THE NATURE OF COFFEE

The coffee plant is a shrub that belongs to the family Rubiaceae, genus Coffea.  Some dozens of species of the genus Coffea are known, but only two are significant in economic terms:  Coffea Arabica and Coffea canephora (also known as Arabica and Robusta, respectively), being the only two that are cultivated on a large scale.  Each of these two species comprises several varieties; some derived from natural mutations and some the results of genetic engineering.   Robusta coffees do not have the fragrance or flavor of the best Arabica coffees but they are more resistant to disease and grow at lower altitudes.

The coffee plant grows in countries that lie between the two Tropics, in zones where there are no seasonal climatic changes:  there it is always summer or something between spring and summer.  Plants are therefore evergreen and bear fruit in a continuous cycle.  Coffee plants are no exception and lacking rising spring temperatures to prompt flowering, as is the case with plants in our part of the world, they depend on rainfall to this end.  This means that following every rainfall, after about two weeks the plant will flower:  if it rains ten times in a year, the plant will flower ten times.  Therefore, if the rainfall is distributed throughout the year, you find plants simultaneously bearing flowers, ripening fruit and full ripe fruit.

After the flowering period, which lasts only a few days, the ovary of the fertilized flower rapidly develops into a fruit that is initially green in color; by 6-10 weeks the berry has already reached its full size.  During the final weeks the berries change color, becoming first yellow and eventually bright red, with the exception of a few varieties such as Yellow Bourbon whose ripe fruits are yellow.

One interesting fact to remember about coffee:  Each coffee tree yields, on the average, one pound of beans per year.