Where does coffee come from? Whether you drink gourmet espresso coffee or instant blend – it’s a question you might be curious to know. Today we’re going to go through what coffee is and where it comes from so keep reading if you want to find out.
The world of coffee is fairly complicated so we’re going to try and keep this article aimed at the beginner who doesn’t really know much about coffee. Hopefully it will be a great training resource for people who are just getting into coffee on a casual level or if you’ve just start working in a coffee shop and want to know more about where the product that you’re serving comes from.
What is coffee and where does it come from?
Coffee is a fruit that grows on an evergreen shrub and what we call the ‘bean’ is actually the seed or pit of this fruit. The fruit itself is commonly referred to as a coffee cherry because it essentially looks like a cherry. You’ll see these coffee cherries in a variety of different colours but most commonly they’ll be either red or yellow.
Coffee grows in the tropics which is the area between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn and this is commonly referred to as the coffee belt. Within the bean belt are roughly 70 countries, about 40 of which produce coffee on a significant scale. Some of the largest coffee producing countries include:
- Costa Rica
Whilst coffee can be grown elsewhere, for example, you can buy a coffee plant and put it in your house – it’s likely not going to flower and if it does, it’s probably not going to taste great!
Fun fact: one coffee tree produces about 1lb of roasted coffee per year.
Different Species of Coffee
There are two main commercially grown species of coffee and they are the Arabica and Robusta coffee beans.
Robusta is generally considered a lower quality plant. It’s a hardier plant, its yield is higher but the coffee is generally not as delicious with the flavour being it a little harsher than Arabica.
Arabica on the other hand is more fragile, the yield is generally lower but the coffee tends to be of better quality with plenty of flavour.
Going from Robusta to Arabica is the best first step in quality and that’s why you’ll see coffee shops and coffee roasters advertising that they have 100% Arabica beans but the reality is that not all Arabica is good. There are plenty of bad examples of Arabica and depending on who you ask there’s some really good quality Robusta coffee available (although this is more rare)
Varieties within species of coffee
With coffee, just like any other agricultural product, there’s a lot of different varieties of coffee within each species. If you’ve ever looked at a bag of coffee and saw a name that looks particularly strange on it and you didn’t know what it meant, that’s probably the variety.
For example, within the Arabica species are names like Java, Catuai, Blue Monday or Caturra – these are all different varieties and they all have their own unique taste characteristics whilst retaining common tastes found in Arabica coffee.
You can relate it to an apple. If you go to Tesco, you’ll see a lot of different kinds of apples such as Granny Smith and Pink Lady etc. They’re all still apples but they all look a little bit different and taste a little bit different.
Within the coffee industry it’s common to identify flavour characteristics with the farm region and country that that variety comes from. There are some varieties that have become famous in their own right and have sort of a cult following – Geisha, an Arabica variety, being the most prominent example.
So to summarise, coffee predominantly comes from the coffee bean belt that can be found between the Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn. There are roughly 40 coffee producing nations stretching across this area. There are a few different types of species but the most common species are Arabica and Robusta and each species has a number of varieties which document which farming region the coffee is grown. Each variety will have its own unique taste.