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Have you ever wondered, while sipping a sumptuous cup of joe, two important questions: where do coffee beans come from, and how do coffee beans grow? If so, you’re not alone.
Join us on a journey through Colombian rainforests and African mountains to the cup of java in front of you, as we answer how they grow and where do coffee beans come from.
So, without further ado, let’s get started.
How Do Coffee Beans Grow? The Short Answer
Most coffee beans are grown in the ‘bean belt.’ It is an area situated around the equator and includes countries such as Brazil, Colombia, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Ethiopia.
The climate is very important to coffee bean growing.
The beans are found inside cherries that grow on coffee trees.
These trees can grow to around 16 feet tall. Although, farmers regularly prune them to ensure they don’t go beyond 7 feet and become unmanageable.
What are the Steps Required to Grow Coffee Beans?
There are many things that people don’t know about coffee beans, such as whether they are a bean or a nut to knowing the steps that farmers need to take to grow coffee beans.
However, before we embark on our journey of finding out the answer to how coffee beans grow, you should first know the two main types of coffee plants. These are arabica and robusta.
Technically, there are technically over 130 different types of coffee plants. Nonetheless, these are the main ones you have probably tasted in the thousands of coffees you’ve drunk over the years.
So, let’s explain a little more about them.
Arabica is the most common type of coffee bean you’ll find. In fact, over 60% of the world’s coffee comes from arabica beans.
Coffee arabica was first cultivated in Yemen and Ethiopia. It is currently grown in great amounts in the Ethiopian highlands, Brazil, and many other countries.
This coffee bean is known for having great taste, with many coffee connoisseurs noting a smooth yet sweet taste, with hints of sugar and cocoa.
It is often common for this type of bean to have a more fruity flavor.
Unlike other types of coffee beans, arabica grows best in high altitudes.
Coffee farmers usually have to wait around two years before the arabica coffee bean is ready to be picked.
Although arabica trees can grow up to 15 feet tall, farmers mostly prune them to ensure it is around 5 to 6 feet tall.
One of the big benefits of this bean is that it can self-pollinate.
What does this mean? Self-pollination is when the plant doesn’t need any external factors to pollinate it to grow, such as bees or other insects.
Different Arabica Types
Of the arabica coffee bean, there are two varieties you need to care about. These are bourbon and typica.
Typica is known for being the first type to be discovered and is low yielding yet tastes excellent.
Bourbon has a great aroma and many different mutations and subtypes have been created from this bean type.
Robusta, in comparison, contains much more caffeine than arabica. This coffee bean is a popular choice for coffee drinkers, as 43% of the world’s coffee production is robusta.
It is known for having less acidity and is more bitter compared to arabica.
Robusta is also cross-pollinating, meaning it needs insects and wind to help it pollinate.
Another fun fact is that the robusta has a better yield than arabica while containing less sugar.
What’s more, unlike arabica, robusta is mainly grown in central Africa, in countries such as Liberia and Tanzania.
It is renowned for being the cheaper option between the two.
How Do Coffee Beans Grow: Coffee Seeds and Sapling
So, how do coffee beans grow?
To start with, coffee farmers will plant a seed. This is usually in a shaded area and farmers will need to water them frequently.
Once the coffee seeds mature into a sapling, they are then looked after for about a year before it is time to transfer them to the main farm where they can receive more sunlight.
Here’s an interesting fact for you to enjoy: 1 pound of coffee is produced every year by a single coffee tree.
It’s no wonder that millions and millions of coffee trees would need to be planted and maintained to produce a high amount of coffee yearly.
After giving the plant enough water and sunlight for it to prosper, it should begin flowering. Once this has happened, the flowers will slowly fall off the plant.
This is when the coffee cherry starts to form. It takes around 3 to 4 years from seeding for this to appear.
How Do Coffee Beans Grow: The Coffee Cherry
When the coffee cherry appears it will first look green. This is because it isn’t ripe yet.
Then, when the rainy season has ended, the coffee cherry will begin to ripen and will change from a green to a bright red look.
It is a slow process for the cherries to ripen, and not all the cherries turn ripe at the same time. Pickers need to ensure that all cherries they pick are ripe, or else the coffee taste will suffer as a result.
After this is done, the coffee will be processed, peeled, washed, and dried so that the coffee beans can be taken out of the cherry safely.
And there you have it. Now you know how coffee beans appear from a small seed under the ground to crushed and mixed in with hot water to make your daily cup of joe.
Where Do Coffee Beans Come From? The In-Depth Answer
So, now you know how coffee beans grow, let’s now move on to the question of where coffee beans come from.
As mentioned earlier, the vast majority of coffee is grown around the equator, between the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. This area is known as the bean belt.
Coffee beans need the climate that these locations provide to survive.
Another interesting factoid is that the location of where the coffee beans come from impacts the taste. And it’s not just the climate that can change the taste.
Elevation and the type of soil they are grown in can massively change the flavor of the coffee beans.
But what in particular alters the taste? and how does it alter the taste? Find out here.
The Differences in Soil
The soil massively impacts the taste of the coffee. You are probably wondering, “why is this so? Surely the soil is the same wherever you go!”
Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. Depending on the location, there will be different minerals and higher or lower amounts of minerals when compared to other places.
This can drastically affect the body and the acidity of the coffee.
Countries like Costa Rica and Indonesia are known for growing the best coffee. Their soil plays a big part in this.
These countries have volcanic soil, which retains water better than many other types of soil.
This means that the coffee tree will be provided with much more minerals and nutrients to grow well, ultimately making higher quality and better-tasting coffee.
The elevation greatly affects the taste of the coffee also. If you’re a fan of sweeter coffees, go for a coffee bean that is grown in higher altitudes.
The reason for this is that the higher you are from sea level, the cooler the temperature will be, and the sweeter the coffee is.
But why is this?
When coffee is concerned, there are two factors you need to worry about. The first is temperature, and the second is water.
The lower the temperature is, the slower the plant grows. When this happens, the priorities of the plant turn to reproduction and increasing the number of beans that are on its leaves.
When this happens, more sugars are produced, increasing the sweetness of the coffee.
Coffee grown at the highest altitudes, at around 4,500 to 5,000 feet, include those grown in countries such as Ethiopia, Guatemala, and Colombia.
You will notice a sweeter and more fruity flavor from these coffee beans compared to those grown at lower temperatures.
Different Farming Practices
Although all these factors are important in growing coffee, farming practices are equally as important. Things like pesticides, picking, and packaging are all extremely important in the process of producing high-quality coffee for people like me and you to drink.
Farming Practices: Pesticides
Pesticides are used in a large number of coffee plants to stop them from being affected by insects. Caffeine is a natural pesticide, so decaf coffee will actually need more pesticides to keep insects off than non-decaf.
The best farmers will use as little to no pesticides as possible to reduce the number of toxic chemicals in the coffee beans. However, it is important to know that after roasting the beans, the pesticides on the coffee will decrease by 85%.
If you’ve ever gone shopping and seen coffee bean bags that say ‘organic’ on them, you’re probably wondering what it means.
In short, it proves that no synthetic pesticides or fertilizers are used on the coffee plants where the beans come from, and are picked, packed, and processed without the use of chemicals.
So, because of all these things, getting organic coffee is always the healthier option.
Take a look at some great organic coffee beans here:
Coffee Farming Practices: Picking
Having experienced pickers on your farm is vital. They will know exactly when the coffee beans are ripe enough for picking.
Hand-picked coffee beans are always much better than the machine alternative, as experienced coffee pickers will know which ones are riper. Although, it will be more expensive due to the manual labor costs.
On the other hand, machine pickers will end up picking both ripe and unripe beans, so although the cost will be cheaper, you won’t get a high-quality mix of coffee in the long run.
Coffee Farming Practices: Packaging
Finally, after doing all the above, it’s time for the packaging process. The majority of the time, they are either packaged in valve-sealed or vacuum-sealed bags.
However, vacuum-sealed bags are not as good for shipping coffee beans due to the fact that carbon dioxide and other types of gases often escape the coffee beans straight after roasting.
If these gases are not allowed to escape, they will directly harm the coffee flavors, and so it is recommended by many farmers that vacuum-sealed packaging shouldn’t be used.
Nowadays, a lot of coffee bean packaging is recyclable. However, it is not always the case.
All the best coffee farmers know all about these practices to bring you the highest quality coffee beans for your cup of coffee.
Nonetheless, these aren’t the only things that impact coffee production. Arguably the single most important factor is the location.
Location: How Different Countries Produce Different Coffee Tastes
As we’ve mentioned before, coffee beans are grown in the bean belt, an area around the equator.
With fertile soil, great temperatures, more precipitation than usual, and high altitudes, it is the perfect environment for coffee plants to grow. However, depending on the country it is grown in, you are likely to notice a big difference in taste.
So, let’s go into the different locations, and how the coffee beans are affected by the environment in these countries.
Where Do Coffee Beans Come From? (African Coffee)
When you have coffee made in Africa, you already know that the taste will be exquisite. Many countries in Africa are right along the equator, and countries such as Kenya, Ethiopia, and Tanzania produce some of the best-tasting coffees in the world.
However, just because they are all situated in Africa, it doesn’t mean that they will all taste the same.
Take a look at Kenya, for example. They are known for their higher-than-normal acidity and for having a brighter look. It is at the bottom of Mount Kenya where the majority of coffee plants are to be found.
The reason for this is due to the fact that the richest soil in Kenya is found in this particular area.
You also have Tanzania. It is well known for its coffee due to it being quite different from many other coffee beans in Africa. The peaberry coffee, native to their country, is a unique coffee bean that instead of containing one seed, it contains two. Interesting!
However, one of the best countries for coffee is Ethiopia. Many historians believe that it’s where coffee arabica originated, and some of the best tasting coffee you will ever have comes from this country.
There is a well-known story about how an Ethiopian goatherd discovered coffee. So get the marshmallows ready, sit down around the campfire, and get comfortable, as we tell you the story of how one man changed the world by accidentally discovering the delicious cup of joe that billions now drink worldwide.
Here it is for your enjoyment:
The Legend of Kaldi
According to legend, there was once an Ethiopian goatherd who went by the name of Kaldi, from the beautiful region of Kaffa in the mid-9th century.
He had herded his goats for a long time and knew them as well as he knew the lands of his home. The green, meandering hills, the goats trotting along in perfect formation, he could not imagine his life any different. He was a stern man and was known throughout the village as a man of realism and one who should be shown respect. He had herded his goats daily, and nothing extraordinary had ever come of it. However, one day, this all changed.
Needing a change of scenery, he took his goats on a detour, wandering up the mountain. It was here that he noticed a few of his goats nibbling on a bush of blood-red berries in the distance. Believing it to be nothing more than a cherry tree, he ignored the bush and started to herd his goats back in, so they could return home once more to the farm.
But this proved to be quite difficult. The goats, who would usually walk slowly around the plains in a slumber, all of a sudden sprung into life, dancing about with newfound energy. Old Kaldi the goatherd had never seen anything like it, as he stood stunned into silence. How could he herd in his goats with them so energetic, jumping about all over the place?
After much deliberation, he concluded that it must have been that red cherry bush!
He found the same bush; the red cherries were obviously quite different from the cherries he first thought they were. Kaldi picked a few of them and took a bite, noticing a strong bitter taste but enjoying the new flavor immensely. He had never tasted anything like it. Soon, he too was feeling the effects of that mysterious cherry bush. He perked up, feeling lively and awake as he had never felt before.
It was these powers that enabled him to herd the joyful goats back to the farm. The darkness grew above the sky, covering his quiet Ethiopian homeland in a blanket of navy. As the effects slowly wore off, there was only one thing on his mind: that mysterious red cherry bush. The village needed to know about this.
Upon first light, Kaldi headed to the village, a sackful of mysterious red cherries as his only company. As he was on friendly terms with one of the monks of the local monastery, he took them to their doorstep and told them of his miraculous discovery. As he recounted the story, he noticed the look on the monk’s face go from warm and friendly to concerned and alarmed.
Soon, Kaldi finished his story with flourish and excitement, but the monk replied bluntly: “This, my friend, is the work of the devil.”
Soon word spread of the devilish plant, and the monks worked tirelessly, taking all the mysterious red cherry trees they could find and placing them in a deep pit before setting it on fire in a blazing glory. However, this action by the monks had the opposite effect than the one they were intending.
A sweet yet terribly strong aroma soon filled the nostrils of the monks and the onlooking villagers. Urgent action needed to be done. The monks immediately pulled the cherries out of the fire and placed them in hot water straightaway to preserve that delicious smell.
But smelling them was not enough. One by one, the monks started drinking the mixture, noting the bitter yet calming and warming response it gave them. It even provided euphoria afterwards too, as they found that they were able to stay alert and talk about important matters of the village for longer than ever before.
News of the miracle liquid soon began to spread around the country, and it was all thanks to Kaldi of the region of Kaffa that coffee was discovered.
More Ethiopian Coffee Facts
It is uncertain whether this is true or simply an old folk tale; however, we can all agree that it’s a great story!
Taking the pilgrimage to Ethiopia and tasting their great coffee firsthand should be at the top of the bucket list for all coffee connoisseurs. If you do, you’re likely to find Kaldi’s Coffee, a chain of coffee shops in Ethiopia that are as well known as Starbucks in the US.
Many people often wonder why Ethiopia in particular is the biggest coffee producer in Africa. The answer’s simple. The climate, soil, and environment make it perfect conditions for growing coffee. In fact, it’s one of the only places where it grows naturally in the wild.
And it has a coffee-loving population to match. Ethiopians love coffee so much that only 50% of the coffee they make is exported to other countries.
Ethiopian coffee is known for its fruity notes, with a more unique and slightly more acidic taste compared to many other coffees.
Why not try it out for yourself?
Where Do Coffee Beans Come From? (South American Coffee)
South America is known worldwide for its fantastic coffee. A few countries that stand out, in particular, are Colombia and Brazil. Known for their light to medium body and strong acidity, these coffee beans provide excellent flavors.
So, what makes these South American coffees stand out?
Colombia is known worldwide for its great coffee. Many people who’ve tried their java out have noticed a rich taste with a medium body and great fruity flavors.
A very large amount of coffee is grown in Colombia, a whopping 10% of the world’s coffee, in fact.
However, the fact that these are so popular means that you’ve probably come across them before, and so the flavor won’t be as exciting for many coffee lovers.
Grown at an altitude of over 3,000 to 6,500 feet above sea level, the majority of the production is arabica coffee beans.
If you have ever tasted Colombian coffee, you will straight away notice a sweet, and slight citrus and nutty flavor. And if you smell it, you should notice a great caramel and cocoa flavor that will delight your senses.
Here’s a fun fact for you: Brazil produces more coffee than any other country in the world!
More than ⅓ of the world’s coffee can trace its roots back to the land of sunshine, soccer, and the Amazon rainforest.
What makes Brazilian coffee unique is that it’s known for its dark roasts. This provides more of a mellow flavor.
However, the Brazilian varieties don’t taste as bitter as many other dark roasts from other countries.
Compared to Colombian coffee, Brazilian plants are grown at a much lower elevation, at an altitude of around 1,300 to 5,000 feet above sea level. It’s also known for being incredibly cheap.
Interested in trying it out for yourself? Take a look at these amazing Brazilian coffee beans here:
Where Do Coffee Beans Come From? (Asian Coffee)
Situated right on the coffee belt, countries like Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam provide perfect conditions for growing coffee.
With a large proportion of robusta coffee being grown here, it’s one of the best coffees to try out.
Thailand predominantly produces robusta coffee, and it is mainly recognized for its chocolate and floral elements that can be tasted.
With a medium acidity, this is a country that produces great-tasting coffee for coffee lovers everywhere.
One thing that makes Thailand stand out is that its citizens are massive coffee drinkers. Because of this, the majority of the consumption remains in Thailand, and very little coffee is imported into the country.
Another interesting fact is that Thailand was one of the last countries in the coffee belt to start producing coffee en masse. They didn’t become an official exporter of coffee until 1976!
Just like Thai coffee, the signature Vietnamese bean is of the robusta variety. When drinking one, you should notice a more bitter taste than many others, while also having a more vanilla flavor to it.
Coffee was introduced to the country in 1857 thanks to French colonialists, and since then coffee production has grown and grown.
Although you wouldn’t expect it, Vietnam is actually the 2nd largest exporter of coffee.
One part of why it is a massive exporter is to do with the cost. Vietnamese robusta coffee beans are all ridiculously cheap thanks to robusta plants providing more beans on average than arabica plants, and the higher caffeine content makes it easier to ward off pests.
Want to try out some Vietnamese coffee beans to see how they taste? Take a look at them here:
Now You Know All There Is to Know About Coffee Beans
So, hopefully, this article explains all you need to know about the coffee growing process and where they come from.
With all this knowledge, you’ll never run out of conversation starters and will wow your friends daily with your in-depth coffee knowledge.