What is a coffee bean? Why do the plants grow them?
The coffee bean is the seed of the coffee plant. This seed is contained in a nutrient rich fruit, the cotyledon, commonly referred to as a coffee cherry.
The caffeine contained in the bean and cherry act as a natural and quite effective defense mechanism against pests. Healthy plants produce abundant and healthy offspring (in the case of a plant, the fruit and seed). In order to produce the best possible coffee, the plant must be healthy enough to devote energy and nutrients to the reproductive process.
This is the goal of every farmer—optimally matching the seed, the environment, and the agricultural management to provide the nutrients and environment required by the plant. In turn, the plant is then able to dedicate nutrients and energy to the production of the seed and fruit of the next generation.
There is a direct relationship between how much energy the plant dedicates to this reproductive process and the quality and yield of coffee harvested.
The Seed: Two types of coffee plant species permeate the consumer coffee industry. Coffea arabica - lighter, smoother, more flavorful; and Coffea robusta - harsher, higher caffeine, higher crop yield, lower price. Rather than use the higher yield, lower priced Robusta type coffee commonly found in instant coffees and as filler in lower quality coffee blends. All SyH Coffee beans are Arabica. Arabica beans are superior in flavor and are the only coffee species that meets our strict quality requirements.
The table below shows the compositional differences between the two plant species.
Within the species of Arabica coffee there are a multitude of cultivars, or cultivated strains. These cultivated strains are selectively bred for their crop quality, yields, resistance to diseases, resistance to pests, and water consumption in their specific growing region and environmental conditions.
Many small coffee farmers in developing countries select seeds from plants that have previously had the best yields with little or no consideration of soil nutrient capability, or blight resistance. The consequence is widespread crop death or soil exhaustion that can be devastating for subsistence level families, depending on the seasonal crop for their livelihood. SyH Coffee is proud to support local educational foundations that are teaching community farmers about sustainable agronomic strategies and risks.
All of this is to say that seed selection is important in growing sustainable high quality coffee.
Still want to learn more? Keep reading at Coffee Agriculture Science Level: Expert