Coffea, a member of the Rubiaceae family is responsible for the biological heritage of “coffee.” The Rubiaceae family includes more than 500 genera and 6,000 species of tropical trees and shrubs.

It is doubtful the average person would recognize an actual coffee tree. Most of us would recognize a roasted coffee bean. Just in case you stumble upon something you think might be a real coffee tree, here is a quick description of one:

• Pruned short in cultivation
• Capable of growing more than 30 feet high
• Generally covered with dark-green, waxy leaves that grow opposite each other in pairs, although a coffee tree can also have leaves that are purple or yellow (dark green is the predominant color) The leaves may be 1 to 40 centimeters in size
• Coffee cherries grow along the tree’s branches (see below for a description of coffee cherries)
• Coffee cherries bloom into flowering, fragrant, white blossoms after about a year
• Because coffee cherries grow in a continuous cycle you might see flowers, green fruit and ripe fruit at the same time on a single tree

A coffee tree can live as long as 20 to 30 years. They are capable of growing in a wide range of climates so long as the climate does not have harsh fluctuations in temperature. Coffee trees grow best in a rich soil and mild temperature with frequent rain and shaded sun. Heavy frost will kill coffee trees.

It is estimated that there are 25 to 100 species of coffee plants. In the commercial coffee industry, there are two important coffee species. These are:

• Arabica
• Canephora (more commonly called robusta)

Varieties of Coffea Arabica – C. Arabica include:

• Bourbon
• Typica
• Caturra
• Mundo
• Novo
• Tico
• San Ramon
• Jamaican Blue Mountain

The original coffee trees were discovered in Ethiopia. Coffea Arabica comes from these original coffee trees. The coffee trees in Ethiopia produce a fine, mild, aromatic coffee. Over half of the world’s coffee production originates from the coffee trees in Ethiopia. Arabica coffees bring the highest prices in the world market of coffee. Better arabicas are high grown coffees, generally between 2,000 to 6,000 feet above sea level.

The Arabica coffee trees are costly to cultivate due to the following factors:

• The terrain tends to be steep and access is difficult
• The Arabica coffee trees are more disease prone than robusta coffee trees, which requires additional care and attention

Arabica coffee tree beans are flatter and more elongated than robusta coffee tree beans and “lower in caffeine.”

Variety of Coffea canephora – C. canephora var. robusta include:

• Robusta

The robusta coffee tree tends to be hearty and is more disease and parasite resistant. This makes the robusta coffee tree easier and cheaper to cultivate. The robusta coffee tree is able to withstand warmer climates and prefers constant temperatures between 75 and 85 degrees. It needs about 60 inches of rainfall per year and cannot stand up to a frost. Robusta beans produce a coffee with a distinctive taste and about 50-60% more caffeine than the Arabica coffee tree beans.

Most robusta coffee trees are grown in Central and Western Africa, parts of Southeast Asia, which includes Indonesia and Vietnam. Brazil is also a country in which the robusta coffee tree is grown, however, Brazil accounts for only about 30 percent of the world market.

What does a “coffee cherry” look like? You will recognize a “coffee cherry” by the following characteristics:

• The outer skin of a coffee cherry is called the “exocarp”
• Beneath the exocarp is the “mesocarp,” which is a thin layer of pulp
• This thin layer of pulp is followed by a slimy layer called the “parenchyma”
• The beans themselves are covered in a parchment-like envelope called the “endocarp” and more commonly called “the parchment”
• Inside the parchment, side-by side lie two beans
• Each of these beans are covered separately by another layer of thin membrane or seed skin called “spermoderm”
• The spermoderm is generally referred to in the coffee trade as the “silver skin.”

Source: The National Coffee Association

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© 2007 Connie Limon. All rights reserved.

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Written by: Connie Limon Visit us at for an extensive list of FREE reprint articles all about “coffee.”