Coffee - The Origin Of The Species

Coffee, along with tea and soft drinks is the most widely consumed beverage in the world. The popularity and liking for coffee as a beverage can be gauged by the fact that its consumption is approximately one third of the volume of water consumed in the United States and Europe. The coffee that we drink is actually prepared from seeds, normally referred to as beans, of the coffee plant.

Coffee beans usually grow in pairs in the coffee cherry. In some rare cases, a single bean can also be found growing in the plant. Such single beans are known as pea-berry or carcoli beans. Pea-berry has a more prominent flavor than other Arabica beans are high on demand and are more expensive.

Species and Origins:
The Genus, Coffea, to which the coffee plant belongs, contains about 25 species out of which the most prominent are:
-The older species Coffea Arabica, was called the Kaffa, originated in Ethiopia.
-The newer species, Coffea canephora (Robusta), probably originated in Uganda.
-Coffea liberica, which is indigenous to Liberia
-Coffea esliaca, that is believed to be indigenous to Sudan

Whereas Coffea Robusta is a shrub type plant, Coffea Arabica grows more like a tree. Some varieties of the coffee plant grow up to 30 feet but for easy picking of the coffee berry they are seldom allowed to grow beyond 15 feet. The coffee plant grows best under the shade of natural vegetation classified as Tropical Semi-deciduous Forest and in warm humid isothermal climate with annual precipitation of 1800-2000 mm and a mean annual temperature of 21-21.9°C

The best soils for coffee plants are deep sandy loam soils with coarse makeup perspective, having good aeration, moderate infiltration, and pH from 5.0 to 6.0. Nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorous are the most important elements though physical conditions can limit growth to a great extent.

Initially, Arabica coffees were named after the ports that they were exported from - for example, Java, from Indonesia and Mocha, from Yemen. Arabica is considered by many to be better in taste than Robusta, but the species is more susceptible to disease and therefore not as profitable to grow.
The flavor of the Arabica beans depends upon the region they are grown in. Arabica beans are now grown in three main regions - Latin America, East Africa/Arabia and Asia/Pacific, and have distinctive characteristics of flavor, aroma, body, and acidity levels. Apart from the region, processing, genetic subspecies or varieties of beans also have a great impact on the coffee flavor and taste. For example, washed or wet processed beans tend to be more acidic in taste. Some regions even produce coffee beans that have a citrus-like or earthy flavor and aroma which can be best described as berry-like or flowery.

Robusta coffees are cultivated in environments where Arabica cannot blossom and have approximately 45% more caffeine than Arabica coffees. Robusta has little taste and tends to be bitter and has a typical “burnt rubber” and “wet cardboard” aroma and flavor. Robusta beans are cost effective but their peculiar taste is not liked by a many. To make Robusta beans more palatable and suitable for coffee blends the undesirable flavors are removed through a steaming process. Some espresso blends use good quality Robusta to decrease costs and get a better “crema” or foamy head.

Modern coffee, however, is more origin specific, and is known by country, region, varietals and even the estate it is grown and processed in.

Some coffees are made from particular varietals. Varietal, a botanical term that refers to a taxonomic category rank below species and are not related to origin are more specific than Arabica and Robusta. Coffees made of beans from single varietals are generally referred as such and in certain cases. The name of the region is added for distinctive branding. Rwanda Blue Bourbon is one such example of a coffee made from single varietals and made in Rwanda.

Brazil remains the world’s largest producer and exporter of coffee. In recent years, however, there has been a flood of Robusta beans from Vietnam. The preference of the large industrial houses, multinational roasters and instant coffee producers, for the Robusta variety, due to its cheaper cost, was instrumental in the huge influx, precipitating a crisis of sorts in the prices of coffee the world over.

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