Everyone recognizes a roasted Kona coffee bean, but you might not recognize an actual coffee plant or the corresponding cherry like coffee fruit.
trees are pruned short to conserve their energy and aid in harvesting,
but can grow to more than 30 feet (9 meters) high. Each tree is covered
with green, waxy leaves growing opposite each other in pairs. Coffee
cherries grow along the branches. Because it grows in a continuous
cycle, it’s not unusual to see flowers, green fruit and ripe fruit
simultaneously on a single tree.
It takes nearly a year for a
cherry to mature after first flowering, and about 5 years of growth to
reach full fruit production. While coffee plants can live up to 100
years, they are generally the most productive between the ages of 7 and
20. Proper care can maintain and even increase their output over the
years, depending on the variety. The average coffee tree produces 10
pounds of coffee cherry per year, or 2 pounds of green beans.
commercially grown coffee is from a region of the world called the
Coffee Belt. The trees grow best in rich soil, with mild temperatures,
frequent rain and shaded sun.
Kona Coffee bean traces its origin to a genus of plants known as Coffea.
Within the genus there are over 500 genera and 6,000 species of
tropical trees and shrubs. Experts estimate that there are anywhere from
25 to 100 species of coffee plants.
The genus was first described
in the 18th century by the Swedish botanist, Carolus Linneaus, who also
described Coffea Arabica in his Species Plantarum in 1753. Botanists
have disagreed ever since on the exact classification, since coffee
plants can range widely. They can be small shrubs to tall trees, with
leaves from one to 16 inches in size, and in colors from purple or
yellow to the predominant dark green.
In the commercial coffee bean industry, there are two important coffee species — Arabica and Robusta.
Coffea Arabica — C. Arabica
Varieties: Bourbon, Typica, Caturra, Mundo Novo, Tico, San Ramon, Jamaican Blue Mountain
is descended from the original coffee trees discovered in Ethiopia.
These trees produce a fine, mild, aromatic coffee bean and represent
approximately 70% of the world’s coffee production. The beans are
flatter and more elongated than Robusta and lower in caffeine.
the world market, Arabica coffees bring the highest prices. The better
Arabicas are high grown coffees — generally grown between 2,000 to 6,000
feet (610 to 1830 meters) above sea level — though optimal altitude
varies with proximity to the equator.
The most important factor for Kona coffee
bean growth is that temperatures must remain mild, ideally between 59 –
75 degrees Fahrenheit, with about 60 inches of rainfall a year. The
trees are hearty, but a heavy frost will kill them.
are costly to cultivate because the ideal terrain tends to be steep and
access is difficult. Also, because the trees are more disease-prone than
Robusta, they require additional care and attention.
Coffea canephora — C. canephora var. Robusta
of the world’s Robusta is grown in Central and Western Africa, parts of
Southeast Asia, including Indonesia and Vietnam, and in Brazil.
Production of Robusta is increasing, though it accounts for only about
30% of the world market.
Robusta is primarily used in blends and
for instant coffees. The Robusta bean itself tends to be slightly
rounder and smaller than an Arabica bean.
The Robusta tree is
heartier and more resistant to disease and parasites, which makes it
easier and cheaper to cultivate. It also has the advantage of being able
to withstand warmer climates, preferring constant temperatures between
75 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit, which enables it to grow at far lower
altitudes than Arabica.
It requires about 60 inches of rainfall a
year, and cannot withstand frost. Compared with Arabica, Robusta beans
produce a coffee which has a distinctive taste and about 50-60% more
The Anatomy of a Coffee Cherry
The beans you brew are actually the processed and roasted seeds from a fruit, which is called a coffee cherry.
The coffee cherry’s outer skin is called the exocarp. Beneath it is the mesocarp, a thin layer of pulp, followed by a slimy layer called the parenchyma. The beans themselves are covered in a paper-like envelope named the endocarp, more commonly referred to as the parchment.
the parchment, side-by-side, lie two beans, each covered separately by
yet another thin membrane. The biological name for this seed skin is the
spermoderm, but it is generally referred to in the coffee trade as the silver skin.
In about 5% of the world’s coffee, there is only one bean inside the cherry. This is called a peaberry (or a caracol, or
“snail” in Spanish), and it is a natural mutation. Some people believe
that peaberries are actually sweeter and more flavorful than standard
beans, so they are sometimes manually sorted out for special sale.
The History of Coffee Bean
No one knows exactly how or when the coffee bean was discovered, though there are many legends about its origin.
An Ethiopian Bean Legend
grown worldwide can trace its heritage back centuries to the ancient
coffee forests on the Ethiopian plateau. There, legend says the goat
herder Kaldi first discovered the potential of these beloved beans.
story goes that that Kaldi discovered coffee after he noticed that
after eating the berries from a certain tree, his goats became so
energetic that they did not want to sleep at night.
his findings to the abbot of the local monastery, who made a drink with
the berries and found that it kept him alert through the long hours of
evening prayer. The abbot shared his discovery with the other monks at
the monastery, and knowledge of the energizing berries began to spread.
As word moved east and coffee reached the Arabian peninsula, it began a journey which would bring these beans across the globe.
The Bean Starts on the Arabian Peninsula
bean cultivation and trade began on the Arabian Peninsula. By the 15th
century, coffee was being grown in the Yemeni district of Arabia and by
the 16th century it was known in Persia, Egypt, Syria, and Turkey.
Coffee was not only enjoyed in homes, but also in the many public coffee houses — called qahveh khaneh
— which began to appear in cities across the Near East. The popularity
of the coffee houses was unequaled and people frequented them for all
kinds of social activity.
Not only did the patrons drink coffee
and engage in conversation, but they also listened to music, watched
performers, played chess and kept current on the news. Coffee houses
quickly became such an important center for the exchange of information
that they were often referred to as “Schools of the Wise.”
thousands of pilgrims visiting the holy city of Mecca each year from all
over the world, knowledge of this “wine of Araby” began to spread.
Coffee Bean Comes to Europe
travelers to the Near East brought back stories of an unusual dark
black beverage. By the 17th century, coffee had made its way to Europe
and was becoming popular across the continent.
Some people reacted
to this new beverage with suspicion or fear, calling it the “bitter
invention of Satan.” The local clergy condemned coffee when it came to
Venice in 1615. The controversy was so great that Pope Clement VIII was
asked to intervene. He decided to taste the beverage for himself before
making a decision, and found the drink so satisfying that he gave it
Despite such controversy, coffee houses were
quickly becoming centers of social activity and communication in the
major cities of England, Austria, France, Germany and Holland. In
England “penny universities” sprang up, so called because for the price
of a penny one could purchase a cup of coffee and engage in stimulating
Coffee began to replace the common breakfast drink
beverages of the time — beer and wine. Those who drank coffee instead of
alcohol began the day alert and energized, and not surprisingly, the
quality of their work was greatly improved. (We like to think of this a
precursor to the modern office coffee service.)
By the mid-17th
century, there were over 300 coffee houses in London, many of which
attracted like-minded patrons, including merchants, shippers, brokers
Many businesses grew out of these specialized coffee
houses. Lloyd’s of London, for example, came into existence at the
Edward Lloyd’s Coffee House.
The New World
In the mid-1600’s, coffee was brought to New Amsterdam, later called New York by the British.
coffee houses rapidly began to appear, tea continued to be the favored
drink in the New World until 1773, when the colonists revolted against a
heavy tax on tea imposed by King George III. The revolt, known as the
Boston Tea Party, would forever change the American drinking preference
“Coffee – the favorite drink of the civilized world.” – Thomas Jefferson
Bean Plantations Around the World
As demand for the beverage continued to spread, there was fierce competition to cultivate coffee outside of Arabia.
Dutch finally got seedlings in the latter half of the 17th century.
Their first attempts to plant them in India failed, but they were
successful with their efforts in Batavia, on the island of Java in what
is now Indonesia.
The plants thrived and soon the Dutch had a
productive and growing trade in coffee. They then expanded the
cultivation of coffee trees to the islands of Sumatra and Celebes.
Bean Coming to the Americas
1714, the Mayor of Amsterdam presented a gift of a young coffee plant
to King Louis XIV of France. The King ordered it to be planted in the
Royal Botanical Garden in Paris. In 1723, a young naval officer, Gabriel
de Clieu obtained a seedling from the King’s plant. Despite a
challenging voyage — complete with horrendous weather, a saboteur who
tried to destroy the seedling, and a pirate attack — he managed to
transport it safely to Martinique.
Once planted, the seedling not
only thrived, but it’s credited with the spread of over 18 million
coffee trees on the island of Martinique in the next 50 years. Even more
incredible is that this seedling was the parent of all coffee trees
throughout the Caribbean, South and Central America.
Brazilian coffee bean owes its existence to Francisco de Mello Palheta,
who was sent by the emperor to French Guiana to get coffee seedlings.
The French were not willing to share, but the French Governor’s wife,
captivated by his good looks, gave him a large bouquet of flowers before
he left— buried inside were enough coffee seeds to begin what is today a
Missionaries and travelers, traders and
colonists continued to carry coffee seeds to new lands, and coffee trees
were planted worldwide. Plantations were established in magnificent
tropical forests and on rugged mountain highlands. Some crops
flourished, while others were short-lived. New nations were established
on coffee economies. Fortunes were made and lost. By the end of the 18th
century, the coffee bean had become one of the world’s most profitable
After crude oil, the coffee bean is the most sought commodity in the world.