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Scientific classification
Family: Rubiaceae
Coffea arabica
Coffea benghalensis
Coffea canephora = C. robusta
Coffea congensis
Coffea liberica
Coffea stenophylla
Ref: ITIS 35189 2003-01-03

This article discusses the coffee plant; for information on the beverage see coffee (drink).

Coffee is a tree of genus Coffea; its seeds; and a stimulating beverage prepared from those seeds. Coffee is widely cultivated in tropical countries in plantations for export to temperate countries. Coffee ranks as one of the world's major commodity crops and is a major export of some countries.

Table of contents
1 Botany
2 Processing
3 History
4 See also
5 References
6 External links


When grown in the tropics coffee is a vigorous bush or small tree easily growing to a height of 3 to 3.5 m (10-12 feet). It is capable of withstanding severe pruning. It is not able to grow where there is a winter frost. Bushes grow best at high altitudes. To produce the maximum ripe coffee berries (arguably 1.7 kg/m² or 15,000 lb/acre), the plants need substantial amounts of water and fertilizer.

There are several species of Coffea that may be grown for coffee, but Coffea arabica is considered to have the best quality. The other species (primarily Coffea robusta) are grown on land unsuitable for Coffea arabica. The tree produces red or purple fruits (drupes), which contain two seeds, popularly called the "coffee beans" or "coffee berries" though coffee is not a true bean. A few varieties produce one seed, and are called "peaberry" varieties.

The coffee tree will grow fruits after 3--5 years, for about 50-60 years. The blossom of the coffee tree is similar to jasmine in color and smell. The fruit takes about nine months to ripen. Worldwide, an estimate of 15 billion coffee trees is grown on 100,000 km² land.


After picking, the coffee beans are pulped (usually using a mechanical pulper) to remove the bulk of the soft flesh, and then the beans are fermented (by one of several means most often wet fermentation in water for 10 to 36 hours), then washed (to remove the last of the sticky mucilage not removed by fermentation) and dried (usually in the sun). This process is time-consuming, expensive and, for most growers, labour-intensive. Coffee at this stage is known as milled beans.

Once the raw coffee beans arrive in their destination country, they are roasted. This darkens their color and, depending on the degree of roasting, alters the internal chemistry of the beans and therefore their flavor and aroma. Then the beans are ground. For consistency of the taste of a single brand, eight or more types of beans are mixed.

Problems of maintaining quality during bean production

Achieving consistently excellent milled beans is not easy. Problems include: The coffee bushes fruit aggressively when conditions permit, and the cherries will develop at the expense of the rest of the bush. This consumes sugars in the leaves and can produce die-back (death of leaves and branches). Die-back can be severe and can damage not just this years production but next years production (borne on this years growth), leading into a two-year cycle of growth and production.

Commercial operators come under a variety of pressures to cut costs and maximise yield. Arguably the best flavours will be produced when the coffee is grown in organic conditions. Some people who grow organically do so primarily to obtain the premium prices organic beans command, an alternative strategy to increase profits.

The economics of growing coffee

It is very questionable whether small growers can generate a high return on capital growing coffee if they have less than 3 acres (12,000 m²) and if they are based in the United States. The retail price of the beans varies between about $1/pound for ripe cherries to $9/pound for extra fancy Kona milled beans, and there are many costs including fertiliser, irrigation, labour (e.g. picking and pruning) and land value. Integrated operations that capture much or all of the available revenue (by controlling the whole process from growing to retail) may generate higher returns.

It is estimated that 10 million people are working on plantations in the source lands of coffee. A single worker can harvest 50--100 kg of fruits per day, which results in 10--20 kg of raw coffee. Crops from Brazil and Colombia comprise 40% of the worldwide coffee production. As of 1998, the world's coffee production equals about 100 million sacks of coffee.

Many farmers receive a low price for their coffee because of a global market slump. This has led to coffee being available as a 'fair trade' item in many countries.


Coffee probably originated in the Ethiopian province of Kaffa, though there is controversy about its origins. The crop first became popular in Arabia around the 13th century, its popularity probably enhanced by Islam's prohibition against alcoholic beverages. Before 1600, coffee production was a jealously guarded secret, and fertile beans were not found outside Arabia. Sometime after 1600, coffee trees were grown in India, possibly due to smuggling of fertile beans. Around 1650, coffee importation into England began and coffeehouses opened in Oxford and London. Coffee planting began in the English colonies, but a disease wiped out the plantations, leading the English to re-plant them with tea instead.

By the 18th century, the beverage had become popular in Europe, and European colonists had introduced coffee to tropical countries worldwide as a plantation crop to supply domestic demand. During the 19th century, European demand for coffee was so strong that when genuine coffee beans were scarce, people developed similar-tasting substitutes from various roasted vegetable substances, such as chicory root, dandelion root, acorns, or figs. For example, the British used acorns as a coffee substitute during World War II while German U-boats blockaded Britain.

The major coffee-producing countries are Brazil, Colombia, Vietnam, Indonesia, Mexico, and India, but coffee is grown in over 70 countries (2003 USDA and ICO data). Major importers are United States, Germany, Japan, France, Italy, and Spain (2002 USDA data), and per-capita consumers of coffee are Finland (11 kg), Denmark (9.7 kg), Norway (9.5 kg), Sweden (8.6 kg), and Austria (7.8 kg). The United States while being the largest importing country, only ranks 16th (4.1 kg) in per-capita consumption (2001 USDA data).

See also


External links