If you haven’t read part 1, click here
While a lot of us are coffee drinkers, there generally isn’t much public thought about the origin of the coffee we drink. In this post, we take a look at the most important part of the industry: the coffee plant (Coffea).
The Coffee Plant (Coffea)
Coffea is a genus of plants that produce seeds used to make various coffee products. The plants themselves are similar to a small shrub/tree, and produce cherries that contain the coffee beans that we all enjoy. Interestingly, the caffeine produced by the beans is a natural defence against plant herbivory, as it acts as a toxic substance that protects the seeds of the plant. At present, Brazil is the largest producer of coffee, followed by Vietnam and Colombia. In the industry, there are 2 main types of coffee beans used; Arabica beans and Robusta beans. Both are unique in the ways that they are grown, and are used for the preparation of very different drinks.
Arabica vs. RobustaI’m sure you’ve seen this description on your Tim Hortons Cup, “100% Arabica Coffee.” Its true, many coffee companies love to tell their customers that they are using pure Arabica Coffee. But what is Arabica Coffee? And why is it so popular?Very simply, coffee is often grown in mountainous areas, where the days are very hot and the nights are very cold. This temperature fluctuation is what makes great coffee, as the sharp changes in climate essentially “shock” the various flavours into the coffee bean. Arabica coffee is often grown towards the tops of mountain ranges, meaning that the temperature fluctuations are much more pronounced, thus creating a higher quality taste. The taste profile for an Arabica bean is often described as acidic, sharp, and well-balanced.
On the other hand, Robusta beans are often grown towards the bottom of these same mountain ranges, meaning that the temperature fluctuations are not as severe, creating a flavour that is often described as being muddy, earthy and very bitter. Robusta beans are often used to make traditional Italian espresso’s (as well as regular espresso’s), as the profile of the bean creates a foamy crema at the top of drink when brewed.
Comparatively, Arabica beans account for 75-80% of the world’s coffee production, whereas Robusta beans account for just 20%. The reasoning for this (according to the experts from my time at Mother Parkers) is mostly due to how Arabica beans have been marketed. People will always prefer the product they believe to be of higher quality, even if the differences are largely unnoticeable to the general public.
Once again, the coffee industry is a complex creature, and the source of the industry is even more complicated. In part 3, I’ll discuss the various environmental stresses that coffee plants are subject to, as well as the effect on the world market.