The Life Cycle of Coffee; Genesis

I believe it is appropriate to write about the third most consumed beverage in the world. But instead of talking solely of the beverage, we will spend some time learning about the life cycle of Coffee as a seed, plant, trade, commodity, service, beverage, health benefit, and so on.

Back In Time

To begin, we must quickly talk about history. Legend has it coffee was discovered long ago in Ethiopia, when a goat herder noticed his beautiful goat’s were frisky and wired. Noticing it had occurred after his animals had indulged in some shrubbery, he decided to do the same and loved the invigorating effects. For a long time Coffee remained part of  Arab culture and was only available for trade in the port of Mocha. Not until the Dutch East India Company stole some branches from Mocha to cultivate in Java, did coffee leave  control of the Arabs. A branch of those stolen plants was gifted to Dutch Royalty and planted in the Dutch Royal Gardens. Coffee slowly became a part of European culture as a beverage, but was restricted to male consumption in places of business and bureaucracy; coffeehouses. As the beverage began its domestication with housewives and gossip, a plant was stolen from the Royal Gardens by a seducing french Captain and taken to Martinique. It is said that all of Latin America’s Coffee plantations are descendants of this plant. It is through this story that we can observe the three coffee growing regions of the world; Latin America, Africa & Arabia, and the Pacific Rim.


The life of Coffee starts as a seed. A seed contains very important information, most importantly its variety. Coffee is an evergreen tree with many families but only two are cultivated for the consumption of the beverage: Coffea Robusta & Coffea Arabica. Each of these families have several varieties.  To produce what we call “Specialty Coffee” many factors come into play. Growing, processing, roasting, brewing, and pleasure all play a very important role in specialty coffee. Specialty Coffee comes mostly from the Coffea Arabica given its longer maturation times and concentrated flavors. From the very common high-yielding Typica to the low-yielding but delicious Geisha, the Bourbon, Catuai, Caturra, Sulawesi and others all produce cherries that can be delectable. Coffea Arabica does best at higher elevations for appropriate cultivation and most plantations are located around 1300-1500 meters above sea level. Of course there are exceptions in elevation of lower grown Coffea Arabica like the Kona variety, and the very highly grown and much delicious Takesi variety from Bolivia. The plant does best at a constant 70 degrees Fahrenheit and can withstand some colder weather. Although shade is not required, shade grown coffee has provoked a more sustainable manner to promote biodiversity and oraganic growing. After about two years from seed, the plants blossom and produce very fragrant white flowers. The aroma is quite exquisite and exotic, very tropical, and some notes of it are sometimes found in the cup. The trees start producing “cherries” which are the fruit of the plant about 4-6 years after first planted. The cherries vary in color depending on variety but for the most part are bright red when ripe. The cherries consist of the pulp, used to make infused beverages in coffee producing countries, the parchment, the silver skin, and the prized “beans.” Not truly beans but rather the seeds of the plant, are the sought after gold of the tropics. Coffea Robusta is much the same in cultivation but it can withstand lower altitudes and produces higher yield. Also Robusta has double the amount of natural caffeine present in its seeds than does Arabica. Because of lower altitude and faster maturation, cherries end up with “diluted” flavors and therefore very rarely is this crop used in Specialty Coffee. Robusta instead goes into your tub of Folger’s, or that package of instant coffee. After the cherries are mature and ready for harvest…come back soon to find out what happens!


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