Coffee Tree
Coffee Zone
Coffee is produced in the equatorial zone between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn
Although most people drink coffee every day, few know  what a coffee tree looks like. The coffee tree is a perennial evergreen seedling, covered with dark-green, soft leaves that grow in parallel pairs. It can be up to 9 meters, but usually the level is maintained at 2 to 4 feet to facilitate the harvesting. It takes 3 to 4 years after planting for the tree to produce fruit. The flowers are white and their aroma resembles jasmine, after the petals from the flowers fall, the fruit  from the coffee tree needs 6 to 7 months to mature. The tree has the ability to continuously produce flowers and fruits, some are ripe and others are not. Each coffee tree can produce from  half a pound to one pound of coffee each year.

The coffee tree requires a moist tropical climate with fertile soil, plenty of rain and an altitude of 1,300 to 2,500 meters. It grows best in the equatorial zone, between the Tropic of Cancer and Capricorn. The soil, climate and altitude determine the quality and taste of the coffee.

Coffee Varieties

Coffee has two main varieties: Arabica and Robusta. The Arabica variety comes from the Ethiopian coffee trees and is considered the best. This variety of coffee is soft,  fragrant and it represents 70% of the worlds production. These coffee trees grow at high altitudes (up to 1900 meters) and are very sensitive to climatic conditions and particularly to frost.

The other 30% of the world’s production consists of the Robusta variety. The grains are smaller, rounder and more durable. It  grows at lower altitudes and contains almost twice as much caffeine than the Arabica bean. These features give the Robusta coffee a bitter taste. The main production areas are Brazil and Southeast Asia. They are used by large companies to produce instant coffee.

Coffee experts discuss coffee beans as wine experts discuss the different varieties of wine. Coffee from Africa and Arabia are classified as "complex with strong and vivid tones" while coffee  from Latin America is characterized as "soft with intense flavor." Coffee from Southeast Asia is usually "earth-toned" and full-bodied.

Of course, many coffees are blends of different varieties which create a more complex cup of flavors and fragrances.

From Green Fruit to a Red Cherry

Ripe and unripe coffee cherries
What we call a coffee bean is actually the seed of a fruit like a cherry. Coffee trees produce fruit called cherries. While the fruit is ripening ,it becomes yellow; then it acquires a nice red color and  grows into the size of a cherry - for this reason we call the coffee fruit "cherry". The cherry is protected by a thick skin that surrounds it called the outer shell. The fruit consists of a white-yellow sweet middle shell , with two joint oval seeds. Every seed is protected by a pale yellow inner shell,  which is necessary for vegetation and a thin membranous lining the “sperm skin,” which is the male element of the plant and allows the development of the embryo.

Farmers can harvest from 45 to 90 pounds of coffee cherries per day. Only 20% of this weight is the actual bean.

The harvesting of coffee is usually done once a year. The period varies according to the geographical area. Areas north of the Equator are harvested from September to March, while areas south of the Equator, between April and May. The coffee is usually collected by hand or by the method of stripping which gathers all the cherries on a branch at once, or by the method of picking where only the ripe cherries are selected. The second method is clearly more expensive and therefore is used only for coffee Arabica. Once harvested, the fruit must be processed as soon as possible.