• Two species and two processing methods


    Coffee (Coffea) is the major genus of the Rubiaceae family, which includes well over 500 genera and over 6,000 species. The genus Coffea itself comprises numerous species. Only two of them are currently of real economic importance:

    • Coffea arabica, referred to in the trade as arabica and accounting for 60%-70% of world production.
    • Coffea canephora (or Coffea robusta) called robusta in the trade and making up 30%-40% of world production.

    Two other species are traded to a very limited extent: Coffea liberica (liberica), and Coffea excelsa (excelsa).

    The share of arabica fell from about 80% of world production in the 1960s to around 60% by the turn of the century, initially because of strong growth of robusta production in Brazil and parts of Africa but more recently because of the emergence of Asia as the world's leading robusta producing region.

    The original arabica strains generally produce good liquors with acidity and flavour but they are susceptible to pests and diseases. This has led to the development of a number of different varieties that show better tolerance. Some quality purists consider that some of these varieties lack the quality characteristics that created coffee's popularity - others argue that the bottom line for many producers simply does not permit them to concentrate on just the traditional or original varieties.

    There are two main primary processing methods: the unwashed or dry process, which produces naturals, and the washed or wet process, which produces washed coffees. In the dry process the ripe cherries are dried in their entirety after which they are mechanically decorticated to produce the green bean. In the washed or wet process the ripe cherries are pulped and fermented to remove the sticky sugary coating called mucilage that adheres to the beans (this can also be done mechanically), and the beans are then washed and dried.

    There is a third process in which the ripe cherry is pulped and dried 'as is' with the mucilage still adhering to the parchment skin. Originally called semi-washed in Africa, this process is gaining importance in Brazil where it occupies a place in-between the dry and wet processes and is simply called 'pulped natural'. In other countries, for example in the Great Lakes region of Central Africa, semi-washed coffee has been (laboriously) produced for many decades using small hand pulpers.

    In all procedures the parchment skin is later removed mechanically after drying.

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