Updated: Mar 5, 2020
Coffee began in the 1400s, and is actually relatively new compared to thousands of years of documented history. The true inventor of coffee will never been known but history tells us that somewhere in Yemen or Africa coffee was first discovered. Some stories tell that a goat found coffee beans by mere accident while with its owner, and later the hunter, crushed coffee beans for his drink. Another legend tells that when men from tribes would hunt they came across the coffee beans and used them for energy bars for long hunts and traveling long distances.
There are countless coffee species but there are two main coffees: Arabica and Robusta. Most speciality coffee uses Arabica for its more well-rounded character while robusta is reserved as an agent for certain espresso and other blends but rarely as a single origin.
Arabica beans contain 60% more lipids and has almost twice the amount of sugars compared to Robusta. This is probably the biggest factor why Arabica is used more than Robusta. Depending where coffee is grown, it can taste vastly different depending on how it is processed, roasted, and brewed. Coffee beans are very similar to wine in terms of growth; they both come from a variety of trees and different origins, varietals, and production methods affect the final roasted product.
There are a lot of factors that can change the taste of the coffee bean such as weather, soil, altitude, humidity, and what country it’s grown in. Coffee has an endless range of flavors that you can discover, and some flavors are not repeatable because each harvest is unique. Coffee is grown in tropical climates and at higher altitudes. It takes 3 to 4 years to produce coffee from a tree to a fruit bearing mature specimen. Once the coffee tree is fully matured, each berry is hand picked by the farmer.
This hands-on farming approach, while not entirely used, is almost a necessity in less developed coffee growing regions around the world. Needless to say, with such a human factor involved in coffee from seed to cup, coffees are a valued, yet under appreciated commodity worldwide.
Main Growing Regions
Coffee is grown along the equatorial zone known as The Bean Belt located roughly between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. There are four main growing regions: Africa, Indonesia, Central America, and South America. As mentioned before there are two main coffee species, Arabica and Robusta but both of them are grown in different altitudes which cause them to taste completely different.
Arabica is grown in high altitudes (600 – 2000 meters), and is very tricky to process. This type of bean requires lots of moisture and rich soil, but due to their fragility, Arabica is vulnerable to diseases and various pests. Arabica can be compromised by poor handling and cold temperatures. Most of the coffee around the world uses 70% Arabica and is considered the fruitier of the two main coffee species.
As for Robusta beans, they are grown at lower altitudes (200 – 800 meters) and are very hardy against diseases and other viruses. The Robusta taste ranges from neutral to harsh after the bean is roasted. Although the Robusta bean is not the popular choice, it contains more caffeine than Arabica bean. What most people don’t know is that Robusta beans are often mixed with Arabica beans to save money but to only create poorer quality coffee.
Some of the biggest coffee producing countries are Brazil, Columbia, Ethiopia, and Sumatra. Most coffee shops have coffee from each of these countries and use Fair Trade to help farmers make better income at fairer trade rates. Fair Trade is a global effort to give back to the farmers that was started in the 1940s. A group of organizations came together to help impoverished families sell their handicrafts to well-off, developed markets. Fair Trade is labeled on coffee, tea, cocoa, sugar, fruit, herbs, spices, flowers, grains, vegetables, wine, and rubber products in developing countries around the world.
From Tree to Bean
Coffee trees take 3 – 4 years to fully mature and red berries (soon to be a coffee beans) are hand picked one by one by a farmer. After picking the harvest, the berries are immersed into water to separate the good and bad berries. The bad berries float while the good berries sink down to the bottom of the barrel.
Next, the farmers use a pulping machine to separate the outside skin from the beans. The beans are then laid out in the sun to dry for several days. While the beans are drying out in the sun, the farmers hand pick the poor quality beans out of the harvest.
Growing coffee beans takes a lot of work and not to mention the hard labor it takes to care for each coffee bean. The National Coffee Association reports that more than 25 million farming families rely on coffee to survive and battling climate change affects their harvests.
You can help coffee farmers by buying Fair Trade coffee when shopping at your local coffee shop or coffee roaster. You can also find other products such as the ones mentioned above online that support Fair Trade. What better way to give back to the world by simply buying fair trade coffee!
Coffee Travels the World
Coffee has been around since the 15th century and so much has changed since the first bean was first discovered. No one really knows the exact origin where coffee started or who discovered this most wonderful gift to human kind. Coffee has transformed from chewing cherries off a coffee tree to making energy bars for long travels to creating a simple cup of coffee.
Coffee is more than an obsession these days, but third wave and specialty coffee roasters around the world are uniting in a movement to educate coffee consumers about where their coffee comes from and where it is going.
Each harvest is different and how you roast coffee beans are very unique each time it is roasted. Specialty coffee shops have grown quite a bit. In fact that more than 26,000 specialty coffee shops have opened in the last ten years. More and more people are seeking out specialty coffee and learning new ways to make coffee.
Let us know what’s your favorite way to make coffee and leave your comment below!