Firstly, did you know that coffee beans aren’t actually beans, but the seeds of any one of more than 3,000 varieties of the Coffea genus of plant.
You might be familiar with Arabica and Robusta, but there are many more types of coffee plants that are grown and harvested for their different characteristics.
Arabica is the staple for Specialty Coffee, for the wide selection of good quality beans available from all kinds of countries and geographies. For producers and roasters, Arabica offers broad choices for flavour and the ability to select just the right bean for the desired results.
Some coffee trees grow up to 10m tall, others are more shrub-like. They can all differ in leaf size, shape and colour. Some have deep, vivid red fruit or “cherries” when ripe, some can be purple, orange, golden-yellow or even pink.
Varieties of coffee trees are selected to cater to the specific requirements and location of the farm. Most of the world’s coffee is grown close to the Equator (between the Tropic of Capricorn & Tropic of Cancer) and in high-altitude locations, ideally with consistent rainfall and milder climates.
Selection or breeding of a coffee to grow is influenced by factors such as soil type, acreage, rainfall, altitude, bean yield, time-to-maturity, and resistance to pests and drought. Some varieties are proprietary plants that have been developed by specific farmers and co-ops, meaning they are a copyrighted cultivar that can only be grown with permission.
Seasonal influences (such as pests, disease, and climate change) can also greatly affect bean quality from one crop to the next.
The sheer scale of choices before the beans have even been harvested or processed is mind-boggling - something to consider the next time you savour a brew of your favorite coffee.