Although there are over twenty species of coffee plant, only two accounts for the majority of commercial coffee sold worldwide: Arabica and Robusta.
The story of Arabica (dealt with exclusively at Caravan) and Robusta coffee beans is really a story about quantity vs. quality. Up until the mid 1800s, Arabica coffee beans were the primary choice of beans. Then Robusta coffee was discovered in the Belgian Congo. They didn't immediately catch on because they lacked the flavor intensity of Arabica coffee beans. In fact, the New York Coffee Exchange banned Robusta beans in 1912, calling it "a practically worthless bean."
Robusta, or Coffea Cauephora, is a sturdier plant reputed to have an inferior taste and quality compared with Arabica, which is why we deal exclusively in Arabica. Also Arabica contains half the caffeine than any other commercially cultivated species of coffee.
Species: C. Arabica
Species: C. Arabica
Arabica coffee is a species of coffee indigenous to Ethiopia. It is also known as the "coffee shrub of Arabia", "mountain coffee" or "Arabica coffee". Arabica coffee is believed to be the first species of coffee to be cultivated, being grown in southwest Arabia for well over 1,000 years.
Wild Arabica plants grow to between 23-40 ft tall, and have an open branching system; the leaves are opposite, simple elliptic-ovate to oblong, 2-5 inches long and 1-3 inches broad, glossy dark green. The flowers are produced in clusters, each flower white. The fruit is a berry about ½ inch long, maturing bright red to purple, containing two seeds.
Coffea Arabica takes about seven years to fully mature and does best with 40-60 inches of rain, evenly distributed throughout the year. It is usually cultivated between 4000 -5000 ft altitudes, but there are plantations as low as sea level and as high as 9200 ft. The plant can tolerate low temperatures, but not frost, and it does best when the temperature hovers around 68°F. Farmers grow the tree to about 16 ft, and are frequently trimmed as low as 6 ft to facilitate harvesting.
The trees are difficult to cultivate and each tree can produce anywhere from 1 – 10 lbs of dried beans, depending on the tree's individual character and the climate that season. Did you get that, it takes 15 trees to make one 152 lb bag of green coffee beans. The berries themselves are edible. They are very sweet, with a texture somewhat like a grape.
"The coffee beans" are actually two seeds within the fruit. Sometimes these two seeds are fused into one, called a peaberry (we have a Brazil Peaberry at present) These seeds are covered in two membranes, the outer one is called the 'parchment' and the inner one is called the 'silver skin'.
Most Arabica coffee beans originate from one of three growing regions; Latin America (this includes central and south America), East Africa/Arabia and Asia/Pacific. Beans from different countries or regions usually have distinctive characteristics. These distinguishing taste characteristics are dependent not only on the coffee's growing region, but also on its method of process and genetic subspecies or varietal.
COFFEES OF LATIN AMERICA
Latin American countries produce coffees that are generally light-to-medium bodied, with clean, lively flavors. They are prized for their crisp acidity and consistent quality; both these features make them ideal foundations for blending or to be brewed as a straight estate. My present favorite: Guatemala San Jorge
COFFEES OF THE PACIFIC
These are frequently referred to as Indonesian coffees. They are on the opposite end of the taste spectrum from Latin American coffees. They are typically full-bodied, smooth and earthy, with very low acidity and occasional herbal flavor notes. These are the "heavyweights" of the coffee world, providing deep, sturdy "low notes" when used in blends. My present favorite: Organic Sumatra Gayo Mountain
COFFEE OF AFRICA AND ARABIA
These coffees often combine the crisp, clean acidity found in Latin American coffees with intense floral aromas and enticing fruit-like or wine-like flavors. Most are medium to full bodied. The range of coffee experience is as varied as the African continent itself - from the elegant fine coffee of Kenya and Zimbabwe, the exotic fruitiness of Ethiopia Harrar to the original citrus taste of Ethiopia Yirgacheffe. My present favorite: Ethiopia Yirgacheffe
And this is why we cup coffee at Caravan Coffee. Each farm, in each country, in each continent is going to be very very different. And it is going to change because at its heart, coffee is a plant.
Zinho, of Brazil Zinho Peaberry