Crop to Cup: The Coffee Tree

Learn about the tree that yields your morning cup of joe.

  • The coffee tree in varying stages of sprouting.
    Photo courtesy of Getty Images / ArtRachen01
  • Explore the history of coffee from plant to cup with special profiles on each of the 29 growing countries.
    Photo courtesy of Firefly Books

The Coffee Tree

This section deals only with the most interesting of the coffee species, Coffea arabica. At first glance, all Arabica trees look similar: a thin trunk with numerous branches coming off it, supporting foliage and fruit. However, if you look closer there are many differences between trees, determined by the variety of Arabica being grown. Different varieties yield different amounts of fruit, in different colours, and some carry the fruit in clusters, while others have fruit evenly spaced down the branch.

There are also big differences between the leaves of plants of different varieties, but more importantly between the cup characteristics when the seeds of these varieties are harvested and brewed.

Different varieties have different qualities of flavour, and may also have different mouthfeels.

It is always important to remember that for the bulk of coffee producers, flavour is not the main reason they have selected a certain variety to grow. The yield of the tree and its resistance to disease are usually of great value to those who depend on growing coffee for their livelihood. That is not to say that all producers choose their varieties this way, but one should bear in mind the impact of these choices on the profitability and income of the producer.

From Seed to Tree

Most established coffee farms have a nursery in which to raise seedlings before planting them out on the farm for production. The coffee beans are first planted in rich soil, and will soon germinate. The bean itself is then lifted out of the ground by the developing shoot, and at this stage they are often called ‘soldiers’. They look strangely like a roasted coffee bean has been attached to the top of a thin green stem. Not long after this, the bean bursts open to reveal the first leaves. Coffee plants grow quickly and after 6–12 months they can be moved from the nursery into production.

Coffee growing requires the investment of not only money, but also time. A coffee farmer will usually have to wait three years for a newly planted tree to fruit properly.



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