COFFEE IS A FRUIT
Everybody knows what a coffee bean looks like; however, did you know that coffee is grown on a tree… with flowers? Identifying a coffee bean seems like a common skill most of us possess, but the plant is a totally different story.
For instance – did you know that coffee is actually a fruit? That’s right! Coffee beans are actually the seeds of coffee cherries. Each tree features green, waxy leaves grown down its branches. Beside those leaves, you find lush bunches of coffee cherries.
Coffee trees have flowers, too! Beautiful white petals enhance the aesthetic of a coffee tree even more. Growth is cyclical, so it is not uncommon to find trees simultaneously featuring flowers, green fruit, and red fruit. Coffee trees have the ability to grow over 30 feet high; however, most farmers keep them trimmed much shorter. This helps each tree conserve energy and will aid the overall harvest.
Once a cherry initially flowers, it will be nearly a year before it fully matures. After 5 years, it has evolved to full fruit production. A coffee tree is most productive from age 7 to 20; however, they can live for up to 100 years.
The beans themselves are actually the seeds of the coffee cherry. The outer skin of this cherry is called the exocarp. Beneath that, you find a thin layer of pulp called the mesocarp. Finally, you pass through a pocket of slime called the parenchyma before reaching the endocarp. This is the thin layer of parchment holding the beans. If you’re familiar with the anatomy of a peanut, coffee beans are facing each other in a similar fashion as they do inside of peanut shells, including the parchment that surrounds them.
The average tree yields 10 pounds of coffee cherries per year. These 10 pounds of cherries will produce 2 pounds of green beans, which will yield just over a pound and a half of roasted coffee. To put that into perspective, if your household goes through over a pound of coffee every week, then you need about an entire tree per week.
THE COFFEE BELT
The best places to grow coffee fall along the world’s “Coffee Belt ” (or “Bean Belt”). These areas include rich soil, frequent rain, shaded sun, and mild temperatures. These features all foster exceptional coffee tree growth.
Botanically, coffee trees are classified under the genus of plants known as Coffea. This genus includes over 500 genera and 6,000 species of tropical trees and shrubs. Depending on which expert you ask, there are between 25 and 100 species of coffee trees. It was a Swedish botanist, Carolus Linneaus, who first described this genus in 1753. History has been plagued by scientific disagreement over the exact classification; mostly because of how drastically different coffee trees can appear. Some are tiny shrubs, while others are giant trees. They also differ in leaf size by up to 16 inches, and by color. However, there are only two species of coffee significant to the commercial coffee industry – Arabica and Robusta.