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What is coffee?

"Coffee" is technically the term that describes the plant, the seed, and the beverage

brewed from the roasted seeds.  If you're here, you probably already know that.

Typically, when we talk about coffee, we're talking about two specific species of the genus

Coffea: C. Caneaphora (specifically the Robusta varietal) and C. Arabica, typically called

just Robusta and Arabica.  There are other species, but these are the two that are most

widely commercially cultivated, with Arabica making up 75-80 percent of the world's

cultivated coffee.

As always, in life, there are trade-offs.  Arabica produces better-tasting coffee and is self-

pollinating, but the coffee plants are more temperamental, more prone to disease, and

require a lot more care and attention.  Oh yeah, and the places that they thrive tend to be

steep, tough-to-cultivate, hillsides.  Robusta, as its name implies, is a hardier species, with

a much higher caffeine content (50-60% more than Arabica), but a lot less "coffee" flavor

and a lot more bitterness.

Both common species of coffee are woody, perennial trees with dark green, glossy leaves

and delicate, jasmine-like white flowers.  The coffee fruit is referred to as coffee cherry. 

About 35-40 weeks after the coffee tree has flowered, the coffee cherry will ripen, and

change from green to red.  Fun fact: if you're talking about coffee, the plural of "cherry" is

"cherry.  If you're talking about the fruit, the plural of "cherry" is "cherries."  Now, go win a

dollar from some poor schlub with your new knowledge. 

Ideally, ripe coffee cherry is selectively hand-picked, as machine picking inevitably strips

under-ripe cherry, and can result in bruised cherry that is at greater risk of spoilage

(potentially causing fermenty, unpleasantly fruity or moldy flavor in the coffee) and the

inclusion of under-ripe cherry (which gives coffee a grainy, sour, bready taste).  A good

picker can average 100-200 pounds of coffee cherry a day.  

Arabica does best in mild climates with about 60 inches of annual rainfall, and at elevations

between 2,000 and 6,000 feet above sea-level.  The cooler temperatures slow the growth

and maturation of the coffee cherry (although a hard frost will kill the trees), which results

in a denser bean, and ultimately, better tasting coffee.  Robusta prefers 75-80 degree

temperatures, which allows it to grow at much lower altitudes, although it requires the

same amount of annual rainfall. 

Arabica is the coffee that originated in the areas of Ethiopia and Yemen.  If you love coffee,

thank a goat. Arabica is most likely the coffee species featured in the coffee-discovery-

legend of Kaldi and his dancing goats. 

© Three Canyons Roasters, LLC 2013
Micro-Roasted Artisan Coffees