Origins of Coffee - Coffee Arabica - Coffee Robusta

It is believed that coffee originated in the Ethiopian region of Kaffa in northeastern Africa, and long ago became a popular beverage in the Arabian region.

Arabica Coffee Origins

The beans of this variety of coffee are known in the coffee trade as Arabica coffee and are widely regarded as having a superior flavor. This region's influence is also seen in the common use of the term mocha in coffee circles, which is derived from the name of the once leading coffee export port in Yemen.

Arabica coffee is now mainly grown in East Africa, Central America and Indonesia, and requires certain growing conditions in order to thrive. Almost all coffee is grown in the equatorial belt between twenty five degrees north and thirty degrees south. Arabica grows best at higher and cooler subtropical altitudes of between six hundred and two thousand meters. It also grows best with plenty of rich moist volcanic soil with plenty of shade as well as sun. It is estimated that around 70% of all coffee production is from the Arabica bean.

Reflecting the spread of Arabica coffee around the world, the old Indonesian coffee exporting port of Java has also contributed its name for common use in coffee circles.

Robusta Coffee Origins

The Robusta coffee plant is a hardier and more easily cultivated variety of coffee. It will grow at lower subtropical altitudes and is less susceptible to diseases and pests. It also has a higher yield than the Arabica.

The Robusta coffee bean lacks the depth of flavor of the Arabica bean but has a higher level of caffeine content. The Robusta variety is believed to have originated in Uganda, and is now widely grown in Africa, Brazil and Vietnam.

The value of Robusta beans is lower because it is the less desired of the two. This economic consideration has led to the common use of Robusta beans in coffee blends. Their lower price has also led to most instant coffee being derived from Robusta beans.

However, the higher caffeine content, the Robusta bean's role in creating the famous crema top found on a good espresso, and the sheer volume of demand for coffee, are other reasons for the popularity of Robusta coffee. Processing methods have been developed that can reduce the less desirable harsher "burnt rubber" taste of Robusta coffee.

Structure of Coffee Beans

Coffee beans are the "pips" of a cherry-like fruit, and the coffee trees are usually pruned to grow to four to six feet in height to facilitate the hand picking that is necessary because the fruit ripens at varying times.

Global coffee production is approaching 7 million tonnes a year, and prices have fallen since the late 1990s with plentiful levels of supply, especially since Vietnam entered the market with large additional export volumes.

While coffee has become a globally traded commodity, the several varieties and varying growing conditions around the world has created niche markets of premium quality coffee beans.

One of the more unique coffee niches is the Kopi Luwak or "monkey bean" coffee from Indonesia, which is a coffee bean that has passed through the digestion system of a tree dwelling palm civet. This bean results in a premium coffee that is very popular with gourmet coffee connoisseurs.