Obviously, coffee can grow naturally - that’s how it was discovered, originally. Yet, growing coffee commercially can prove to be problematic.
Although the Arabica coffee plant is self-pollinating, treating farmers to uniformity a rare break when it comes to pollinating crops, growing coffee requires a set of particulars.
Most coffee producing countries look to seasonal change and idyllic climates for the prime planting and growing of coffee.
Planting Coffee Trees
Depending on where you are in the world, the quantity and quality of the coffee you are trying to grow will vary according to methodology and dedication. However, there are several key denominators that exist across the majority of coffee growing nations.
Most coffee growing climates tend to fall on, or around, the planet’s equator, amongst the tropics. This area is often referred to as the ‘coffee bean belt’ by the coffee experts and houses some of the world’s most famous coffee growing countries, including the likes of the world’s largest coffee producers Brazil, Vietnam and Colombia.
The conditions of each coffee growing country will vary, in terms of temperatures, altitude and rainfall. Elements like these can impact coffee growth, including the amount of harvests possible, determining a successful season or not.
Like in any plant’s growth, photosynthesis has to occur. Therefore, climate is key to how coffee grows. Protection from direct sunlight and ample rainfall tend to provide good coffee growing conditions.
Countries with distinct dry and rainy seasons are favourable, so that farmers can target the wet season to plant coffee seedlings so that it’s easier to dig holes. Plus there’s more moisture in the ground giving the roots the best chance to spread for germination to take place.
Altitude plays a crucial role. Coffee growing altitudes of between 1800-3600 feet will usually spawn one opportunity for both growth and maturation, throughout the coldest parts of autumn. Whereas, altitudes of around 3600-6300 feet, with frequent rainfall, can result in two harvests, depending on the coffee species.
Plenty of patience is required in the coffee growing process because the seedlings planted will not produce coffee cherries until some 3 to 4 years later.
By this point, the coffee plants could stand up to 20 feet tall. However, for harvesting purposes they are often pruned to 5-7 foot, which also helps increase the yield. White flowers will bloom and eventually fall as the coffee cherries mature. The coffee cherry transition will see a change in colour, size and shape, until they’re at an ideal point to harvest (usually once ruby red in colour).
The coffee we commonly consume today comes from one of two different coffee plants: Arabica or Robusta. The coffee beans produced by each plant are remarkably different. The fact that they’re different species separates aspects such as size, shape and colour but add to that the differing conditions and environments in which they flourish, you can begin to understand why they taste different.
Arabica is renowned for its premium qualities and makes up for around 70% of the world’s coffee supply. The rich and deep flavour profiles it produces are associated to the regions it grows in. Favouring the cooler, mountainous regions with higher elevation, Arabica coffee plants are notoriously labour intensive to harvest from the steep slopes on which they grow.
In contrast, Robusta performs better closer to sea level and is much more tolerant to warm temperatures, producing earthier, bitter flavours.
How is Coffee Grown Today?
The growing interest in coffee, along with an understanding of how coffee grows best, has allowed people to experiment with growing coffee at home, for their own consumption. Away from the home, experimentation with coffee has also continued to evolve.
With increased coffee knowledge and advancements in technology, coffee farming looks very different today, to what it once was. Although, some traditional methods such as shade grown coffee are creeping back in, as the industry looks to sustain its future.
The likelihood is, given that coffee communities are provided with the correct equipment and resources, coffee growing climates are now controlled, especially in the early stages, in order to give farmers a better chance of success.
Coffee nurseries are created to control and protect coffee plants, in the crucial early stages. Nature and its elements can often be too unpredictable, and something that some coffee communities can not rely upon or risk financially, so human impact is necessary.
Human or technological involvement can occur at any stage of the modern and complex coffee process, so that greater yields of quality coffee beans are produced, providing more money for the economy. Instruments that measure the moisture levels of coffee cherries whilst in the drying phase, give more accurate results and can help with timing and shipping.