Botanically classified as an evergreen shrub, the coffee plant is commonly called a tree or a bush, and is in the family Rubiaceae. Coffee plants are native to subtropical Africa and also southern Asia.
Coffee plants begin producing a full crop when they are about five years old and then continue to produce for the next fifteen to twenty years. One coffee plant may produce an average of about one pound of coffee beans each year.
Coffee Plants – A Botanical Description
Coffee trees (technically they are bushes) have glossy, dark green, ovate leaves (which last three to five years) and small, fragrant white flowers that bloom simultaneously in clusters – they bloom for just a few days over several months. In the Kona region these flowers are known as Kona Snow.
When is the Coffee Fruit Ripe?
The fruit of the coffee tree is known as the coffee cherry, and measures about 6/10-inch (1.5 cm) long, beginning as a green, unripe berry that gradually ripens to yellow, then taking on an orange/crimson color before turning dark cherry-red/reddish-black, at which time it is ready to be harvested for the prized coffee beans.
The whole ripening process of the coffee cherry takes about eight months. The ripeness of a coffee cherry is determined largely by color, but a more precise method involves gently squeezing a fruit to see if the seed (coffee bean) will easily fall out. Typically this happens just before the fruit is completely red (monochromatic).
Some coffee varieties have cherry (fruits) that turn yellow rather than red when they are ripe.
While the beans inside the coffee fruit are typically what is prized, there’s a growing market for the cherry itself either dried and made into Cascara (coffee cherry tea), or ground into a coffee flour.
Processing the Coffee Fruit
The center of the coffee cherry (fruit) is referred to as the bean or seed. After the cherry is harvested, the coffee bean is processed by either wet processing – the washed method, which includes pulping, milling, fermentation, and drying), or by dry processing (the natural method) which involves drying the coffee with the fruit still on the coffee beans.
Wet Processing of Coffee Cherry
Wet processing is a method of getting the parchment off by first removing the pulp from the coffee bean in the process called pulping, or de-pulping. Then the mucilage is removed through fermentation and finally the beans are dried, either in the sunlight or using forced-air drying.
Dry Processing of Coffee Cherry
Green Coffee Beans
After processing, and before the green coffee beans are roasted they are known as green coffee beans, though the color is typically more of a bluish-green.
Peaberry Coffee Beans
Valued for their robust flavor, peaberry are the rarest type of coffee beans and have a higher density than non-peaberry coffee beans. Coffee brewed from peaberry is known to have a smooth consistency and rich aroma.
Coffee Plant Varietals
Naturally Decaf Coffee
A new strain of naturally caffeine-free coffee has come out of Cameroon (2008), named Coffea charrieriana after Professor A. Charrier, who managed coffee breeding and research at IRD for 30 years. Cameroon contains a variety of wild coffee trees, many of which have never been studied or catalogued. It will take a couple years for it to start appearing on the market and many more for commercial quantities to be available, but could represent a less process-intensive way of making decaf coffee.
[Stoffelen, P., M. Noirot, E. Couturon & F. Anthony. 2008. A new caffeine-free coffee from Cameroon. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society 158: 67-72.]
Espresso Coffee Guide – The Top Coffee Source
More great coffee information can be found in All About Coffee which covers all aspects of coffee from soil to sip.
This includes coffee plants and coffee cherry, and full descriptions of all of the world’s top gourmet coffee beans including Organic Coffee, Fair Trade Coffee, Bird Friendly Coffee and Shade-Grown Coffee.
Coffee Makers and Espresso Machines
Also included are full details about Coffee Makers (Automatic Drip Coffee Makers, Single Serve Coffee Makers, Pod Coffee Makers, Coffee Pods, Coffee K-Cups, T-Discs, and French Press, (also see Best Coffee Makers), and Espresso Machines (including Pod Espresso Machines) as well as Instant Coffee and Decaffeinated Coffee.
Coffee From Soil to Sip
You can also learn about coffee harvesting and processing, coffee grading and roasting, coffee grinding and packaging, coffee storing, brewing, and all about the coffee beverage itself including Espresso.
Gourmet Coffee Lovers
Learn how to discern all of the fine nuances of coffee flavors and qualities including body, aroma, acidity, bitterness, sweetness, and finish or aftertaste). Also provided is a full description of coffee cupping (professional coffee tasting), and as a bonus you get a compendium of coffee quotes and even a coffee quiz.
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