The coffee bean is my favorite variety of bean! It's grown on a tree which is grown in over 70 different countries. Considering the number of countries this tree is grown in, it's amazing how picky it is when it's growing! It needs very specific conditions to produce high quality beans. Now the swat among you will point out that what we know as a coffee bean isn't actually a bean, it's a seed. But I'm sorry if you know that you should go out more! It's like the people that tell you a tomato is a fruit, does it matter?! The coffee bean is actually the seed contained in a fruit which grows on very tall trees, these trees can grow higher than twenty feet quite easily.
There are a number of wild varieties that will grow even higher. There are many different types of coffee tree all producing a different seed/bean. Coffee production is at its most intensive around the equator as these provide the ideal conditions to grow perfect crops.
Ideal temperatures for coffee are between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit, and rainfall should be over six inches a month. The trees also require quick draining soil and humidity helps to produce good crops. This is why coffee is commonly grown in elevated locations over 3000 ft to get the best crop possible.
However coffee grown at these levels will be more expensive because there is less oxygen, which means the coffee takes longer to mature. There are a number of different trees used to grow coffee, however the cultivated coffea canephora is the one in biggest use. This is because it can grow at lower heights above sea level, and it is also much more hardy. However if you are a bit of a coffee nut and have the anorak to prove it then you might enjoy the gourmet coffea arabica variety which is grown at higher altitudes. Indirect light and light winds are beneficial and so sometimes these conditions are created by planting the trees in a sheltered area.
Once a tree is planted it takes around five years before it will yield its first fruit, then you can expect to get a crop for around 1kg of coffee per tree, that's nothing! Two pounds worth of coffee is around 2,000 beans all of which are normally picked completely by hand. This is hard manual labor, however that does not mean it's easy. Harvesting coffee is a bit of a science as they have to know which beans they should discard, they do this looking at each one in turn. This is the reason why coffee is so darn expensive! Coffee trees have large wide green leaves and have beautiful flowers that look a little like Jasmine. If the tree is grown along the equator then it can have ripe beans and unripe beans at the same time, this can make harvesting the crop much more difficult. From flowering to being able to harvest can take up to nine months, but this does depend on the weather and where the tree is located.
This will happen every year until the tree dies, it normally lives for 20-25 years. The best crop you can expect will be about 3,000kg to 4,000kg per hectare of land (1 hectare = 2.47 acres if you wanted to know) The trees are often grown in very inaccessible locations and so the berries (which contain the beans) are brought down by hand to be processed. Coffee is believe it or not the worlds second largest commodity.
Coffee takes a long time to get into your cup, give it some thought next time you sit down for your cuppa! It is expensive, but hopefully it's worth it.
Linden Walhard often publishes web pages on things dealing with coffee roasting and cappuccino. You can find his work on coffee makers and cappuccino on his site.