When you reach for a cup of coffee first thing in the morning or after a great dinner, do you ever stop to wonder how it got to your table? Sure, you have to spoon it in and add water, but where do coffee beans come from? Here is everything you ever wanted to know about coffee so pour yourself a cup and sit back, relax, and read this guide.
Where Do Coffee Beans Originate From?
It is believed that coffee was discovered by a goat herder around 1500 years ago in Ethiopia, Africa. He discovered that his goats became livelier after eating a brightly coloured cherry from a bush. He tried some himself and discovered that these cherries had the same effect on him.
Being a religious man, he then took these cherries to a local monk who tried some and realised that they made him feel more alert during midnight prayers. He made a drink from these cherries so that he could share them with the other monks in his monastery and the cup of coffee came into being.
Coffee started its journey around the globe from this time onwards, but it was only in the 16th century that it made its way to Europe. Coffee houses sprang up all over Europe in the 1650s and they became popular places to meet up and talk about politics, the latest news, gossip, and of course, drink coffee.
Coffee has been popular ever since, never waning or becoming obsolete. Today we are as obsessed with drinking coffee as the Monks of Ethiopia or the British in Restoration times were.
What Do Coffee Beans Come From?
Coffee beans come from the coffee plant. These are huge bushes or shrubs that can grow to about 30ft tall. To find the coffee cherry, look in the centre of the plant. They are grown in many countries all over the world, but most coffee beans come from the African continent. To grow a coffee plant, you need a high altitude, nutrient-rich soil, and distinct wet and dry seasons. This makes Africa the perfect place to grow the bean.
Types of Coffee Plant
There are two main types of coffee plants. The Arabica plant is the most popular and there are about one hundred different species that are farmed all over the world. However, they are mainly found in tropical climates around the equator.
The Arabica bean has a distinctive long, flat shape and a delicious aroma. This bean is most widely drunk throughout the world. It takes a lot of work to harvest the coffee bean, so it tends to be expensive, making the more luxurious coffee brands you drink.
The Robusta plant is not as labour intensive as the Arabica plant making it cheaper to produce these beans. There are only a couple of species of this plant, and it contains a small bean with a stronger tasting, high caffeine content that produces a creamy tasting coffee. It is often used to make instant coffee or coffee powder.
What Do Coffee Plants Look Like?
That may have answered your basic question of where does coffee come from, but how would you recognise a plant if you saw one? Well, they look just like a shrub or bush, which of course is what our goat herder thought they were when he found them. They can grow to about 30ft tall if they are left unattended, but they tend to be harvested at around 8ft tall to make it easier for the farmers to harvest them.
One of the ways you may be able to differentiate them from other plants is that they have rich, dark, waxy leaves and contain a red cherry in the middle. This is the coffee bean. However, these beans start life as light green buds and don’t get that distinctive cherry red colour until they are ripe. When the plant is in bloom it produces a beautiful white flower and the smell of it is like jasmine.
The plant can take up to a year to develop fully and may not begin to bear fruit for the first 2-3 years. These plants can live up to about 30 years in total, but it is the first couple of decades when it is most valuable to farmers as these are the years when they produce the most coffee beans.
A farmer who wants to make superior quality coffee will grow their plant in the shade. This will increase the longevity of the plant and the quality of the coffee. However, a farmer who is looking for a quicker cycle may grow their plant in the sun as this will speed up the growth process although the plant won’t live as long, and the coffee is not thought to taste as nice.
One of the main differences between the way the Arabica and Robusta beans are grown is the height at which they are grown. The Arabica plants need to be grown on higher ground as this means that they will experience more extreme weather, which slows down the growth, allowing a more complex flavour to develop.
Where Does Coffee Come from in the World?
The coffee belt is along the equator and the surrounding area and most of the world’s coffee comes from this region as it has the perfect climate for farming coffee. The African continent is a popular place for coffee to be grown. However, regions have developed across the globe that are renowned for their coffee production.
Many South American regions such as Brazil, Mexico, Columbia, and Guatemala are known for their coffee. In Asia, places such as Vietnam, India, and Malaysia grow massive amounts of coffee. Coffee is a popular crop and although it is these areas that are most famous for coffee production, it is grown in smaller quantities in other parts of the world too.
How About Harvested Coffee Beans, Where Do They Come From?
Farmers have to be very experienced and knowledgeable to harvest coffee beans but luckily most of them have been working on family farms for many years. This is a skill that passes down through the generations as do the farms themselves.
Where the plant is grown will also determine how they are harvested. If they have been grown on large, flat land it is easy to use a machine to harvest them. However, coffee plants that have been grown on the side of a mountain, picking by hand is still the most popular option as the terrain isn’t suitable for machinery.
Once they have been picked, farmers can choose what method of processing they want to use. The dry method involves letting the beans dry out in the sun for a few weeks to take out the moisture. This allows the outer skin to be taken off more easily.
The wet method involves using water to soften the beans and then removing the outer fruit so that the farmer is just left with the beans. These are then left in vats to ferment before being dried off. They are then ready to be graded, milled, roasted, and served to you in a cup.
How Is Coffee Drunk Across the Globe?
Here in the UK, it is usual to drink coffee with a little milk and sugar. Coffee drinking has changed in recent years though. In the past, it was served in jars, and you added water. These days, technology has taken over and machines have been invented for home use that gives you a superior cup of coffee from the comfort of your own home. You can make anything from a latte to an expresso and everything in between.
If you do not fancy making your own coffee, you can walk along to the coffee shop that is located on most street corners or town centres and buy an exotic tasting blend. Coffee shops have been around since the 1990s and have grown dramatically in popularity.
If you are elsewhere in the world, you may decide to try a local coffee which could well be a delicacy of the region in which you are travelling. For example, if you are enjoying the heat of Southern Europe, you could try a Frappe, which is an iced coffee with foamed milk, often found in Greece or Italy.
Why not treat yourself to an Irish coffee if you are visiting the Emerald Isle? This is made by pouring a shot of Irish whiskey into the bottom of a glass. It is then filled with coffee and a couple of spoons of brown sugar are added. The sugar will allow the cream to float at the top of the glass if it is poured correctly. You need a steady hand to try this at home. Germany has a similar version that uses rum and chocolate sprinkles.
If you are in Nordic countries such as Sweden or Finland, try pouring coffee over cheese curd. It improves the taste of both apparently.
Now that you know the definitive answer to the question, ‘where did coffee beans come from?’ it must be time to pour yourself another cup.