Coffee is obtained through the roasting and grinding of the seeds of some species of tropical trees (Coffea) that belong to the botanic family called Rubiaceae. There are hundreds of species of Coffea, nonetheless, the commercially useful ones are only about ten, which differ for height, flower fragrance, size and seeds color, caffeine content etc. the most diffuse and cultivated are “Coffea Arabica” and “Coffea Canephora” better known as “Robusta”.
– COFFEA ARABICA: its seeds are copper green and its fragrance is intense. It represents ¾ of the world production of coffee and it is mostly grown in South and Central America. The coffee obtained from the Arabica plant is full bodied, aromatic and sweet. Its cream has an hazelnut color. This blend is the finest in the world and it contains three times less caffeine than the Robusta blend.
– COFFEA ROBUSTA: its seeds are round and brown or grey-green sometimes. The plant is originally from Tropical Africa. The coffee obtained from it is lighter and less bodied than the one obtained from Arabica. It is mostly produced in Africa .
The coffee plant requires a lot of water and it will suffer when overly exposed to the sunlight. Of the two species, the most delicate one is Arabica. A single plant requires an area of soil that goes from 2 to 8 square meters. If properly cultivated it can yield 2 to 3 Kgs of coffee, even though nowadays, with intensive cultivations methods it can yield up to 8/10 Kgs.
The plant life is about 20/30 years up to a maximum of 80 years and it is divided in three phases. The “Growth” begins when the seed first germinates and ends after 4/7 years, according to the species, when the plant will be fully formed.
The second phase is the “productive” phase and it lasts from 25 to 30 years.
Eventually there comes the phase of the “physiological decline” and therefore the death of the plant.
The coffee plant is a bush, with a main trunk which can reach 10 meters in height in the Robusta variety and 5 meters in the Arabica variety.
Nonetheless, no plants of such height are found in the plantations, but 2 to 3 meters bushes, in order to simplify the harvest. The fruit has two seeds made out of the endosperm (tissue at the base of the seed) which contains water, carbohydrates, lipids, amino acids, minerals and caffeine. At its base there is the embryo, that is covered by two thin integuments. The whole is enveloped by the red peel.
Both varieties prefer the tropical heath that can be found across the equator but the Arabica one responds quite well to seasonal changes and it can grow in territories where the temperature varies between 15 and 24°C, while the Robusta variety prefers the equator where the temperatures vary between 24 and 29°C. This last variety is also less subject to diseases.
The harvest is a delicate and expensive phase for a coffee company, so much that half of the total costs sustained in one year are ascribed to it. According to the ripening stage of the fruit, the coffee can be harvested with the “picking” method or the “stripping” method.
- PICKING: it is the most expensive method since it can only be carried out by hand. Only the red and ripest “cherries” are picked, returning to the same plants several times in several weeks. This method allows an optimal harvest but the costs are really high.
- STRIPPING: this method, that can be carried out by hand as well as with machines, is more aggressive for the plant since it consists of stripping everything on the branch: fruits and leaves. This way both ripe and unripe cherries, together with the rotten ones are harvested; therefore, the quality of the harvest results to be uneven and the plants can be damaged. This is the reason why it is considered the quickest but also, on a quality level, much lower than the harvest obtained with the picking method