Coffee is one of the world’s favourite drinks, one of the most important commercial crop-plants, and the second most valuable international commodity. Arabica coffee is considered to produce the finest coffee beans.
Arabica coffee beans come from coffee cherries grown on the Arabica coffee plants. They originated in northern Africa, but are now grown in many parts of the world. They are gourmet coffee beans that do not have to be mixed with other coffee beans to be good.
The arabica coffee bean is the Adam or Eve of all coffees, its origins dating back to about 1,000 BC in the highlands of the Kingdom of Kefa (present-day Ethiopia), where the Oromos tribe ate the bean, crushed it and mixed it with fat to make spheres the size of ping-pong balls. The spheres were consumed for the same reason that coffee is consumed today: as a stimulant.
Arabica got its name around the 7th century when the bean crossed the Red Sea from Ethiopia to present-day Yemen and the lower Arab peninsula .
Arabica is also the Merlot of coffee, its mild taste a seductive evocation of sweetness, light and mountain air.
The name arabica was given to this species of coffee by the botanist Carolus Linnaeus who incorrectly believed that it originated on the Arabian peninsula in modern-day Yemen. There is still debate over whether it was first cultivated in East Africa or on the Arabian peninsula.
The Very First Use Of Arabica Coffee Beans
There are several legends surrounding the first use of the Arabica coffee bean and of course it is difficult to verify any of these. They are worth mentioning though for interests sake!
One legend involves a Sufi mystic noticing birds with unusual vitality and energy, seemingly from eating a particular berry. When he tried the berries himself they had a similar effect on him and he then took some with him back to Arabia to share with his people.
Another account tells of a disciple called Omar who was exiled to a cave. He picked some berries but on eating them found them quite bitter. He tried roasting them but they became hard and inedible. He then tried boiling those hard beans in water to soften them and they produced a brown liquid with an intriguing fragrance. On drinking the liquid he was revitalized and sustained for days.
Coffee was primarily associated in the Islamic world with religion although over time it became a common place drink and a widely traded commodity.
It is now the second most traded commodity in the world behind oil.
Distribution, Habitat and Cultivation
Arabica coffee beans played a huge part in the establishment of slavery in the Caribbean. Over 1 million slaves were brought to Cuba between the 16th and 19th centuries for the sole purpose of cultivating coffee.
Arabica coffee is now grown primarily in the developing world and accounts for 70-80% of the world’s coffee production.
Wild plants grow between 9 and 12m and have an open branch system and leafy appearance. They have an ideal elevation range which is usually between 1300 and 1500m above sea level but there are also plantations as low as sea level and as high as 2800m.
So there we have it, some interesting and insightful information about the Arabica coffee bean.
Makes me think it might be time for a coffee!
Fully grown, coffea arabica is between fourteen to fifteen feet tall and bushy. It has dark-green, lance-shaped leaves, approximately three to six inches long. The underside of the leaves are substantially lighter than the top side.
The white and fragrant flowers of the coffea arabica tree grow in clusters in the axils of the leaves. Even on a single tree, the number of petals on a flower vary from blossom to blossom. In hot and dry conditions, the flowers are generally smaller and more numerous. However, if the conditions are too dry, the flowers will not bear as much of the fruit that will develop into the coffee harvest.
The cherries of the arabica coffee tree contain an elliptical pit which typically consists of two coffee beans. In rare cases, the pit may actually be made from three beans, however, a more common mutation occurs when there is only one coffee bean in a cherry. These beans are referred to as peaberry.
The number of times coffee may be harvested from an arabica tree varies widely and is dependent on factors such as the variety of the tree and the growing climate. A single tree typically produce from one to twelve pounds of coffee annually.
- Blue Mountain- grown in Jamaica and Kenya;
- Catuai – developed as a hybrid of Mundo Novo and Caturra, characterized by either yellow or red cherries: Catuai-amarelo and Catuai-vermelho respectively;
- Mundo Novo- a cross between typica and bourbon, originally grown in Brazil ;
- San Ramon;
- Kent – originally developed in India, showing some disease resistance.
Although recent research shows that there are many positive health benefits from consumption in moderation, much research is being undertaken to investigate the numerous compounds found in coffee and how these affect quality and human health.