Coffee is largely grown in a band around the equator from approximately twenty five degrees north or south. Conditions here are perfect with temperatures of between 60F (15C) and 70F (21C), and rainfall of 6 inches per month or more. This means that geographically there are three main coffee growing regions: East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, South East Asia and the Pacific and Latin America.
Like many other fruits, coffee cherries grow on trees. The soil, climate, altitude and surrounding plants it is exposed to during growth will effect the flavour of the beans it produces. Although there are over 60 different varieties of coffee, Arabica and Robusta are the most commonly used varieties.
Arabica Coffee Beans
Arabica grows best in altitude between 4,000 and 6,000 feet above sea level and is the earliest cultivated species of the coffee tree. It requires special soil conditions with just the right balance of warmth and moisture. It is considered a higher quality bean and produces very flavourful and aromatic coffee. It takes six to nine months to mature.
Arabica beans fall to the ground once ripened and therefore need to be harvested immediately as they are very susceptible to disease, frost and drought. They require careful labour-intensive cultivation and produce only 1 to 1.5 pounds of beans per year. These beans are low in caffeine and high in flavour and aroma and hence are more expensive.
Arabica beans account for 75 percent of beans grown around the world.
Robusta Coffee Beans
Robusta is mainly cultivated in West Africa and Southeast Asia and is grown above sea level up to 2,500 feet. As the names suggest Robusta beans are more tolerant of the cold and moisture and as they don’t fall to the ground when they ripen do not need to be harvested immediately. Robusta beans have twice the amount of caffeine as Arabica beans, but are less flavourful and less aromatic and thus are largely used for instant coffee.
Robusta beans account for 25 percent of beans grown around the world.
To create any blend of coffee you have to balance the amount of Arabica and Robusta beans to create a unique coffee experience.
Things to look for when tasting a cup of coffee:
- Aroma – This is the smell of the coffee – it should range from fruity to herby.
- Acidity – This refers to the crispness of the coffee, a pleasant sharpness. While a coffee low in acidity can result in a pleasant-tasting “mellow” or “soft” cup of coffee, the complete lack of acidity will leave the coffee tasting flat, or “dead”.
- Body – As you sip the coffee, you can feel its weight on your tongue. Like heaviness, thickness or richness that you perceive on your tongue. It can range from full (buttery and syrupy) to medium to light.
- Flavour – The all-encompassing coffee term and includes the impressions of acidity, aroma, and body. It is also used to convey any specific taste that is present in the coffee, such as “nutty”, “spicy”, or “musty”.
From its humble beginnings, coffee has now become the most popular beverage in the world, with more than 400 billion cups consumed worldwide. It is a global industry employing more than 20 million people, and as a commodity ranks second only to petrol in terms of dollars traded worldwide. It is also one of the few crops that small farmers in third-world countries can profitably export.