Coffee, the beloved beverage of millions worldwide, begins its journey on small evergreen trees or shrubs. But how does a coffee tree grow? And what influences its taste? Let’s delve into the fascinating world of coffee cultivation.
The coffee tree, or Coffea, is a flowering plant in the family Rubiaceae. It’s native to tropical regions of Africa, and today, it’s grown all over the world, wherever conditions are right. The coffee tree produces a fruit, often referred to as a “coffee cherry,” which contains the coffee beans we know and love.
The process of growing a coffee tree is a labour of love, requiring patience and care. From the moment the seed is planted to the time the coffee cherries are harvested, the coffee tree embarks on a journey that can span several years. This journey is influenced by a variety of factors, including the type of coffee tree, the growing conditions, and the care and attention given to the tree throughout its life.
The Coffee Belt
The coffee tree is a plant that requires specific growing conditions for proper vegetation. Optimum conditions are usually found in the tropics and vary greatly between continents and even countries and their regions. This region, known as the “coffee belt,” is characterised by moderate temperatures all year round, no frost, and regular rainfall patterns.
The “coffee belt” is a band around the globe between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, where conditions are ideal for coffee cultivation. This region includes parts of Central and South America, Africa, and Asia. Within this belt, the climate, altitude, and soil conditions can vary greatly, leading to a wide variety of coffee flavours and characteristics.
Coffee Tree Species
There are about 150 species of coffee tree that have been discovered, but only two are important in global coffee production – Arabica (coffea arabica) and Robusta (coffea canephora). These species differ significantly in taste, which results from different living conditions.
Arabica coffee trees, which account for about 60% of the world’s coffee production, produce coffee beans with a wide range of flavours and aromas. These trees are typically grown at higher altitudes and require more care and attention than Robusta trees. The beans they produce are often described as having a delicate, sweet, and complex flavour.
Robusta coffee trees, on the other hand, are more robust (hence the name) and can withstand harsher growing conditions. They are typically grown at lower altitudes and are more resistant to diseases. The beans they produce have a stronger, more bitter flavour than Arabica beans and contain about twice as much caffeine.
A coffee tree has deep roots, which penetrate the soil; make sure you use a well-draining growing medium. Soil type should be slightly acidic with a pH level of around six. Coffee trees prefer a pH between 5.0 and 6.5.
The ideal growing conditions for a coffee tree include a constant temperature of around 20-30°C, high humidity, and a significant amount of rainfall (around 1500-3000 mm per year). The tree also requires a well-draining soil that is rich in organic matter. In addition, coffee trees prefer slightly acidic soil with a pH between 6 and 6.5.
The Growth Process
The energy produced from photosynthesis allows the plant to grow the delicious cherries that contain our coffee beans. After about 3-5 years of growth, the plant will start flowering. Small, fragrant white blossoms (similar to a jasmine flower) will grow where the leaves and branches meet.
The growth process of a coffee tree is a fascinating journey. It begins with a seed, which is typically planted in a nursery to protect it from harsh weather conditions. After about 6-12 months, the seedling is transplanted to its permanent location.
The coffee tree will start to produce fruit after 3-5 years. The fruit, known as a coffee cherry, starts as a small white flower. Over time, the flower develops into a green cherry, which gradually ripens to a bright red colour over several months. Each cherry typically contains two coffee beans.
Assuming you are referring to Arabica coffee trees, it takes approximately 3-5 years for a coffee tree to mature enough to produce fruit. The time from planting to first harvest is even longer, typically 5-7 years. Once the tree begins bearing fruit, it will produce for around 20-30 years.
Harvesting coffee is a labour-intensive process. The coffee cherries are typically hand-picked to ensure only the ripest cherries are harvested. Once picked, the cherries are processed to remove the outer pulp and skin, revealing the coffee beans inside. The beans are then dried, roasted, and ground to produce the coffee we know and love.
Understanding how a coffee tree grows provides a deeper appreciation for the journey that each coffee bean takes from seed to cup. As climate change impacts the “coffee belt,” it’s more important than ever to understand and value the process of coffee cultivation.
Stay tuned for more insights on the fascinating world of coffee!