Coffee – the magic bean, burnt bean soup, the reason many people get up for the day. It’s a wonderful drink that fills the senses with happiness and makes the morning routine bearable.
When you think of coffee, a popular image that comes to mind is a hot steaming dark liquid in a cup that may or may not have a famous symbol on it. Other than the drink being complete and in a mug or to-go cup of some sort, another popular image that comes to mind is of the bean itself. A little half-round, oval shaped thing that’s hard to the touch yet light and has the definitive crack down the flat side long-ways.
The coffee bean is a symbol of this beloved drink and we see it most everywhere in our society. We see it in the store, in commercials, and on packaging. We see pictures of the real thing or artistic renditions of the bean all showcasing that classic line down the flat side of the bean.
But where does it come from? We know it isn’t produced in the store. We’ve all heard it called a “bean” so we know it derives from a plant. But how is it grown? How is it harvested? What does a wild coffee plant look like?
Welcome to the first blog post in the series Coffee – Where Does It Come From?
The coffee fruit grows in the form of a “cherry” (as seen above) from a plant genus known as coffea from the family Rubiaceae. The family Rubiaceae is made up of 103 separate species that grow in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. The plants grow the red/dark orange “cherries” and inside the fruit are two seeds. The seeds are what we harvest from select plants within this species. We take the seeds and roast them to then create what we all know and recognize as the coffee bean. Raw coffee beans are green and usually split into two separate seeds. When they do not split this is what Peaberry coffee roasts are comprised of and these seeds are sweeter, smaller, and denser than split, regular coffee seeds (read more here)
Coffee plants have common characteristics (as noted by The Roasterie)
- They are generally covered in dark green leaves, though some plants have been known to grow yellow or even purple leaves.
- Their leaves have a waxy texture.
- Their leaves grow in pairs.
- Coffee “cherries” grow on the plant’s branches.
- Coffee cherries are shades of red and dark orange.
Out of the 103 species in the coffee family, only two of them are widely used for beverage purposes: Coffea arabica which is native to South-Western Ethiopia and Coffea canephora, native to Central and Western Africa.
Coffea arabica is a small tree or an upright evergreen shrub that caps its growth at 10-15 feet tall. The plant has been cultivated in Arabia for the last 1000 years despite being native to Ethiopia . The Plant prefers climates between 70 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit and they first flower at 3-4 years of age. The flowers are white and star-shaped and the berries themselves ripen to a deep red. The berries are edible with grape-like pulp, but the plant is commercially harvested for the seeds that are known as coffee beans. The coffee that comes from this plant is known as Arabian coffee. (Missouri Botanical Garden)
Coffea canephora contributes to 30% of the world’s production of coffee. When it is grown as a hybrid along with Coffea eugenioides the resulting plant is Coffea arabica. There are two forms of the plant found in Uganda, the erect plant known as erecta and the the spreading type known as nganda. The two forms of the plant are crossed often with each other to form mixtures of the resulting fruit. The resulting coffee from this plant is known as Robusta coffee. (Science Direct)
The exact origins of coffee is unknown but was first discovered on the Ethiopian plateau. Later it migrated over to the Arabian peninsula where the plant was first cultivated in order to produce coffee. By the 15th century it was being grown in the Yemeni district of Arabia and by the 16th century it had traveled to Persia, Egypt, Syria, and Turkey.
Coffee became widely used in both personal homes as well as in public spaces known as coffee houses – first known as qaveh khaneh. The popularity of coffee paired with it’s energizing effects caused people to gather in the coffee houses and created a communal space where conversation and the art of dance was shared within communities. Coffee houses became known as “Schools of the Wise” due to the amount and frequency of information exchange within them thanks to the popular drink.
This “wine of Arabia” spread from the popular city of Mecca to Europe by the 17th century. The drink was received with disdain by the more holy places of Europe so much so that the drink was condemmed in 1615. It took Pope Clemet VIII drinking and enjoying the beverage so much that he gave an official statement of approval before coffee was fully accepted into the community.
The same phenomenon of coffee houses was seen in Europe. Instead of “Schools of the Wise” they were called “Penny Universities” as the cost of the drink was only a penny and the information one could gather just by talking to other patrons was valued as a type of education.
in the mid 1600’s coffee reached Amsterdam and eventually spread to the New World, rising in popularity above tea after the protests against taxes in 1773. The effects of the drink can be seen in modern times as the bean is prevalent in our society. (History of Coffee)
Thank you for reading, I hope you found this information as fascinating as I did. Please stay tuned for future posts in this series where I will be going into detail about how the beans are harvested and roasted and what differences in this process produce the various kinds of coffee we can see on the store shelves today.
_ E. Lexi Abbott
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