The Essentials of Coffee

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Coffee comes from coffea trees and shrubs
Coffea is the name of a group of 40 small evergreen trees and shrubs that produce the fruit containing coffee beans. The tree or shrub grows over 3m high and produces fragrant white flowers similar to jasmine that mature into fruit over 24 to 36 hours. The fruit, which is approximately 1.3cm long, changes colour from green to yellow to deep red as it ripens over 9 months. After harvesting, the fruit is processed to extract the coffee beans inside. There are usually two beans per fruit, but in 5% to 10% of the crop some fruit will only have one bean called a peaberry.

Varieties of Coffea
The arabica variety has the highest quality coffee beans. It provides more than 70% of the coffee in the world. Premium coffees such as: Mocha, Blue Mountain, Kona and speciality coffees from Africa, Kenya and South America, are all varieties of arabica. Other commercial varieties are liberica and robusta. These varieties are usually blended with arabica to produce ‘traditional’ and some instant coffees. High quality robusta can be included in espresso blends to help form the frothy crema layer on top of the coffee.

Where it’s grown
Coffee is grown near the equator. The better arabica varieties prefer to grow higher than 460m above sea level in cool, frost free conditions at a temperature of approximately 24°C. The robusta and liberica varieties are grown at lower levels. Coffee trees are usually planted near taller trees to protect them from strong winds and produce the first full crop after five years. They can continue to provide crops for more than 10 years.

Roasting and flavour
The coffee beans extracted from the berry have little flavour and need to be roasted. Different varieties of coffee beans have different amounts of caffeine, protein, acids, water and sugar. Roasting the beans increases the internal temperature to 400 degrees C, which alters these chemicals and releases essential oils. The aroma and flavour is provided by these essential oils, which are developed by the roasting process. Darker, stronger coffee is produced by roasting the beans for longer.

Coffee is a very popular drink and has worldwide retail sales of $70 billion per year. The figures for 2007 show that Finland consumed the most coffee per head of population at 12kg. They were followed by Norway, Iceland and Denmark. The USA only consumed 4.2kg per head and the UK 2.8kg.

Growers and exporters
Coffee is grown in 45 countries, but the main exporters of coffee are Brazil, Columbia and Vietnam. Even though coffee consumption has varied widely over the years, which has had a severe effect on the economies of some coffee producing countries where coffee makes up more than 75% of their export earnings. It seems that we are prepared to consume as much coffee as the exporting countries can produce. In 1963 over seventy coffee producing and consuming countries combined to form the International Coffee Organisation to agree figures for supply and demand to stabilise the coffee market. There have been seven international agreements and the latest has been in force since September 2007.


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