Legend has it that coffee was discovered by an Ethiopian goat herder named Kaldi. He noticed even the weakest of his herd displayed unusual amounts of energy after eating the cherries off the coffee trees. Coffee is indigenous to Ethiopia and is still picked off wild trees in many parts of the country, lending an element of truth to the legend.
For several centuries coffee was grown almost exclusively in Yemen a part of Arabia that for many years was ruled by the Persians. The capital of which (Mocha) is still a word closely associated with coffee today. The French in the early 1700's were the first to bring coffee to the new world. In 1554 the first coffee house opened in Istanbul, Turkey. In the mid 1600's and through the 1700's more coffee houses opened and coffee replaced cocoa and tea as the exotic beverage of choice throughout Europe.
The Plant and Species
Coffee trees are really shrubs that grow to 14-20ft if not pruned. For commercial purposes trees are usually kept to 6ft tall to make picking easier. A coffee tree takes 3-5 years to mature before it will produce its first full crop. Yield varies but in general Arabica trees produce 10-15 pounds of coffee cherries annually, which equates to 3-4 pounds of green coffee.
There are four species of coffee plants that produce unique beans, but only two are of commercial importance, Coffee Arabica (Arabica Coffee) and Coffee Canephora (Robusta Coffee). Coffee Liberica and Coffee Excelsa are grown in West Africa and are considered extremely poor quality and of little or no commercial value. The major growing regions are Africa, Arabia, India, Indonesia, Vietnam, Central America, the Caribbean and South America. The top producers are Brazil, Vietnam, Indonesia and Colombia.
Growing Regions and Roasting Process
The best coffees are grown 4,000 to 6,500 feet above sea level. All specialty coffee is Arabica, but not all Arabica beans are considered specialty coffee. Robusta coffee unlike Arabica is grown at low elevations. Specialty roasters as a general rule roast by coffee type. The theory is each bean is different due to size, density, crop cycle and subsequently roasts differently.
A typical roast takes between 9 and 13 minutes at temperatures between 400 and 480 degrees. As coffee roasts moisture is drawn out of the beans. The color of the beans change from green to yellow to beige to progressively darker shades of brown and black. The darker coffee is roasted the more imperfections and flavor defects are masked by the roasting process. There are six roasting profiles Cinnamon, City, Fully City, Viennese, French Roast, and Italian Roast which are listed from lightest to dark.