Have you ever wondered where your coffee comes from? It turns out that coffee plants / coffee trees only grow in particular areas, and almost all of the world's coffee is produced in the tropics.
The coffee plant grows specifically between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. Usually, it is grown in mountainous areas, but the one exception is the coffee grown in the flat lands of Brazil due to machine harvesting.
Today I'll take you through the specifics of where coffee grows and why it flourishes in those specific areas. Let's get started!
What Climate Does Coffee Grow In?
Wondering what climate coffee grows in?
Coffee is known as a tropical plant, and as it turns out, all coffee plants are grown in the Tropics, specifically between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. In layperson's terms, it grows in South America, Indonesia, and Ethiopia for the most part.
The reason for this is that the equator runs straight through these locations.
Moreover, many of these countries are full of mountains, making it the perfect location to grow coffee. The tropical regions along the equator have so many coffee plants growing there that they've become known as the "The Bean Belt."
Therefore, it’s safe to say that coffee usually grows in tropical climates, both cool or warm (in relation to other tropical locations).
The optimal temperature for coffee bean growth is around 64 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit (18 to 21 degrees Celsius).
Coffee plants flourish in higher elevations but must maintain their warmth. They tend to be very finicky plants, demanding to be grown in specific locations to produce the delicious coffee cherry (coffee fruit) that eventually turns into our delicious morning cup of coffee.
Ideally, coffee plants, which some refer to as a small tree, should be grown at an elevation of between 4,265 and 4,593 feet (1,300 and 1,400 meters) above sea level.
This is because the climate alternates between hot and cold at these elevations.
While coffee plants prefer warmer weather, they also need cooler weather to flourish.
The shock factor the plants' experience in the cooler evenings causes them to produce the natural chemicals we associate with delicious coffee. This includes the acids, aromatic compounds, and sugars within the beans.
How Much Does Climate Affect the Taste of the Coffee?
Climate enormously affects how the coffee ends up tasting as a final product.
Amazingly, even plants that are grown only a few feet away from each other can taste vastly different - all due to a slightly different climate.
The heat, humidity level, amount of rainfall, elevation, and soil quality drastically affect how the coffee tastes.
These are all included in the concept of the climate of the coffee plants.
So, how does this work? Let’s look at an example of what could happen.
Let's say one coffee plant is sitting on the downhill slope of a mountain while another sits about ten feet away higher up on the slope. The rain travels downward and pools near the lower coffee plant when it rains.
Let's also say that this coffee plant receives slightly less sun than the plant on the higher slope.
Because it receives does not receive as much direct sunlight, it also experiences slightly cooler temperatures. Now let’s examine the flavor of the two plants.
The plant that was higher up on the slope may have a slightly more acidic taste than the one on the lower slope because of the amount of sun exposure it received.
On the other hand, the plant that was lower on the slope may have more natural sugars because it received more rainfall to nourish it.
So, does climate matter?
The answer is a resounding yes!
In fact, climate matters more than any other factor in growing the coffee plant. It's an essential part of the growth process, and if coffee plants aren't cultivated in a suitable climate, you're sure to end up with an unpleasant experience in your morning coffee.
Coffee plant care and the right conditions matter in providing the best chance for good coffee.
RELATED: Why Some Coffee Tastes Nutty
Brazil: A Different Coffee Climate
While almost all coffee is grown in the mountainous areas of the world, one big exception lies in the country of Brazil. In this country, coffee is grown in massive quantities on flat land so that it can be harvested by machinery instead of by hand.
Heavy machinery cannot be brought into the mountains because it can’t navigate over the hills and through the valleys.
For this reason, all coffee cherries grown in higher elevations must be harvested by hand.
This takes a lot of manpower and a lot of time. In some locations, coffee pickers have been extraordinarily difficult to find, which has threatened coffee production.
With that in mind, coffee manufacturers have had to switch to a different idea.
A few years ago, they began to try to grow coffee in the flatlands of Brazil. This was done so that they could bring in machinery that could help to harvest the coffee berries, similar to how blueberries are harvested.
When the coffee cherries are ready to be harvested, a massive machine comes through and rakes the cherries off of the plant.
Afterward, it deposits them into a collection pan where they can later be sorted, and the beans are removed from the fruit.
All in all, while this is a more straightforward method to harvest cherries, coffee plants produce significantly better beans when they are grown in higher elevations.
While growing the plants in lower tropical elevations is necessary due to supply and demand, many people are explicitly buying coffee grown in higher elevations.
Is the Coffee Belt Being Threatened?
One of the more significant concerns as coffee has become increasingly popular is that the locations where it's most often grown are being threatened.
Unfortunately, this is precisely what's been happening.
The threat has been so significant that coffee manufacturers worldwide have been experimenting with various hybrid coffee plants that will grow in other conditions besides the Tropics.
While scientists have been able to create some plants that are flourishing in lower and colder elevations, there's still a lot of concern.
Coffee-growing regions are going downhill primarily because of the number of nutrients being pulled from the soil due to the constant demand for more coffee.
Soil needs to be able to recover after it grows various plants.
This idea can be seen in many cultures and timelines. One example is the ancient Israelites, who would allow the land to rest every seven years.
During this time, they wouldn't plant anything new. Instead, they would allow the land to completely rest and recover many of the nutrients that were taken from it.
The Israelites had the right idea, as land that is stripped of nutrients from too much growth appears to refuse to continue to grow quality plants.
This is no surprise since coffee plants need many nutrients to thrive.
Now, as the soil diminishes in nutrients, coffee producers all over the world are scrambling to try to create plants that can grow in colder conditions so that the land can have the nutrients restored.
Usually, when soil is as stripped of nutrients as many of our coffee-growing regions, it will need about five years to recover completely.
This process can be quickened by adding nitrogen-producing plants to the soil and allowing the fruit to fall to the ground and decompose for a few years.
What Are Hybrid Coffee Plants and Where Do They Grow?
Hybrid coffee plants are essentially just two coffee plants with their genes scientifically edited to produce a new kind of plant. The plants may also be mixed with other species to produce a new plant that grows better in different climates.
For example, the new H1 and H3 currently being commercialized are a crossbreed between two Arabica coffee plants.
The plants were taken from almost entirely different environments. Once the genes of the plants were combined, it produced a new plant that could thrive in both types of environments.
The new plants are created by taking plant tissue from both plants.
This is usually found in the leaves of plants. It can be comparable to taking a skin sample from a human or animal. Once the samples are taken, they're placed in a controlled environment where the tissue can begin to multiply in cells.
Once those cells reach a particular maturity, the plants are given various hormone dosages until they begin to generate a seedling. The seedling begins to grow, and you end up with an entirely new type of coffee plant.
Check out this helpful article for more information on how this whole process works.
So, where can these hybrid coffee plants grow?
Usually, hybrid plants can grow in a multitude of locations.
Rather than being confined to extreme tropical environments or specific elevations, the new coffee plants can grow in temperate climates and flat lands. The best part is that they still produce the same quality of beans.
While nothing can compare to the tasty treats that grow fresh in the mountaintops of the Tropics, if the trend continues as it has been, we may eventually only be left with the option of hybrid coffee plants.
Coffee plants are fickle and usually only grow in the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. In other words, they enjoy growing along the equator. When coffee plants are placed outside of this range, they usually produce bitter fruit and, in turn, terrible coffee with a bitter taste.
While The Coffee Belt is slowly diminishing, measures are being taken to produce hybrid coffee plants that will grow in many environments. The good news is some of these have already been produced and are flourishing.
However, despite our best efforts, the best coffee will likely still be grown in the high mountains of the tropics.
Coffee farms require very specific environmental conditions. Without these ideal conditions (i.e., higher altitudes, acidic soil, the right amount of heat and sunlight, etc.), it is difficult to produce quality coffee with a delicious taste. So, in short, coffee can not grow anywhere with the expectation of good coffee.
US coffee lovers and coffee connoisseurs will be glad to know that coffee does grow in the United States. Hawaii is known for Kona coffee, primarily grown on the Big Island. Note due to the need for high humidity and various other specific climate requirements, few locations work well for growing coffee outside of the equatorial zone.
Indoor plants can be grown, but require very specific care and good drainage, avoiding full sunlight. Indirect light or filtered light is thought to be best for the growth of an Arabica coffee plant.
Consult your local greenhouse to see if they have more specific growing instructions. They will likely suggest you invest in a deep pot with good drainage holes and provide more instruction on how much sunlight the new coffee plant requires.
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