All About the Coffee Plant

Your morning coffee.

Maybe you brew it at home.

You take the beans down from an airtight storage container, the gentle rattling is like music in your ears.

You open the lid and are slapped in the face with the magnificent scent that fills the kitchen quickly. You put it in your brewing vessel of choice, and the few agonizing minutes it takes to start producing the dark brown liquid feel like a century.

You open the cabinet and your eyes glaze over the number of mugs that you have collected over the years. Aha! You spot it, your favorite one that you use almost every morning. The once stark image on it has faded into almost nothing after so many washes, but this is the mug that makes you feel most at home.

You hear the timer go off, and know that it is time to make your cup.

You take the first sip.

For many of us, this is generally how we start our mornings. Coffee is the glue that keeps the day together whether we brew it at home, go to our local coffee shop, or are fortunate enough to work in an office that has a full kitchen.

We know what the coffee bean looks like, how it smells, how it tastes when brewed.

But do you ever stop to think about the coffee plant?

Coffea

Coffee is what we drink. Coffee is made from the seeds of berries from a Coffea species.

Native to tropical and southern Africa as well as tropical Asia, Coffea is a genus of flowering plants in the family Rubiaceae. Depending on how they are tended to, the plant is usually grown as a shrub or a small tree for farmers. In the wild, however, the coffee plant can reach over 30 feet tall!

Source: Wikimedia Commons

The plant can live up to 100 years old, and produces beautiful but highly scented white flowers along with a deep red fruit that is now referred to as the “cherry”. The cherry, which is surrounded by a protected layer called the endocarp, often has two coffee “beans”. In very rare, but natural circumstances, the cherry will only produce a single, small bean that is known as a peaberry.

 

There are over 100 species of Coffea, the two most common being Coffea arabica and Coffea canephora. The seeds of these species are where we get our coffee beans. The berries of the plant are picked, processed, dried, then hulled (a process of removing an outside layer of the bean, the endocarp) before being sent to a roaster.

Source: Wikimedia Commons / Kenyan farmers (2012) photo by Kamweti wa Mutu

The caffeine in the coffee beans is important for two reasons. Besides keeping our eyes open, the caffeine attracts honeybees which help keep the plant pollinated as well as serving as a natural deterrent for insects.

 

However, not all Coffea species are caffeinated. Scientists theorize that caffeine in plants (like cocoa and tea, which are far-distant relatives) is an adapted trait unique to the specific species. One example is Charrier coffee, a recent discovery. Native to Cameroon in central Africa, Charrier coffee is naturally caffeine free.

 

Arabica vs. Canephora (Robusta)

 

The two most common species of Coffea are arabica and canephora, also known as robusta coffee.

 

C. arabica is an evergreen native to Africa that has fragrant white blooms that flower from May to June about two years into maturity. While native to Africa, it resulted as a cross of C. canephora (robusta) and C. eugenioides. This coffee makes up about 60% of coffee exports, and is the dominant cultivar of the plant. The remaining 40% of exports is robusta coffee.  

 

Robusta coffee also has origins in Africa. It has a larger crop yield than arabica coffee, and is a lot less prone to disease. While it seems like this is the superior plant to grow, the beans that are produced are cheaper, have higher amounts of caffeine and are extremely bitter. Robusta coffee is usually mixed with Arabica coffee in low-grade and cheaper coffees. Arabica coffee, which is more expensive, tends to be smoother, and hence preferred by master roasters.

 

Both types of coffee will produce very different tastes in the cup, and we encourage you to find out which you prefer. After more than 30 years of experience, we have decided to only use 100% Arabica coffee for both our single-origin coffees and our coffee blends that are extremely high in quality, remarkable in depth, and incredibly smooth.

 

Growing Your Own Coffee Plant

 

While coffee is native to Africa and grows well along the equatorial belt that should not stop you from trying to bring this into your own home!

Source: Wikimedia Commons / Photo by Joonasl

Below is a basic guide for growing C. arabica in your own home.

SoilFairly acidic, well-draining soil. The soil should be peat based, as the plant will not do well in limey soils. 
Light ConditionsDespite what you might think, these plants do not need full sunlight. Dappled sunlight is best, and the plant only needs a few hours of sunshine a day to thrive. Direct, prolonged sunshine can damage and burn a young plant.
WateringDuring growing, water regularly to keep the soil moist, but not soggy. Water when the top inch of soil is dry, and never let the plant dry out completely. Do not let the plant sit in water or else the roots will rot.
FertilizingFertilize with a weak, organic fertilizer in the growing season regularly. Fertilize only once a month during the winter.
Common PestsLike most houseplants, the coffee plant is most prone to pests like mealy bugs, aphids, and spider mites. Check the plant often for any site of these bugs and refer to your local gardening center for how to naturally cure your plant if you develop problems.
HumidityKeep the plants at an average of 60 to 74 degrees Fahrenheit (16 – 23 Celsius). These plants thrive in high humidity. Group them with other tropical plants and keep humid with a humidifier or by spraying with a water bottle to mimic ideal conditions. 
ToxicityToxic to humans and animals. The only non-toxic part of the plant is the mature fruit.

 

REFERENCES :

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coffea

http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?kempercode=b632

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coffea_canephora#Cultivation_and_use

https://www.ncausa.org/About-Coffee/10-Steps-from-Seed-to-Cup

https://www.thespruce.com/grow-coffee-plants-1902614

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