Many of us won’t even consider starting the day without our daily jolt of coffee.
For centuries, people all over the world and from all walks of life have enjoyed sipping this tasty, caffeinated beverage. But coffee is more than a simple drink. Its social aspect throughout history cannot be denied. Sipping a cup of coffee is a ritualistic experience for some. Coffee houses throughout the ages have provided a place for people to share art, poetry, music, politics and simple camaraderie.
Coffee, which has been sipped by kings and peasants alike, got its humble start in the mountains of Ethiopia.
In the Beginning
The origins of global coffee growing can be traced to the Horn of Africa. This is also where the beverage was first enjoyed. Coffee trees originated in the Ethiopian province of Kaffa.
From there, coffee made its way to the Middle East. By the 15th century, coffee was being cultivated in Yemen. And in 1616 the Dutch brought live coffee plants back to the Netherlands to grow in greenhouses. It quickly spread to the rest of Europe, and as they say, the rest is history.
Today, coffee is grown in 53 countries around the world—all of them near the equator, including several on the African continent. Coffee plants need lots of sunshine and moderate rainfall to thrive.
There are essentially two different varieties of coffee—Arabica and Robusta. Gourmet coffee comes from Arabica beans, while Robusta beans are typically used in instant coffees.
Arabica beans come from the plant, Coffea Arabica, which was originally found in the mountains of the southwestern highlands of Ethiopia. Coffea Arabica accounts for 75-80% of the world’s coffee production.
Arabica beans generally grow at altitudes between 450-1800 meters (1500-6000 feet). They can’t handle any frost. The plant has lush, shiny green leaves, with an open branching system. Cultivated plants are usually trimmed, but a wild coffee plant can grow 9-12 meters (29-39 ft) tall.
A mature coffee plant will produce around 2,000 coffee cherries a year, which will yield enough beans for half a kilo (one pound) of roasted coffee. The plant will continue to produce coffee beans for about 15 years.
African Coffee Countries:
Some of the best coffee in the world comes from the African continent. Talk to any coffee connoisseur around the world, and they’ll likely sing the praises of many African coffees.
Ethiopia is still the powerhouse of Africa when it comes to coffee. Ethiopian coffee comprises 3% of the global coffee market, and a staggering 60% of Ethiopia’s foreign income comes from coffee. It’s estimated that 15 million people in Ethiopia depend on coffee production for some part of their livelihood.
Kenya is also well-respected for its coffee beans. Kenyan coffee is known for its bright acidity, its sweetness and a dry wine after taste.
Kenyan coffee is mainly produced by small cooperatives. Auctions are held in Nairobi each Tuesday during the harvest season. Competition can be fierce.
Uganda is also a major coffee growing country. But unlike Ethiopia and Kenya, Uganda focuses its efforts on producing the hardy robusta bean. Compared to Arabica beans, robusta beans are cheaper and easier to farm.
Coffee makes up 95% of Uganda’s exports. 300,000 farmers grow coffee in Uganda, so it’s essential to the country’s well-being.
Written by Penny Baldwin-French.