A recent dinner conversation, stemming from the capers in our pasta sauce, turned to how coffee beans actually grow. What kind of plant do they grow on? What do they look like? How are they harvested?
The dinner group didn’t have all the answers to the questions; they agreed that coffee is kind of like a berry. The conclusion was partly correct: while we call coffee a ‘bean’ it is actually a seed of a cherry-like fruit.
So here’s the further research I’ve done – hopefully it increases your knowledge of how coffee beans grow and heightens your appreciation for the beans in your next 1-lb or 5-lb bag of That’s Coffee product.
Where Does Coffee Grow?
Coffee beans grow in over 70 countries all over the globe, from Indonesia to Brazil. However, there is a very narrow range of conditions required for growing the coffee bean, restricting growth to a region referred to as the Bean Belt.
This belt or band around the equator ranges from about 25 degrees North to 25 degrees South (between the Tropics of Capricorn and Cancer) and it produces the vast majority of the world’s coffee output.
This region offers the perfect growing conditions. Its temperatures is ideal, falling between 60F (15C) and 70F (21C). Rainfalls of 6 inches or more each month followed by long sunny and dry periods help the trees to blossom.
The Coffee Tree
The coffee cherry that produces coffee beans comes from a variety of tropical evergreen shrub – it’s a woody perennial evergreen that has dark green, waxy leaves. These trees can easily reach twenty feet; some wild coffee trees grow to 45 to 50 feet. Coffee plantations will often maintain their trees to keep them at a manageable six feet to get a better and easier harvest.
To better visual, the tree has broad, dark green leaves and a fragrant white flower (or blossom) that is similar to Jasmine.
Even though it is called a cherry-like fruit, the berry much resembles a cranberry. These cherries grow in clusters along the branches and turn bright red when ready to harvest. The skin is usually thick and bitter but the inside is surprisingly sweet. The majority of seeds inside the cherries come in pairs although there is one variety called the Peaberry that has only a single seed. The seeds are originally a bluish-green color and only turn dark brown when roasted.
The coffee tree takes about five years, once planted, to mature and produce its first crop. The average tree can produce about two pounds of coffee per year – that’s about 2,000 beans. A tree can then produce an annual harvest for the duration of its life – about 20 to 25 years.
The Harvesting Process
To this day, the coffee crop is harvested by hand. While it is a tedious task, skilled harvesters know how to select the best beans from the tree. The pickers will either strip the branch of all the berries or be selective in which ones to pick (which is usually the case for Arabica beans).
The average picker can yield 100 to 200 pounds of cherries per day but only 20% of this yield represents the weight of the bean.
So the next time you open that fresh pound of coffee, remember that it’s about half of a tree’s annual crop and a picker a few hours to harvest!
“All about Coffee Beans”
courtesy of your online coffee bean store:
Gourmet Coffee Beans