Coffee grows best near the equator in the "Bean Belt" which lies between the Tropics of Capricorn and Cancer. (Image: National Geographic)
Coffee is grown primarily in the Southern Hemisphere of the world, which provides ideal weather and geology for coffee plants to thrive in. South America, in particular, grows a substantial amount of coffee. For example, in 2007, Brazil produced 2,249,010 tonnes of coffee, which more than doubled the second highest producer that year, Vietnam (which produced 961,200 tonnes). Colombia and Indonesia are the two other big growers, having produced 697,377 and 676,475 tonnes, respectively, in the same year.
Coffee growing generally begins by planting coffee seeds (better known as coffee beans). The classic method involves burying 20 seeds in each hole at the start of the rainy season. About half of the seeds will be eliminated naturally, but others will grow into coffee plants. During the first few years of its cultivation, coffee will sometimes be intercropped with other types of crops, such as corn or beans; when the coffee plants become substantial enough, they will justify having their own land.
There are two commonly cultivated species of the coffee plant. They are Coffea canephora (C. canephora) and Coffea arabica (C. arabica). The more popular one is C. arabica, which is considered more suitable for drinking. C. canephora produces a coffee called robusta coffee, which is bitter and less flavourful than C. arabica coffee. However, it does have a better body. Nonetheless, about three-quarters of coffee cultivated around the world come from C. arabica coffee plants.
That being said, C. canephora is more resistant to diseases than C. arabica. Consequently, C. canephora can be cultivated in areas where C. arabica would grow poorly.
Robusta coffee is commonly used as a cheaper substitute for C. arabica coffee. It is used in a lot of commercial coffee blends. Part of the reason robusta coffee is cheaper to make is because it can be used more sparingly; it contains approximately 40 to 50 per cent more caffeine than C. arabica. That being said, not all robustas end up in cheap coffee. High quality robustas are often used in espresso blends. The result is a more full-bodied coffee with a better foam head.
Robusta coffee beans are usually grown in western and central Africa, Southeast Asia, and Brazil. C. arabica coffee beans, on the other hand, generally come from Latin America, Asia, eastern Africa, or Arabia. Depending on which region the bean comes from, it will have different characters that alter the coffee it would produce; region can be responsible for body type, flavor, aroma, acidity, and more. For this reason, different types of coffee are usually named after the region they come from (for example, Colombian coffee). That being said, processing and the subspecies of the coffee plant also have an affect on these traits.
So as you can see, how and where coffee is grown has a huge impact on the final product—that is, the coffee you drink. Keep this in mind the next time you order your coffee. Figure out which region’s blend is for you. A bit of research will tell you what to expect.