The Coffee Plant
While coffee is one of the worlds most popular drinks, most people are not even sure exactly what it is. Coffee comes from a small tree or shrub like plant that only grows to fruition naturally in the tropics (we actually have a few plants growing at the shop). I digress; coffee beans come from inside the cherry on the plant from which they grow (they are botanically considered seeds, not beans, yet they are referred to as beans because of their similarity). Inside this cherry there are two seeds, the actual green coffee beans.
The two most commercially common species are Arabica and Robusta. The important differences between Arabica and Robusta are in the quality of the cup. Arabica beans produce a superior taste in the cup, being more flavorful and complex than their Robusta counterparts. Robusta beans tend to produce a more bitter brew, containing more caffeine. High quality coffee consists of 100% Arabica beans. Lower quality, cheaper blends may have some proportion of Robusta beans, or they may consist entirely of Robusta.
The plant itself grows 8 – 15 feet tall depending on the variety and growth conditions. In Arabica coffee, clusters of 2-19 white flowers, with five or six petals, grow at the leaf axils on the branches. After pollination, the flowers wither and bring forth a fruit, the ‘cherry’, just over a half inch in diameter, ripening in 7-9 months (9-11 for Robusta). The coffee cherry has a red or yellow skin when ripe (green when unripe). The pulp of the cherry is rich in sugars and water which are glued over the parchment that covers each bean.
When the cherries are ripe it is time for them to be picked and processed. Only ripe cherries will make the best tasting coffee. All of our coffees are hand picked, as opposed to machine picked, so our producer partners can ensure that the only the best cherries get processed. Processing is the final step before the beans are ready to be shipped out of country of origin.