From the Coffea Tree to the Bean

The road from a cherry to a coffee bean is long and eventful, but necessary to bring you those perfect cups of coffee.

| March 2018

  • Coffee beans originate from the seeds of the coffea tree.
    Photo by Pixabay/InternalEye
  • “The Home Barista” by Simone Egger and Ruby Ashby Orr teaches readers how to take their favorite coffee bean and turn it into the perfect of cup of coffee.
    Photo courtesy of The Experiment Publishing

The Home Barista (The Experiment, 2015) by Simone Egger and Ruby Ashby Orr teaches readers the ins and outs of brewing their favorite cup of coffee right at home. Egger and Ashby Orr walk readers through eight different methods of brewing after roasting your own beans. In this excerpt, they explain how coffee beans are made from the fruit of a coffea tree.

Beans for Botanists

Going back to the beginning, coffee beans are actually seeds found inside the bright red, cherry-like fruit of a coffea tree. There are different species of coffea tree, but generally, they grow to around ten feet and flourish in tropical conditions (hot and high), between the tropics of Capricorn and Cancer.

The coffea tree blooms fragrant, white flowers three times a year and the cherries begin to grow after each bloom, reddening from green as they ripen. Each cherry contains two green seeds that, once processed, become what we know as coffee beans.

Arabica vs. Robusta

Arabica is the species of plant from which all specialty (and also most commercial) beans are currently derived. It’s a princess of plants: fragile, susceptible to attacks by pests and relatively needy—requiring particular degrees of moisture, sun, shade and soil richness to thrive. But, it’s also capable of producing a wide taste range. There are a number of varieties, strains and cultivars of arabica.

Robusta is the other species that’s commercially farmed. It’s just beginning to emerge onto the specialty coffee market, but is commonly used in instant coffee brands. It’s a hardier plant with a higher yield of beans that are higher in caffeine but have been described as having “a neutral to harsh taste range.” Still, a small number of coffee growers are experimenting with specialist robusta—time will tell if it catches on.

The Process

It takes a lot to turn a cherry into a coffee bean. After it’s picked, often by hand (one cherry at a time), the raw fruit is processed to remove the cherry pulp from the seed (or bean). There are various ways to do this.

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