Cultivation And Harvesting
The coffee tree or shrub grows to 15-30 ft (3-9 m). The tree has shiny, dark green, simple, ovate leaves that grow opposite each other in an alternate fashion, and reach 3 in (7.5 cm) in length. Fragrant, white flowers that bloom for only a few days grow where the leaves join the branches. Clusters of fruit, called cherries, follow the flowers. The cherries are green while developing and growing. The green berries change to yellow, and then to red when the cherries are mature, and deep crimson when ripe and ready for picking. The cherries do not all ripen at once and trees that grow in lower, hotter regions often hold multicolored berries, flowers, and leaves all at once. Each cherry has two chambers or locules that hold two beans. The beans are oval and flat on one side with a lengthwise groove. They are covered by papery skin that must be removed before roasting. A soft, fleshy pulp surrounds the beans. Cherries with one bean, usually round, are called peaberries. Coffee trees raised from seeds generally flower the third or fourth year, and produce a good crop at five years. The trees can produce crops for about 15-20 years. Coffee trees can yield from about 1-8 lb (0.5-3.6 kg) in a year, with 1.5-2 lb (0.7-0.9 kg) being the average. It takes 5 lb (2.3 kg) of cherries to produce 1 lb (0.5 kg) of beans.
Coffee grows best in regions located between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn (25° north and south of the equator), also called the "coffee belt." Coffee trees do not produce well in extremely hot weather, nor can they tolerate frost. Ideally, the annual mean temperature should be around 70°F (21.1°C). There should be adequate rainfall 70 in (178 cm) per year especially when the fruit is developing. C arabica grows best at higher altitudes 2,000-6,000 ft (610-1,830 m) and because the fruit of this species takes about 6-7 months to ripen after flowering, only one crop is harvested per year. C. robusta grows best at lower altitudes around 3,000 ft (915 m), and depending on the climate and soil, the fruit can be harvested two or three times per year. Coffee trees grow best in rich, well drained, organic soil, particularly in regions with disintegrated volcanic ash. The dangers for growing coffee trees are frost, the coffee bean borer, coffee leaf miner, and the fungus Hemileia vastatrix.
There are two methods of harvesting and processing the cherries. The wet method, used only where water is abundant, involves picking only the ripe cherries. The cherries are soaked in water to soften the skin and the skin and pulp are removed, leaving a sticky film. The cherries are put into tanks to ferment for about 24 hours and then washed to remove the sticky covering on the bean. The beans are spread out to dry, and put into hulling machines that remove the papery skin on the bean. Coffee beans processed by the wet method tend to be more expensive. They are considered to have a better flavor, probably because only ripe cherries are picked. The dry method involves stripping all the cherries from the branches. The cherries are thoroughly dried and put into machines that remove the dry outer covering, pulp, and papery skin. The dry method is the oldest type of processing and is currently used for about two-thirds of the world's coffee. Both processes result in a dried, green coffee bean. Dried, processed beans are then sorted, and graded for quality, type, and size. The beans are packed for transport into bags of 132 lb (60 kg) each. Coffee is exported all over the world and is usually roasted after it reaches its destination.