At the center of one of the world’s most important and commercially viable industries sits a humble, yet remarkable, plant—the coffee tree. Growing to heights of over thirty feet, living as long as a century, producing its valuable fruit—the coffee cherry—year-round in a continuous cycle, coffee plants capture the attention of the world.
Fortunately, to date, the coffee tree seems to be able to handle the staggering demand for its product—the beans are ground into over a whopping 400 billion cups of coffee per year, making it the most popular beverage on earth and the second most traded commodity, behind only oil.
History And Classification
Coffee plants are of the genus Coffea—the most commercially viable of these are classified as Arabica and Robusta, the fruit of which make up the vast majority of the coffee harvest.
According to legend, Coffea arabica was discovered in modern-day Ethiopia around 1000 A.D. by a goat-herder, Kaldi, who noticed his flock jumping around in a frenzy after eating the shiny red berries off a certain shrub. He tried some himself, noted their stimulating effects, and the rest is history. Arabica trees provide the highest quality beans, but the lowest yield, and are valued accordingly.
Many centuries later, in 1898, Emil Laurent came upon a different species of coffee flourishing in the African Congo. A horticultural firm in Brussels decided to cultivate the plant, renaming it Coffea robusta (its original name was that of the discoverer, Coffea Laurentii). Robusta is considerably larger than Arabica and has a far greater yield. As its branches are very long, they tend to bend toward the ground, giving the tree an umbrella shape.
Threats to The Coffee Tree
The coffee tree is a highly sensitive plant. The trees are highly affected by temperature, with Arabica preferring a range of 59 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Robusta can withstand more heat, and thrives between 75 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit. A heavy frost can kill either tree.
Like every other living thing, the coffee tree has specific diseases and enemies, such as a certain fungoid disease whereby the fungus attacks the leaves, causing them to fall and eventually robbing the plant of its only means of gathering food. Arabica in particular is prone to disease—an unfortunate characteristic given its popularity over Robusta. Its most deadly enemy in the insect world is a small bug known as the coffee-leaf miner, closely related to the clothes moth.
Elixir of Life
No one knows exactly how many coffee trees are being cultivated to produce the world’s coffee, but there are over 25 million farmers and coffee workers in over 50 countries involved coffee production. Clearly, a sizable chunk of our modern culture depends on the cultivation and health of once was wh