The world’s insatiable need for coffee (or perhaps just caffeine) has to be met somehow. Last post I mentioned that coffee spread pretty quickly, but where did it go, and how much of it?
Coffee is grown in more than 60 developing countries by around 25 milling farmers. Most of those farmers are still small family businesses, but you can find large coffee plantations in the countries with higher production.
There are two types of coffee plants out there, robusta and arabica. Robusta has the benefit of being a little more, well, robust, so it can handle more temperature fluctuation and harsher climates. It has more caffeine, so why do we mostly drink arabica coffee?
|Well, that too, but that’s not what I meant exactly|
Beans from the Arabica plant taste better. Much better. So much that it’s harder to find a brand that will openly admit to using large amounts of robusta.
There’s also another explanation of robusta’s caffeine content. The caffeine in coffee occurs as a natural defense against getting eaten. So more caffeine might mean more of a buzz for you, but it also means more death for most other things.
Even the smaller farms will generally need some help come harvest time, and some farms also grow other crops in conjunction with coffee. Coffee plants will begin producing fruit three to five years after planting. The fruit itself takes about nine months to ripen.
|Don’t worry, the coffee will be ready in about six years. A cup of water while you wait? (Photo by jakeliefer is licensed under CC BY 2.0)|
The plant is harvested by hand by necessity. Coffee plants can flower multiple times throughout the year, so this means there will be a mixture of ripe and unripe berries, so pickers have to be careful not to steal from future crops. It's common for the pickers to pass though several times to pick all of the ripe cherries.
|(Photo by mckaysavage is licensed under CC BY 2.0)|
After the cherries are picked, the have to be processed before they’re of any use to us, a step we’ll learn about in the next few posts.