Coffee as a Plant

Sitting down to the morning ritual of drinking that first delicious cup of coffee, have you ever considered the time and energy that goes into creating it?

Coffee is not just a roasted delicacy, it starts out life as a living, growing plant that puts its best years into producing fruit for the seeds (beans) that find their way into your cup. 

The Coffea tree is a woody, perennial evergreen, belonging to the Rubiceae family, measuring from anywhere between 3 to 9 meters tall. There are over 100 species of wild coffee varieties that occur naturally in tropical forest environments. 

As a crop commodity, the commonly cultivated varieties which are used for general production are the Coffea arabica and the Coffea canephora (Robusta).

Coffee thrives in warm weather and in high rainfall areas, therefore you will find that most coffee is grown across the equatorial line in the region commonly known as the “Bean Belt”.

Coffee plantations are situated at high altitudes and the plants are grown in full sun to partial shade depending on the farm. Technically, the trees would prefer to grow in shaded environments which mimic their natural habitat, however, this is not often practiced in modern agriculture. 

From Seed to Harvest

A coffee tree starts off as a green ‘bean’ and takes anywhere between 3 to 5 years before maturing to a flowering age. Once it is capable of producing its beautiful, fragrant flowers, it is finally able to make fruit. The fruit of a coffee plant are little berries which range in colour from light reds to deep purples. Each berry contains 2 seeds which we know as ‘coffee beans’. 

Coffee trees are either self-pollinating or require cross pollination via insects, birds and wind. Cross pollination increases the yield and quality of the beans. It takes 6 to 8 weeks after pollination for the fruit to begin to form. 

The berries ripen over a period of 6 to 9 months, depending on the variety. In some climates, there can be multiple harvests in one year. The fruit tends to ripen at different times on a single plant, therefore harvesting is a done by hand during the course of a few weeks. 

A coffee tree can outlive a human, and grow for up to 100 years in prime conditions. Its best yield years are considered to be between the ages of 7 and 20. 

In all the time that it takes to cultivate, grow and produce coffee beans, this incredible tree, also contributes a large amount of oxygen to our atmosphere; producing up to 86 lbs per hectare (about half the amount created by a hectare of rain forest). 

Now we ask the question: Why do we love this little tree? 

Well, the leaves, the fruit and the seed all contain caffeine. In nature, the caffeine exists as a defense mechanism to prevent animals from eating the tree. Ironically, caffeine is the thing we humans crave most and the reason that these beautiful plants have become one of the most valuable and widely traded commodities all across the globe. 

However, the caffeine is just the added bonus for coffee fanatics today. The real interest lies in the immense diversity of flavors and aromas that come from coffees grown in different regions. 

So the next time you are sipping on your cappuccino, consider that it has come from something that lives a full life; that this simple luxury is product of years, and the labour of months. From seed, to branch, to coffee cup.