They are a little sensitive, and in order to flower, thrive and bear the fruits whose seeds will ultimately find their way into our cup, they need to feel comfortable – and this over the course of many years.
Coffee drinkers know exactly how they want their coffee: with or without milk, sweetened or iced, as an espresso or as filter coffee. And the same goes for the coffee plant itself, which has a very clear idea about how warm it needs to be, the soil it wants to grow in and how much rain is just right.
Fancy growing some coffee? Not in our latitudes
In commercial terms, the world’s biggest coffee varieties are Arabica and Robusta or, as the biologists and coffee aficionados would say: Coffea arabica and Coffea canephora. Although both varieties move on to various locations when the time comes, their journey begins at the same source – in the plant nursery.
Here, the seedlings or cuttings take around nine months to grow into an impressive young shrub and, bearing 12 to 16 leaves, they leave the nursery and go their own way. For the more robust Canephora, this generally means relocation to a plantation with high sunlight levels at altitudes of up to 900 metres above sea level, while the more sensitive Arabica feels much more at home in semi-shade at altitudes of between 900 and 2,000 metres above sea level. It will take no fewer than three to five years of care and watering for the plant to produce its first flowers. These flowers are extremely important, as they will go on to develop into coffee cherries – whose two seeds are later to become the coffee beans themselves. So much effort for just two small seeds!
The coffee plant makes cultivation a true balancing act
But what does it take to ensure a good harvest? As far as the coffee plant is concerned, a little bit of everything. The Arabica plant grows best in high altitudes in a balanced climate with temperatures around 15°C. The Canephora plant, on the other hand, is a little tougher, and prefers warmer temperatures of around 24°C to 30°C. Neither of the varieties likes frost, so night temperatures should not fall below 12°C. In addition to this, both plants do best in semi-shade with a light and pleasant breeze. Precipitation is also an essential factor in the ripening process of the coffee cherries. Ideally, there will be more than one period of rain per year, but here again, it’s all about finding a happy medium. Too little rain is just as bad for the harvest as too much rain.
Around the equator is just right
It soon becomes clear that the coffee plant is a demanding one, but there is an area that meets all the requirements: the coffee belt, comprising all of the countries near the equator. They offer everything it takes to ensure optimal cultivation. Each of these coffee countries, or rather each of the various regions within them, has its own individual conditions, however. The location dictates the type of plantation, the type of care needed and the harvesting period. Some regions need to handle longer dry periods with artificial irrigation, some are required to build terraced plantations to tackle soil erosion and others have to fight bacteria that make some of the beans smell and taste like raw potatoes – a problem known as the potato defect.
The region dictates the approach and the flavour profile of the beans
Cultivation is influenced not only by geographical conditions, but also by the political and economic situation of a country. While coffee farmers in Colombia receive generous subsidies for their work, for example, those in Burundi can’t even afford the fertiliser they need. We at Café Royal source our coffee exclusively from UTZ-certified coffee farmers and cooperatives, striving to maintain stable and lasting partnerships with a view to improving working and growing conditions over the long term.
But however varied the growing conditions, all of the countries have one thing in common: they all want to make these sensitive plants as comfortable as possible, and always find a solution for doing so. The type of coffee cultivation with the relevant conditions is just one of the many factors that make every coffee variety unique. And this is exactly how it should be.