Essentially, everything comes from somewhere, and the aromatic coffee we start our day with is no exception. From time immemorial, coffee took its place as one of the most widely consumed drinks worldwide. Yet, little fact is known about its origin or where it is grown.
So here is a fact. The taste of coffee is unique to where it is grown. Can you draw the connection? Another well-known fact is that coffee originated from Ethiopia in Africa, but that is not where coffee grows. Coffee is cultivated in over 70 countries all over the world. So the question remains, “where does coffee grow?”
Coffee Grows on Trees
Coffee trees are often called shrubs because they are small, but their leaves are evergreen. They yield fruits called cherries, which are ruby red. Farmers trim the coffee trees annually to reduce their height so their fruits can be picked easily.
Also, the trees are trimmed to ensure that they are not exposed to too much sunlight. Taller trees are planted around them to filter direct sunlight. Without the towering trees and any form of shade, an exposed coffee tree could dry out within three hours. Thus, sunlight is the bane of coffee trees.
To protect their trees, coffee farmers plant on slopes inclined to the east because the sun only shines there in the morning. They also make sure their trees are watered at all times. While it is important to know that coffees are derived from trees, not all coffee trees are the same or planted the same way because coffee has two different plant types.
Types of Coffee Plants
This is the most common coffee plant. Over 60% of coffees produced today are derived from Arabica plants. Arabica coffee plants emit a more intense aroma and they have less caffeine. It is grown majorly in Brazil, Columbia, and Central America.
The best conditions for Arabica trees are areas with high altitudes, steady rainfall, and good shade. However, Arabica trees are delicate and susceptible to disease. If they are planted in areas with unsuitable conditions, it will take a lot of hard work to keep them healthy. Growing them on a large scale is profitable but risky. Once a plant becomes diseased, it would be difficult to protect the rest from the spread.
Arabica grows within nine to eleven months and if successfully developed, they turn out multi-flavored with an ample amount of acidity. Coffees derived from the Arabica plant taste much better when served hot and without cream.
This plant ranks second after Arabica in production. Robusta plants easily acclimatize to their environment. Unlike Arabica, they are not prone to disease and are more suited for locations where rainfall is not steady. Robusta plants are robust in shape and contain a large amount of caffeine. They grow within six to eight months.
Robusta coffees have a fine texture with a small dose of chocolate in their flavor but a bit low in aroma. It is best suited for drinkers who prefer their coffee with cream and sugar. Robusta is grown majorly in Central and West Africa, South East Asia, and Brazil.
Where Coffee Trees Grow
A climate that supports the growth of coffee is usually on or around the equator. Experts call this area’ coffee bean belt.’ Coffee-producing countries in these areas are Brazil, Vietnam, and Colombia. Coffee farmers in these countries sow three to four years before harvest.
However, the climatic conditions in these countries are not the same. These conditions affect the quantity of harvest. Wherever coffee trees are grown or proposed to be grown, the climate must be humid and dry. That is, there should be as much rain as sunshine.
When Coffee Trees are Planted
As stated above, coffee-producing countries have balanced rain and dry seasons. Reasonably, farmers plant coffee trees in the wet season because it is easier to dig holes at that time than in the dry season. And the earth’s moisture allows the plant to spread roots. Once grown, a coffee tree keeps yielding fruits for 25-30 years before it starts to decline, but it takes quite long for the tree to grow.
How long does it take for Coffee Plants to Grow?
A coffee tree takes three to four years to produce fruits, and grows tall to about 20 feet. However, farmers prune them to maximize yield and to make harvest easier. At first, flowers bloom and then fall as cherries grow. The cherry, in turn, changes in color, size, and shape until they are ready to be harvested. Farmers recognize that it is time for harvest when the cherries become red.
Coffee beans and coffee cherry
Coffee beans are derived from coffee cherries. During the growing stage, coffee cherries are usually green at first before they turn red, which shows they are mature. Black cherry signifies rot. However, the beans inside the cherries are harvested and processed to make coffee.
Because coffee beans are best grown in mountainous areas, using machines for harvest is not feasible. This means that the ripe cherries would be picked by hand. However, Brazil has a flat landscape, and vast fields allow machines to be used. On average, a coffee tree produces 2 to 4 kilos of cherries. An efficient laborer can harvest 45 to 90 kilos of cherries in a single day. Mathematically, this will result in 18 kilos of coffee beans.
The two methods of harvesting coffee are discussed below;
- Selectively picked – Under this method, only the ripe cherries are picked by hand. The laborers have to check the trees for 8-10 days and harvest only the ripe ones. This method costs more because it relies heavily on paid laborers to succeed.
- Strip picked – Here, all the cherries are plucked from the branch once. This can be achieved with machines or laborers.
At the processing stage, the coffee seeds or beans are extracted from the ripe cherries and dried. The traditional methods involved are dry and wet;
- The Dry Method
Also known as the natural method, it is the simplest method and involves little machinery. Laborers carefully sort and clean the harvested cherries to remove the overripe and damaged ones. Dirt, leaves, and twigs are also sorted out at this stage. Then, the cherries are laid out in the sun on patios or trestles.
At intervals, the cherries are raked to make sure they are all exposed to the sun. This might take 4-5 weeks. In some situations, machines are used to dry the cherries after pre-drying them in the sun for some days. Dried cherries are kept in a silo and then taken to the mill for hulling.
There, the outer layers are removed, and the green coffee beans are sorted and graded.
This method is used to process Arabica coffee produced in Brazil, Ethiopia, Haiti, and Paraguay.
- The Wet Method
Unlike the dry method, water and equipment are used to extract coffee beans. Firstly, the laborers clean the cherries. Then, they are crushed and squeezed by a machine till beans are peeled away from their skin. The beans come out with the mucilage as its exterior skin.
Later, the beans are cleaned, and the mucilage is broken down. This is done within 24-36 hours. Then, the coffee is washed again with clean water. Before it can be sold, the coffee is a bean that is hulled to get rid of the parchment. Cleaning, screening, sorting, and grading take place before the green coffee bean is ready to be sold.
Top 15 Highest Coffee-Growing Countries in the World
Surprisingly, coffee is the second most traded goods after oil. A running similarity among all the countries producing coffee is that they are all in the tropics. Below are ten countries that are major game players in the coffee exporting;
Brazil is the world’s foremost coffee-producing country. It produces 2.68 million metric tons of coffee per year. The South American country has been the highest coffee-producing country for over 150 years. Brazil the best climate coffee trees require to grow. The country is blessed with ample sunlight and rainfall, perfect temperature, and low elevation. Brazilian coffees are known for the creamy body, low acidity, and multi-flavored quality.
This Asian country produces 1.5 million tons, and it is the second most exported product by the country after rice. Vietnam came into the coffee scene through their French colonialists in 1800, specifically to the Buon Ma Thuot region. Today, the country competes fiercely with other Robusta coffee-producing countries.
In 1986, the country went through a reform welcoming private firms into the coffee production business. This move increased coffee production greatly and landed the country second highest coffee producer in the world. Vietnam’s coffee amounts to 40% of the world’s output of Robusta, reputed for its low acidity and bitterness.
Colombia is another South American country. It has the rare privilege of producing 100% Arabica beans. The country boasts of excellent terrain and perfect weather conditions. Colombia coffees are known for their aromatic, mild, and fruity flavor. Colombia produces a total of 754,376 metric tons per year.
A non-profit organization called Café de Colombia represents the coffee trade, influences every family in Colombia, and re-invests revenues in coffee-growing communities. Colombian coffee beans are grown in an area of about 1500-2000metres, and it produces not-so-thick coffees with nutty aromas and a hint of citrus. This combination provides a mild flavor and low-key sweetness.
Indonesia is an Asian country that made its way to one of the highest coffee-producing countries. It produces tv668, 677 metric tons per year, which is quite much for a country broken into different thousands of islands. The country has a diverse array of coffee beans.
Indonesia started cultivating coffee plants as far back as the 1600s under the Dutch colonial period. An Island called Java was the first place coffee cultivation started in Indonesia. Today, Java coffee is well-known for its spicy flavors, thick body, and rich aroma. Indonesian coffees like Javan, Sulawesi, and Sumatran are well-acknowledged coffees.
Honduras is a Central American country that produces 475,042 metric tons of coffee. Up until recently, Honduras was not reckoned as a country that produces a high amount of coffee. For years, its production was hampered by poor infrastructure, and most of its products ended up being sold within the country. At the time, barely 10% of their coffee production was exported.
Lately, the demand for Honduras coffee has seen a steady rise. Honduran coffees are planted on mountain farms called “Fincas” giving them the advantage of high altitudes that coffee plants require. Honduras’ coffees are known for diverse flavors like hazelnut and vanilla.
Coffee is woven into Ethiopian culture since it is regarded as the place coffee originated from. Ethiopia is an African country that produces 471,247 metric tons per year. Ethiopia’s people have a story of how a farmer and his goats discovered the Arabica coffee tree.
Ethiopia has different varieties of beans, each offering a wide range of flavors. However, Ethiopia’s coffee production industry is fully nationalized, and it generates 10% of its GDP. Ethiopia’s best coffee products are consumed locally.
Peru is the seventh-highest coffee-producing nation in the world. The country has been in business since the 1700s, but it was mainly consumed within the country. The country failed to develop its coffee production potential due to poor infrastructure. Recently, coffee farmers in Peru were granted the opportunity to export and compete with other countries globally.
In Peru, coffee is grown in 10 certain areas like the North, South, and Central Belt of the country. Also, coffee drinkers are now comparing Peru coffee to some of the best. Peru coffee planted in the lowland have a nutty flora, while coffees grown in the highlands are floral and rich. Peru produces 346,466 metric tons per year.
The North American country produces 273,000 metric tons, and their coffee produce makes up 2.5% of the world’s production. Mostly, it produces the Arabica variety at 96% and Robusta at 4%. The growing areas are the Pacific Coast, Gulf of Mexico, and its border with Guatemala and Belize.
In Central America, Guatemala turns up as the ninth highest coffee-producing country. Like Peru, Coffee was not considered a valuable crop until the nation’s dye industry failed in the late 1850s. However, the country got back on its feet with coffee production, and by 1880, coffee took up 90% of its export. Today, coffee is still Guatemala’s largest export. The country produces 245,441 metric tons per year.
Guatemala’s coffee is known for its quality, and its product variety includes Caturra, Red and Yellow, Catuai, Red and Yellow Bourbon. Its beans are grown in regions rich in volcanic soil, less humidity, and lots of sunshine. This includes areas like Faijanes, San Marcos & Nuevo, and Acatenango.
India ranks tenth among the highest coffee-producing countries. In the 1870s, India was plagued by coffee rust and, as a result, abandoned coffee plants for tea plantations. India is known for Arabica coffee, but recently, Robusta makes up 60% of their total coffee production. Majorly, Indian coffee production is exported to Europe.
The best variety of coffee produced in India is Monsoon Malabar. Interestingly, one of the stages of its production involves exposure to monsoon conditions. Coffee trees in India are planted in the southern Indian states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Karnataka. The country produces 234,000 metric tons per year.
The African country is especially known for Robusta coffee. Their coffee plants have been cultivated for generations. Their trees are rare natural coffee trees located deep in the rainforest. Uganda produces 209,325 metric tons per year.
Factually, Ugandan coffee is distinct from another form of the bean, and it has a wine acidity with huge hints of chocolate. The Robusta beans are grown in areas like Western Nile, Okoro region, and in Northern regions like Lira and Gulu.
Nicaragua coffee makes up 1.3% of the world’s coffee. Their wide variety is Arabica, which amounts to 98%, while Robusta yields 2%. Nicaragua produces 140,400 metric tons per year. Its major areas include its border in the north with Honduras to Lake Cocibolca. Other regions are Nueva Segovia, Jinotega and Matagalpa.
China is mostly known for its tea. However, the country produces 138,000 metric tons of Arabica coffee in a year. Like Nicaragua, its coffee production amounts to 1.3% of the world. It is also reckoned as a nation to look out for among top coffee-producing countries.
Another African country on the list is Malaysia producing 120,000 metric tons of coffee. Its products make up 1.1% of the world’s production. Malaysia’s variety is majorly Robusta coffee. Some of the regions where coffee is planted are Kelantan, Trengganu, and Sabah.
This country is mostly known for cocoa production. Though it might be far behind other countries above, it is one of the world’s highest coffee-producing countries. Ivory Coast produces 108,000 metric tons of coffee, which makes 1% of the world’s production. Its variety is Robusta, and they are not of good quality. However, the country has grown a hybrid variety of Arabica and Robusta called Arabusta.
Can I Grow a Coffee Plant at Home?
Perhaps, you enjoy coffee so much, and now that you know something about where and how coffee plants are grown, you would like to take matters into your hands. Note that growing a coffee plant at home to yield enough fruits for brewing a coffee, or for commercial purposes is almost impossible. However, coffee plants are excellent houseplants.
How to Grow Coffee Plant at Home
First, you have to decide if you intend to grow the plant indoor or outdoor. Coffee plants can grow in either location, it depends on certain conditions. If you choose to plant it indoors, do not place it under direct sunlight. Find a place where sunlight is mild or diffused. Growing a plant outside might not yield good results, especially if your country is not geographically located between the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn.
The climatic conditions in your area might greatly deter the growth of your plant. Fortunately, you can grow it indoors and give it all the humidity, light, and water it needs to grow. Or you can opt for growing it in a greenhouse.
Also, you must get the right soil for a coffee plant. For instance, Arabica is found in tropical areas with good humidity. Use soil with a pH close to 6 to allow the plant to take root. You’ll have to make sure the soil has good drainage. Take note that coffee plants would require less water in winter and more in summer.
You should plan a care routine for your plant. Ensure that it is properly watered at all times to keep the soil moist. The key here is to avoid extreme ends. Keep the plant dry, but not too dry and moist enough without so much water. Pruning is also part of maintaining the plant, and bear in mind that you will have to re-pot as the plant grows.
How long will it take for my Coffee Plants to Grow?
It would take years before the coffee plants get to fruit production. And it would take at least a year for the cherries to ripen. Although individual cases differ, it might take an average of three to four years before flowering begins.
After it starts flowering, it will produce green fruits first, which would later transition to red and dark red as the months roll by. Once the coffee cherries are ripe, you can harvest and remove the beans.
Coffee grows on trees planted in different places worldwide and mostly in places where the climate is favorable to the plant. Since the discovery of coffee, it has served humanity as a refreshing drink and revenue source for nations. This article explores facts about where and how coffee is planted, grown, and harvested. And if there’s one fact you should take away, it’s that coffee plants do not grow overnight.