Coffee plants are come from Ethiopia and the Arabian Peninsula. The earliest documented coffee consumption dates back to 700 AD. Dutch merchants transplanted coffee plants to other parts of the world by smuggling coffee plants out of Yemen in the late 1600’s and early 1700’s. Today Africa has the largest number of coffee producing countries – over thirty. Brazil is the single largest coffee producing country, producing nearly 25% of the world’s coffee. Columbia comes in second, producing 10% of the worlds coffee
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Origin & History
The vast majority of the worlds coffee comes from two types of coffee plants: Arabica (Coffea arabica) and Robusta (Coffea robusta). These two varieties make up over 90% of the coffee consumed. Coffee plants grow in sub-tropical climates zones around the world’s equator. Arabica plants require higher latitudes and are typically grown on mountainsides. Robusta is a hardier plant, grows well in lower elevations and is more tolerant of changes in soil and climate. Arabica is used in gourmet coffees while Robusta is most often used in instant coffees.
Once the cherries are harvested the seeds or beans are then hulled. The green beans are separated from the fruit using a machine. The green coffee beans must then be dried. This process is also very labor intensive. The beans are spread on concrete patios in long rows and are continually raked and turned as they dry in the sun. This process takes one to two weeks. The beans are then loaded in a mechanical dryer to finish the drying process. They are then loaded into burlap bags and sold to coffee merchants.
taste the tropics—the heat, humidity, sun—in every sip.honor the human effort of coffee growth and harvest.
reflect on the plants that will never grow because your drinking oils from ground-up seeds.
acknowledge the sacrifice of the environment required for coffee growth.
appreciate the energy of the coffee plant to produce even one cup of coffee for you.
When You Drink...
Coffee plants grow in well-drained sandy soil and require adequate sunshine and about 60 inches of rain a year. Coffee plants range in size from large bushes to trees as tall as thirty feet. Most are kept pruned shorter for ease in harvesting. Branches are woody with small oval shaped leaves ranging in color from yellow to deep green to purple. Plants take about 4 to 5 years to reach maturity before beginning to produce fruit. Coffee plants produce clusters of coffee fruit (“cherries”); this is where the coffee beans hide. The fruits have thin soft skins and sweet flesh similar to grapes. The fruits take approximately 9 to 11 months to ripen, turning bright red in the process. The beans are actually the seeds, two within each cherry. Each tree produces the equivalent of about one pound of roasted beans per year.
Coffee cherries are harvested in one of three ways: hand selecting, stripping or mechanical harvesting. Most Arabica cherries are picked by hand. The ripe cherries are harvested, leaving the unripened fruit on the trees to be harvested later as they ripen. Most harvesting takes place from November to January. Laborers move through the coffee bushes, pulling down the woody branches and picking the ripe cherries. Each laborer carries a sack across the shoulder or fastened to the waist that can carry up to 25 pounds of cherries. On an average farm, pickers gather between 100 and 200 pounds of cherries per day. Of this total weight, 20% is actually bean (20 to 40 pounds). Coffee beans from the farm are bundled and shipped in 100 to 130 pound bags. Therefore it takes one picker three to six days to fill one bag.
Coffee has traditionally been grown on plantations or small farms in shaded groves on mountainsides. This type of production provides a critical habitat for a diverse number of organisms, especially birds. A traditionally managed coffee plantation can support over 150 species of birds. A number only exceed in undisturbed tropical forest. This method also requires little irrigation, fertilizer or pesticide. The shade trees stabilize the soil, prevent erosion, and provide organic material as natural fertilizer. The birds control the insects. Coffees grown in this manner are often labeled “Shade Tree Grown.”A fairly recent alternative to shade tree grown coffee is the sun-grown method. Coffee cultivars have been developed that are more tolerant to sun. In this method large tracts of land are cleared for coffee planting. Irrigation, fertilizer and insecticides are used. This method speeds up the coffee production process and increases yields, at the cost of environmental degradation.