Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Magnoliopsida
Order: Rubiales
Family: Rubiaceae
Coffea arabica
Coffea benghalensis
Coffea canephora = C. robusta
Coffea congensis
Coffea liberica
Coffea stenophylla
Ref: ITIS 35189 2003-01-03
Coffee is a tree of genus Coffea, its seeds, and a stimulating beverage prepared from those seeds. Coffee is widely cultivated in tropical countries in plantations for export to temperate countries. Coffee ranks as one of the world's major commodity crops and is a major export of some countries.

Table of contents
1 Botany
2 Processing, Roasting and Presentation
3 Social aspects of coffee
4 Coffee as a stimulant
5 History
6 Health risks
7 References
8 External Links


When grown in the tropics coffee is a vigorous bush or small tree easily growing to a height of 3 to 3.5 m (10-12 feet). It is capable of withstanding severe pruning. It is not able to grow where there is a winter frost. Bushes grow best at high altitudes. To produce at their maximum (arguably 16 tonnes of ripe "berries" per hectare, or 15,000 pounds per acre) the plants need substantial amounts of water and fertilizer.

There are several species of Coffea that may be grown for coffee, but Coffea arabica is considered to have the best quality. The other species (primarily Coffea robusta) are grown on land unsuitable for Coffea arabica. The tree produces red or purple fruits (drupes), which contain two seeds, popularly called the "coffee beans" or "coffee berries" though coffee is not a true bean. A few varieties produce one seed, and are called "peaberry" varieties.

The coffee tree will grow fruits after 3--5 years, for about 50-60 years. The blossom of the coffee tree is similar to jasmine in color and smell. The fruit takes about nine months to ripen. Worldwide, an estimate of 15 billion coffee trees is grown on 10 million hectares land.

Processing, Roasting and Presentation

After picking, the coffee beans are pulped (usually using a mechanical pulper) to remove the bulk of the soft flesh, and then the beans are fermented (by one of several means most often wet fermentation in water for 10-36 hours), then washed (to remove the last of the sticky mucilage not removed by fermentation) and dried (usually in the sun). This process is time-consuming, expensive and, for most growers, labour-intensive. Coffee at this stage is known as milled beans.

Once the raw coffee beans arrive in their destination country, they are roasted. This darkens their color and, depending on the degree of roasting, alters the internal chemistry of the beans and therefore their flavor and aroma. Then the beans are ground. For consistency of the taste of a single brand, eight or more types of beans are mixed. The coffee beverage is made by infusing the resulting meal in hot water. Many variations on the brewing technique exist: the drip method, espresso, cappuccino, coffee pots and percolators, French press, various types of caffettiera, infusion, etc.

The coffee may be served plain ("black") or mixed with milk or cream, sweetened with sugar, or both. In some cultures, flavored coffees are common; chocolate is a common additive, as are spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, and cardamom. Coffee is normally served hot but iced coffee drinks have become popular in recent years. Coffee in all forms is an acquired taste, since its flavor is strong and bitter.

There are many conveniences available for coffee drinkers, which ease the preparation for hurried workers about to begin their commute. Instant coffee is a powder that may be mixed with hot water and drunk moments later. Electronic coffee makers boil the water and brew the infusion with little human assistance and sometimes according to a timer. Connoisseurs shun such conveniences, which compromise the flavor of the coffee; they prefer freshly ground beans and traditional brewing techniques.

Coffee is occasionally combined with alcohol, a troublesome combination since caffeine does not directly counteract alcohol intoxication. Coffee-infused liqueurs are available under several brands. Hot brewed coffee spiked with whiskey is called "Irish coffee".

Problems of maintaining quality during bean production

Achieving consistently excellent milled beans is not easy. Problems include:

The coffee bushes fruit aggressively when conditions permit, and the cherries will develop at the expense of the rest of the bush. This consumes sugars in the leaves and can produce die-back (death of leaves and branches). Die-back can be severe and can damage not just this years production but next years production (borne on this years growth), leading into a two-year cycle of growth and production.

Commercial operators come under a variety of pressures to cut costs and maximise yield. Arguably the best flavours will be produced when the coffee is grown in organic conditions. Some people who grow organically do so primarily to obtain the premium prices organic beans command, an alternative strategy to increase profits.

The economics of growing coffee

It is very questionable whether small growers can generate a high return on capital growing coffee if they have less than 3 acres (1.2 hectares) and if they are based in the United States. The retail price of the beans varies between about $1/pound for ripe cherries to $9/pound for extra fancy Kona milled beans, and there are many costs including fertiliser, irrigation, labour (e.g. picking and pruning) and land value. Integrated operations that capture much or all of the available revenue (by controlling the whole process from growing to retail) may generate higher returns.

Social aspects of coffee

It is estimated that 10 million people are working on plantations in the source lands of coffee. A single worker can harvest 50--100 kg of fruits per day, which results in 10--20 kg of raw coffee. Crops from Brazil and Colombia comprise 40% of the worldwide coffee production. As of 1998, the world's coffee production equals about 100 million sacks of coffee.

The United States is the largest market for coffee, followed by Germany. Finland consumes the most coffee per capita. Coffee is so popular in Canada, the United States, and Europe that many restaurants specialize in coffee; these are called "coffeehouses" or "cafés". Most cafés also serve tea, sandwiches, pastries, and other light refreshments. Some cafés are miniature shacks that specialize in coffee to go for hurried travelers. Some travelers transport their coffee in vacuum bottles, which can keep a beverage hot for hours.

In some countries, notably in northern Europe, coffee parties are a popular form of entertaining. Besides coffee, the host or hostess at the coffee party also serves cake and pastries, hopefully homemade.

For the Italian traditions, see Caffé.

The stimulant properties of coffee and the fact that coffee does not adversely impact higher mental functions causes coffee to be associated with white collar jobs. Social habits involving coffee include the morning coffee and coffee breaks.

Coffee as a stimulant

Coffee contains caffeine, which acts as a stimulant. For this reason, it is mostly drunk in the morning and during working hours. Students preparing for examinations with late-night "cram sessions" use coffee to maintain their concentration. Office workers take a "coffee break" when their energy is fading. "Decaf" (coffee from which most of the caffeine has been removed by water or a chemical solvent) is available for people who wish to enjoy the taste of coffee without stimulation. There are also tisanes that resemble coffee in taste but contain no caffeine (see below).

Coffee dependence is widespread and withdrawal symptoms are real. See the caffeine article for more on the pharmacological effects of caffeine.


Coffee probably originated in the Ethiopian province of Kaffa, though there is controversy about its origins. The crop first became popular in Arabia around the 13th century, its popularity probably enhanced by Islam's prohibition against alcoholic beverages. Before 1600, coffee production was a jealously guarded secret, and fertile beans were not found outside Arabia. Sometime after 1600, coffee trees were grown in India, possibly due to smuggling of fertile beans. Around 1650, coffee importation into England began and coffeehouses opened in Oxford and London. Coffee planting began in the English colonies, but a disease wiped out the plantations, leading the English to re-plant them with tea instead.

By the 18th century, the beverage had become popular in Europe, and European colonists had introduced coffee to tropical countries worldwide as a plantation crop to supply domestic demand. During the 19th century, European demand for coffee was so strong that when genuine coffee beans were scarce, people developed similar-tasting substitutes from various roasted vegetable substances, such as chicory root, dandelion root, acorns, or figs. For example, the British used acorns as a coffee substitute during World War II while German U-boats blockaded Britain.

Today, the major coffee-producing regions are tropical South America (Colombia is famous for its coffee), Vietnam, Kenya, Côte d'Ivoire, and others. There is limited production of high-quality, high-price coffee in Hawaii. Major per-capita consumers of coffee are Canada, the United States, Germany, Austria, Italy, and the Nordic countries.

Health risks

The caffeine in coffee is associated with addiction and various other health risks. Most coffee drinkers are familiar with "coffee jitters", a nervous condition that occurs when one has had too much caffeine. In recent years, research has indicated health benefits for drinking tea, motivating some coffee drinkers to switch to tea. Tea also contains caffeine, though in lesser amounts.

Some studies have assessed the health risks of coffee directly. For example, a February 2003 Danish study of 18,478 women linked heavy coffee consumption during pregnancy to significantly increased risk of stillbirths (but no significantly increased risk of infant death in the first year). "The results seem to indicate a threshold affect around four to seven cups per day," the study reported. Those who drank eight or more cups a day were at 220% increased risk compared to non-drinkers.


External Links

  • Coffee Forums offers open discussion about coffee, the beans, machines and effects.