harvesting is mechanized in some coffee-growing regions that have a flat landscape and vast coffee fields.
While coffee is a favorite drink among coffee drinkers, coffee cultivation doesn’t happen without problems. Coffee plants are prone to pests and diseases such as coffee leaf rust. Fortunately, studies have been done to find suitable ways of dealing with coffee diseases to protect this precious commodity. For instance, some coffee hybrids resist pests and disease. Also, some natural mutations such as Bourbon resist leaf rust.
Upon harvesting, coffee beans are processed using either a dry or wet processing method. Coffee-growing countries with limited water resources often use the dry coffee processing method. In this method, freshly harvested cherries are poured and spread on large, raised platforms where they’re sun-dried.
The harvesters prevent the coffee cherries from going bad by turning and raking them all day. They’re covered during rain or at night to protect them from any wetness.
On the other hand, the wet processing method is done by removing the pulp/husk from the cherries after harvesting. Thereafter, the beans are dried with just the skin covering the beans. After processing the beans, they’re ready for milling.
Getting Coffee Beans from Cherries
Once the beans are processed, they undergo a process known as milling before being exported to roasters. The milling process includes pulping with a pulping machine and hulling, whereby the parchment skin from wet-dried beans or the dry covering of dry-processed beans is removed. Sometimes, the beans are polished to remove any excess covering.
Next, the beans undergo grading and sorting according to their weight and size. Any defective beans are discarded. The good beans are packed in bags and shipped to roasters as per the guidelines of coffee trade.
Coffee beans are roasted in a roastery with the help of roasting machine. Roast coffee is ready for brewing to extract the rich flavors and natural sugars of coffee.
When roasters get the processed and milled beans, they’re tasted by cuppers to determine the taste quality. Professional cuppers taste and smell numerous samples daily and can still note any differences between the beans. Some differences include notes of nuts, chocolate, or fruits.
Coffee beans undergo several tests, including visual tests to ensure they look good. Upon undergoing visual tests, the beans are roasted. Thereafter, roasted beans are ground into different grind sizes. Ground coffee is brewed under a controlled water temperature in a boiling cup for the cupper to test the aroma given off by the coffee.
Once the brewed coffee rests, the cupper slurps a spoon of coffee quickly and spits it out. By so doing, the cupper spreads coffee evenly over their taste buds to point out the characteristics of the brew and any flaws. Also, the cuppers taste coffee to assess whether different beans can be blended. Additionally, testing is done to assess the best roast.
Once a supply of coffee beans is tested thoroughly, the beans are roasted. The roasting process is generally done upon importation. The reason behind this is that roasted coffee beans should reach consumers within the shortest time possible. Processed beans are typically green in color, regardless of the variety. They’re put in a coffee roaster until they turn brown.
Where Does Starbucks Get Its Coffee Beans?
You might be wondering whether Starbucks, one of the largest coffeehouses in the world, uses arabica beans or robusta beans to brew their popular coffees and coffee blends. In fact, it is one of the most popular coffee house in the global coffee industry and coffee market.
Starbucks coffeehouse only uses arabica coffee, which explains why Starbucks coffee beverages have a more refined taste and rich flavour. They source their coffee from Africa, Asia-Pacific, and Latin America. Starbucks is also known to source beans from Timor, Rwanda, and Guatemala.
Starbucks also brews a hybrid type of coffee known as Starbucks Reserve, which comprises a blend of coffees from Kenya, Brazil, Vietnam, Colombia, and Uganda.
Some years ago, Starbucks faced a major public relations disaster. Starbucks had to fix its image by investing at least $100 million to support coffee-growing communities and collaborate with coffee farmers through various programs. Also, Starbucks commits itself to ethically sourced beans and fair trade to maintain a good image of its business.
You now know where coffee originate from. As you can see, it takes a lot of effort to get coffee beans from trees into a tasty cup of coffee at home. Whether you love black coffee, espresso coffee, white coffee with milk, latte with crema, or any other coffee drink, you now know its journey before it reaches a coffee shop or your kitchen. Thus, when buying or brewing coffee, you’ll appreciate the intensive labor that goes into every single cup of coffee.