There are many interesting facts about coffee that remain unknown to the general public. Unless you're a true connoisseur or part of the coffee growing process, the "where coffee REALLY comes from" question is difficult to answer. We've included the coffee family tree, courtesy of cafe imports, to shed a little light on the many ways coffee has changed and grown. Many of these varietals are naturally occurring and some are the outcome of experiments from crazy coffee people like us.
Family: Rubiacea. This family is known as the "Coffee" or "Madder" family and has 450 genera and around 6,500 species worldwide.
Genus: Coffea. Overall, the genus has about 100 species, only a small selection of these species are used in the commercial coffee scene.
Species: arabica makes up approximately 70% of the world's coffee production. Other species not so common in specialty include Robusta, a common component of classic espresso blends. Of all of the Coffea species, only arabica is self-fertile, meaning the plant can successfully self-pollenate. The arabica species also typically have lower caffeine contents than Robusta.
Cultivar: a cultivated variety that is not normally found in the natural population and is produced by agricultural and horticultural means. Most of the varieties we know in specialty coffee are really cultivars. Bourbon and Typica are some of the most widely known cultivars.
Hybrid: Here’s where the mad scientist part comes into play. Hybrid coffees are created by crossing two species or two different forms of the same species. Selective breeding is usually the main reason for these species, however they can occur naturally. On the coffee family tree, mundo novo is a hybrid of typica and bourbon.
- Coffea can be as small as a small shrub or as tall as a medium-sized tree, depending on the species and cultivar. They can stand up to 8 meters tall. Pruning can also dwarf naturally taller varietals. Most specialty coffee is on the smaller side (canephora is one of the largest species).
- The “coffee cherry” is a two-seeded fruit. It is technicslly a stone fruit, with the seeds being the green coffee beans that we are all familiar with. There is very little pulp on the coffee cherry itself.
- Coffee beans are actually hidden underneath layers called endocarp, which coffee people call “parchment” – once the parchment is removed, the silver skin is the last membrane to be removed before getting to the two coffee seeds.