Coffee 101: A Beginner’s Guide to Coffee (Part One)

It is estimated that 1.4 billion cups of coffee are brewed per day around the globe, with the United States alone responsible for roughly 45% of that amount. According to the International Coffee Organization (ICO), in 2019 approximately 169,337,000 sacks, each weighing 60-kilograms were consumed around the world. This equates to an incredible 22,352,484,000 pounds of coffee.

We welcome you to Part One of Coffee 101: A Beginner’s Guide to Coffee. In this article, we provide a broad overview of coffee, starting with what it is, where it originated, and where it is grown. We also examine the plant itself and hopefully gain some valuable insight into the ongoing challenges facing coffee growers and producers around the globe.

(Part Two of this series will study how coffee is cultivated and harvested, and the various ways that it is processed for export. Part Three of Coffee 101 will examine how coffee is transformed from raw green bean form into its more familiar form for brewing through roasting. We also study how coffee is brewed.)

Coffee is widely considered to be the most popular beverage on earth (aside from water). From North and South America to Europe, from Asia and Australia to the African continent, coffee is enjoyed by people from all walks of life, from farmhands to astrophysicists. Our objective here is to provide an informative crash course in coffee, painted with broad strokes. Sit back, grab a mug of your favorite brew, and read on to learn more about what many consider to be a magical elixir.

What is Coffee?

Coffee is an agricultural product, and it is the second most traded commodity behind oil. From a botanical perspective, the various species of coffee can range from small shrubs with small, one-inch leaves to tall trees with leaves as large as 16 inches long. Coffee beans as we know them are actually the seeds of coffee cherries. These seeds are typically flat on one side with a groove that runs lengthwise and rounded on the opposite side.

The scientific name for the genus that coffee belongs to is Coffea, and there are two main species of Coffea that are grown around the world, Coffea Arabica and Coffea Canephora.

Arabica Coffee

If you stroll down the coffee aisle at your local grocery store and stop to examine the packaging used by the countless brands sitting on the shelves, you may notice catchphrases and marketing slogans such as “100% Arabica” or “[Name of Country] Arabica Beans”. What these coffee manufacturers are referring to is the particular coffee species Coffea Arabica also referred to as C. Arabica.

Coffea Arabica, aka arabica coffee, is widely considered the primary coffee species from which the higher qualities of coffee are produced. C. Arabica typically produces a finer, more flavorful brew and represents roughly 70% of the world’s total coffee production. As far as physical appearance, Arabica beans tend to be larger, flatter, and longer than their Robusta counterparts.

Arabica coffee is more challenging to grow and cultivate than Robusta, as it typically grows at higher elevations (which makes cultivation and harvesting more labor-intensive and therefore more costly), requires more annual precipitation, and is considerably less hardy than Robusta, thus requiring greater care and attention from seedling through maturity phases.