Coffee traces its
origin to a genus of plants known as Coffea. Within
the genus there are over 500 genera and 6,000 species
of tropical trees and shrubs. Experts estimate that
there are anywhere from 25 to 100 species of coffee
Coffee trees are
pruned short to conserve their energy and aid in harvesting,
but can grow to more than 30 feet (9 meters) high. Each
tree is covered with green, waxy leaves growing opposite
each other in pairs. Coffee cherries grow along the
branches. Because it grows in a continuous cycle, its
not unusual to see flowers, green fruit and ripe fruit
simultaneously on a single tree.
It takes nearly
a year for a cherry to mature after first flowering,
and about 5 years of growth to reach full fruit production.
While coffee plants can live up to 100 years, they are
generally the most productive between the ages of 7
and 20. Proper care can maintain and even increase their
output over the years, depending on the variety. The
average coffee tree produces 10 pounds of coffee cherry
per year, or 2 pounds of green beans.
grown coffee is from a region of the world called the
Coffee Belt. The trees grow best in rich soil, with
mild temperatures, frequent rain and shaded sun.
The beans you brew
are actually the processed and roasted seeds from a
fruit, which is called a coffee cherry.
The coffee cherry's
outer skin is called the exocarp. Beneath it is the
mesocarp, a thin layer of pulp, followed by a slimy
layer called the parenchyma. The beans themselves are
covered in a paper-like envelope named the endocarp,
more commonly referred to as the parchment.
Inside the parchment,
side-by-side, lie two beans, each covered separately
by yet another thin membrane. The biological name for
this seed skin is the spermoderm, but it is generally
referred to in the coffee trade as the silver skin.
In about 5% of
the world's coffee, there is only one bean inside the
cherry. This is called a peaberry (or a caracol, or
"snail" in Spanish), and it is a natural mutation.
Some people believe that peaberries are actually sweeter
and more flavorful than standard beans, so they are
sometimes manually sorted out for special sale.
the National Coffee Association
where you can find more extensive information.