What is ‘coffee’?

As coffee culture worldwide changes and people become more appreciative of coffee, it’s still important to showcase what coffee is as well as where it comes from for those who may have questions. While coffee comes in bean form, many people don’t know where the beans come from, or for that matter, that they come from a fruit. You read that correctly, coffee beans are actually seeds that come from cherries that grow on trees.

The Two Dominant Species

The coffee that you drink is most likely one of two predominant species, or possibly a mixture of the two, Arabica and Robusta. Arabica coffee, in 2019, made up 56% of global coffee production. Arabica is normally the preferred coffee species as they have more flavor when roasted and brewed into coffee. Robusta coffee made up the remaining 44% of global coffee production (USDA, 2020). Robusta is normally cultivated for the amount of caffeine that it holds per bean. Robusta has nearly double the amount of caffeine as Arabica on average (2.7% compared to 1.5%).

Coffea Arabica “Arabica Coffee”

Photo source: Green Bean Roasters

Coffea Arabica is the most widely cultivated coffee species in the world. It’s naturally found in the montane forests of southwestern Ethiopia and it’s commonly believed that cultivation started in Ethiopia (Clarke & Macrae, 1988). The original creation of coffee from Coffea Arabica beans is still unknown. The earliest documentation of Coffea Arabica being used for coffee drinking dates back to the 15th century in Yemen where from there, the coffee drink began to spread across Arabia and gradually across the world through trade (Weinberg & Bealer, 2002). What makes Coffea Arabica the most popular species to cultivate is the flavors that the beans present. If you’ve ever had a great-tasting cup of coffee with distinct taste notes, it’s likely that the beans brewed were mostly Coffea Arabica.

Coffea Canephora “Robusta Coffee”

Coffea Canephora, or more commonly known as Coffea Robusta, is the second most cultivated coffee species. Coffea Robusta grows wild in West Africa, the Congo, and in Uganda. Unlike Coffea Arabica, Robusta coffee thrives in humid tropical regions that would otherwise be difficult for Coffea Arabica, and it’s resistant to diseases such as the detrimental Hemileia rust disease, hence the coffee species’ name, Robusta (Dagoon, 2005). While Robusta coffee is an enduring crop, it’s largely looked down on by specialty coffee lovers because of its reputation of tasting bitter and strong and having hundreds of cupping defects (CQI, 2018). But gradually that’s beginning to change, with the help of the Coffee Quality Institute.

An Uncommon Species, Coffea Charrieriana

Coffea Arabica and Coffea Canephora are not the only species of Coffea, there over 120 different species, and that’s not even including varieties, cultivars, hybrids, and crosses (SCA, 2020). One species that’s gaining the attention of researchers, scientists, and coffee enthusiasts alike is Coffea Charrieriana. Coffea Charrieriana, or “Charrier Coffee” as it’s being dubbed, is the first documented caffeine-free Coffea species coming from Central Africa (Stoffelen, 2008). Although Charrier coffee isn’t yet being cultivated for trade purposes, it’s still an amazing discovery for the world of coffee, and as Stoffelen and his team mentions in their article, “New species are still being discovered even for economically important crops such as coffee” (Stoffelen, 2008).

The importance of knowing what coffee is and where it comes from

Photo credit: me, I made this 🙂

Coffee is grown all around the world within the coffee belt. It is one of the most traded commodities globally and one of the most commonly consumed beverages across a multitude of cultures. The history of coffee runs deep originating in Africa and the Middle East and making its way across the world. The coffee you drink is a part of a wider range of Coffea species, some of which are likely to be up in coming in terms of cultivation and you may just find a new variety in your cup in the future. Keep in mind that the next time that you drink a cup coffee, it’s more than just a brown liquid that gives you a caffeine hit; it’s brown bean water that makes you happy! And also there’s a lot of scientific stuff and history behind it too, I guess.

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