The coffee plant is an evergreen shrub, classified under the genus Coffea, and part of the botanical family Rubiaceae. There are several species of Coffea, the finest quality being Arabica, which today represents 59% of the world’s coffee production.
Arabica originated in the highlands of Ethiopia. It is sensitive to hot and humid conditions, and grows at altitudes of 1.25-1.55 miles. Arabica grown at higher altitudes is associated with the emergence of higher quality characteristics during roasting.
Since Coffea grows in tropical and equatorial regions where it is always spring or summer, it’s not a change of climate, but rather the beginning of the rainy season that triggers Arabica plants to flower, fragrant and white. Eight or nine months after flowering comes the fruit: deep red, shiny and plump like cherries, each containing two Arabica seeds, or beans.
With rain, the fruit flourishes, and a careful harvesting process begins. Since ripe and unripe fruit can occupy the same plant, precision harvesting is critical.
The coffee bean is actually the seed of the coffee plant, found inside a red fruit often called the cherry. Each cherry contains two seeds (beans) surrounded by a membrane called the parchment, and a layer of sweet pulp. Arabica beans are fairly flat and elongated, with a sinuous groove.
Genetically Arabica is the only species with 44 chromosomes of Coffea. Chemically, Arabica’s caffeine content varies from 0.9 to 1.7% of each bean’s volume.
In the cup, a well-prepared espresso borne of exclusively high-quality Arabica is beautifully fragrant, sweet and round, with a slight and pleasant acidity, often chocolaty, with an aftertaste of caramel and just a mild hint of bitterness.
The rich, creamy layer on top, or crema, should have a light reddish brown hue, unbroken and painted with tiger-like stripes.