For a tree grown in over seventy countries, from Indonesia to Brazil, it is curious how narrow a range of
conditions is necessary for growing coffee beans and how relatively small the
total output is.
The word 'beans' is purposefully in single quote marks, since what gets roasted and ground to make coffee is not
really a bean at all, it is a seed. In particular, it is the seed of a fruit that grows on trees that can easily
reach twenty feet or more. Some wild varieties grow to over forty five feet or fifteen metres.
The majority of those seeds come in a pair, although there is a variety called the Peaberry that produces only
one seed. The berry resembles a cranberry, with a sweet pulp covered by a membrane called a silverskin.
In a band around the equator from approximately twenty five degrees north or south, comes the overwhelming
majority of the world's coffee output. Temperatures of between 60F (15C) and 70F (21C) are perfect as is rainfall
of six inches per month or more.
Where Coffee Beans Grow r = Coffee Robusta m = Coffee Robusta & Arabica a = Coffee
Loamy and good draining soil is needed and also of help is high humidity - an abundance of mist and cloud at the
higher elevations, over 3000 ft (915m) for the good stuff. At these elevations the oxygen content is less, so the
coffee trees take longer to mature.
The robusta, or coffea canephora, goes into producing the majority of coffee because it can be grown at lower
altitudes and is more disease resistant. But it is the high-altitude coffea arabica that forms the base of a
Diffuse light and moderate winds are advantageous, both of which are sometimes produced by purposefully growing
in the shelter and shade. By contrast, wine grapes like hot sun and lots of it.
Once planted, the tree takes about five years to mature to first crop and even then a single tree will only make
enough for about two pounds or 1 kilogram of coffee.
Those two pounds equal approximately 2,000 coffee beans, (correct or not, it is the standard term), usually hand
picked by manual laborers. Manual they may be, but ignorant they are not. Coffee bean harvesting is a skill
developed over time, where the picker learns to select the best beans and discard the bad. Bean by individual bean.
That's only one reason coffee is high priced.
The trees have broad, dark green leaves and produce a flower that resembles Jasmine. Some - in Brazil and
Mexico, as an instance, - blossom over a six to eight week period. In countries that lie along the equator such as
Kenya and Colombia, though, a tree can possess mature berries growing alongside still ripening ones. That is part
of what makes coffee bean picking such a specialty.
Blossom to harvest may cover a period of up to nine months depending on the weather and additional factors and
the cycle will be carried out for the life of the tree - around 20-25 years. With the the best cultivation
technology, a good harvest will be between 6,600 lbs (3,000 kg) and 8,800 lbs (4,000 kg) per hectare. (One hectare
is around 2.47 acres.)
From these inaccessible regions, where conditions are harsh, the berries are brought down and processed to make
up the world's second largest commodity by annual dollar volume.
So, the next time you savor that brew, think about the long journey it traveled to reach your cup. It might make
that high price seem a little less steep.