What Do Coffee Beans Grow On?

Have you ever wondered, “what do coffee beans grow on?” From farm to cup, we will take a look at the journey your coffee beans embarked on before reaching you.

What do coffee beans grow on?
Coffee from farm to cup

If you’re like me, then you have lots of strong opinions on coffee. From my favorite growing regions, coffee shops, specialty drinks, and brewing methods, I know how I like to drink my coffee.

However, have you ever wondered, “what do coffee beans grow on?” Coffee grows on trees and shrubs, with different species of trees producing different types of coffee, like Arabica and Robusta. Let’s learn more. 

The Coffee Tree

The coffee tree, also known as the Coffea tree, can grow up to six feet in height and is able to produce roughly ten pounds of coffee cherries a season.

A coffee tree takes three to five years to mature and produce fruit, and it can do this for up to 50 years. The coffee plants have waxy leaves and long-petaled, white flowers that have a very strong aroma. Each season, it takes the coffee cherries about nine months to grow and ripen on the plant.

Coffee trees only survive in specific soils and climates. They do best in tropical regions with lots of rainfall and mild winters. The coffee tree cannot survive when temperatures drop below 41°F.

Interestingly, the caffeine in the fruit and seed acts as a natural pest repellant, protecting the cherries from animals and insects and keeping other plants from growing too close by. 

The Bean Belt

Given the coffee plants’ specific needs, it grows best in the tropical and mountainous regions around the equator, notably in South America, Africa, and Southeast Asia. These include countries like Guatemala, Colombia, Brazil, Ethiopia, Indonesia, and Vietnam. This region is often referred to as “the bean belt” or “the coffee belt.”

Learn more in our guide on the best African countries for coffee.

Different Varietals

Variety of coffee beans on a wooden table
There are actually multiple varieties of coffee beans

There are actually multiple varietals of coffee trees. The two most common are Coffea Arabica and Coffea canephora (also known as Robusta coffee). While both varietals produce coffee beans, the caffeine content and flavor differ greatly.

Arabica Coffee Beans

Arabica coffee beans are prized for their complex flavor. If you go to a nice coffee house and order a specialty cup of coffee, you are likely drinking Arabica coffee.

The flavor of these beans is dependent on the soil and climate of the region it is grown in. Much like with wine, connoisseurs of coffee enjoy discussing the flavor profiles of each specific kind of coffee – prizing Arabica coffees from different regions for their unique characteristics, much like sommeliers do with grapes and wine.

Robusta Coffee Beans

Robusta coffee trees are more resistant to pests and are a more reliable crop to maintain. Robusta coffee beans are prized for their high caffeine content; however, many consider these coffee beans to be lacking in the complex flavors found in Arabica beans.

Today, Robusta coffee’s reputation for being less flavorful than Arabica is being challenged. The majority of Robusta coffee beans are grown in Vietnam, where there is a rich history of coffee production and consumption.

Many Vietnamese-based specialty coffee companies are proving that Robusta beans can be enjoyed by even the snobbiest coffee connoisseur. Check out our round-up of the best Vietnamese coffee brands.

What Do Coffee Beans Grow On Look Like?

Most of us are accustomed to what a coffee bean looks like after they have been roasted. This is what we can buy at the store or from coffee roasters to make a cup of Joe at home!

While the exact shape, size, and color can vary, a roasted coffee bean has an oval shape. One side is smooth and round, like a sphere, and the other side has a split running down it. Beans can be quite large or small, and the color, ranging from light caramel to a deep burnt brown, can vary depending on the varietal and the roasting process.

Coffee Beans Are Seeds

While it is accepted to call a coffee bean a “bean,” it is technically not a bean. The coffee bean is the seed of the coffee tree.

Coffee trees produce fruit known as coffee cherries. Coffee beans are the little green seeds found inside coffee cherries. Some varieties of coffee produce fruit with multiple seeds, while others produce only one, known as Peaberry coffee. 

The Anatomy Of A Coffee Bean

A coffee bean is technically two seeds side by side. That is why there is a split running through each bean.

The outer layer of the bean, known as the parchment, is the hard shell that protects the internal seeds. Inside the parchment is the pulp, which is full of the sugars that shape the taste of the coffee.

Coffee beans are full of amino acids, the protein building blocks of our bodies. Specifically, coffee beans contain glycine, glutamic acid, and aspartic acid.

Coffee beans are also rich in vitamins and minerals, including potassium, calcium, magnesium, folate, thiamin, and riboflavin. Another reason your daily espresso is good for you.

Growing And Processing Coffee With Care

While coffee trees thrive in these specific places, growers within each region have their own special way of growing, harvesting, and processing coffee beans. Preparing coffee beans for roasting is an art form, and each region has its own traditions to ensure high-quality beans.

Typically, the coffee cherry is fermented before the seeds are extracted. Then, the seeds are removed from the fermented fruit. This can be done by hand, often with the aid of a hammer or similar tools to quickly remove the fruit. It can also be done with the use of a machine.

Once the beans are extracted, they are then dried. Depending on the climate, this can be done by laying the beans in the sun. There are also machines that are used to dry them as well.

At this stage, the coffee beans are green. Green coffee beans can be used to make beverages as well, but their taste and caffeine content make them less desirable. You might find our round-up of the best coffee roasters helpful.

Roasting Beans: A Magical Transformation

Green coffee beans are then shipped to coffee roasters. The roasting process transforms the green beans into the deep, brown beans we are accustomed to.

Green and brown coffee beans on white backgroud
The roasting process transforms the green beans into the deep, brown beans

The roasting process transforms the chemical makeup of coffee beans, enhancing the natural flavors of the coffee. Coffee gets its complex flavors from a process called the Maillard reaction. This is where heated amino acids and reduced sugars react to brown the beans – it is the process that gives all browned foods, from baked bread to seared meat, their rich flavors.

Single-Origin Coffee Vs. Coffee Blends

A majority of roasted coffee blends are made of green coffee beans from different farms and regions. Blends are chosen to give the coffee a consistent and well-rounded flavor.

However, by blending different green coffee beans, the distinct and unique flavors of each different kind of bean get lost in the mix. Many specialty coffee companies pride themselves on roasting single-origin coffees. Such quality coffees are roasted using green coffee beans imported from the same geographic region, or in some cases, from the same growers.

Single-origin coffees tend to have more complex and geographically-specific flavor profiles than blended coffees. Aspiring coffee connoisseurs will want to drink single-origin and see if they can identify the unique flavor notes of the different types of coffee.