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Coffee comes from the supermarket or, better still, directly from the coffee centre. Either ground or as whole beans. Right? Does coffee grow in the ground, on a tree, as a bush? Where are the beans hidden? What substances does coffee contain? "Don't know anything about botany?" The coffee cherry is a fruit. Its seeds are the coffee beans. This article provides an overview of botany.


Family of the Rubicaceae (red creepers)

up to 15m, but is cut back to two to three metres in coffee plantations.

over 50 years. After three years the tree bears fruit for the first time, after 20 years the yield of the plants decreases.

large, green, glossy, up to 15cm long.

white flowers that smell of jasmine. Flowering period of only a few days.

Ripens up to ten months. Cherries are ready for harvesting when they are deep red. Inside each coffee cherry there is a bean consisting of two seeds.

Special feature
the tree bears blossoms and fruit at the same time.

Temperature of 15-25°C; warmth, but no direct sunlight; not much water, but regular irrigation, no continuous rain


There are 90 different types of coffee plant. The best known are "Arabica" and "Robusta". Robusta" is a subspecies of "Coffea canephora". Coffea excelsa" and "Coffea liberica" are also represented on the world market with small shares.



Arabica coffee trees grow in the highlands between 600 and 2000 m.a.s.l. Below 600 m.a.s.l. the climatic conditions are too humid for Arabica plants. They are mainly found in Central and South America and on the African east coast. The ripening period of Arabica coffee cherries lasts seven to eight months. The cherries are usually processed using the washed method. Arabica coffee accounts for about 60% of the world market.

Arabica coffee is elegant, fine and complex. It tastes aromatic and shows a beautiful fruit acidity. But not all Arabica is the same. There are 80 subspecies of this coffee plant and not all taste the same. Well-known Arabica subspecies are "Bourbon", "Maragogype", "Typica" or hybrids like "Caturra", "Catuai", "Catimor" or "Mundo Nuovo". Specific crosses are made to enhance certain characteristics of the plants.

Arabica coffee beans have an oval, slender shape and a curved notch. They contain twice as much sugar and fat as Robusta beans, but only half as much caffeine.



The Robusta subspecies of the coffee plant grows at an altitude of up to 800 m.a.s.l. Robusta coffee is mainly cultivated in the tropical regions of Asia and Africa. The coffee berries are ripe after nine to eleven months. Robusta plants are fast-growing and high-yielding. They are sensitive to drought, but can withstand high temperatures and are resistant to diseases. The majority is processed using the unwashed method. Robustas account for about 40% of the world market.

Robusta coffee is characterised by its earthy, woody notes and caramel flavours. The smaller amounts of coffee oil compared to Arabicas result in a more stable crema during preparation. In addition, coffee blends with Robusta components have more body. These characteristics are popular in the preparation of espresso. The Robusta bean is round and has a straight notch. It contains twice as much caffeine as Arabica coffee, but only half as much sugar and fats.


There are more than 1000 different substances in the coffee bean. The exact composition of the ingredients varies depending on the variety, vintage, origin, growth conditions and roasting process. The most prominent ingredient is certainly caffeine (alkaloid). Carbohydrates, fats, water, proteins, acids, minerals and flavourings are other important substances.

Carbohydrates make up the largest proportion of the coffee bean by weight. During roasting, the compounds are transformed or disappear completely. What remains are water-insoluble polysaccharides.

Glucose, sucrose and proteins also disappear during roasting. The water content shrinks from about ten to twelve percent in green coffee to one to five percent in the roasted bean.

Fats and oils are important flavour carriers. Coffee beans contain more than 80 different lipids. The fat content of Arabica beans is higher than that of Robusta beans, which can be seen in the crema. The crema of Robusta coffee is more voluminous. The high proportion of fats and oils is also the reason for the limited shelf life of coffee.

So far, more than 800 aromatic substances have been identified in coffee. Researchers are constantly looking for new aromas, but the field of bitter substances is still largely unexplored.

Acidity is important for flavour. The proportion of four to twelve percent in green coffee decreases continuously during roasting. The most important acid in coffee is chlorogenic acid. Other acids are linoleic acid, palmitic acid, acetic acid, citric acid, malic acid and oxalic acid.

The soil of origin is relevant for the minerals in coffee. Water-soluble substances such as potassium, calcium and magnesium are contained in coffee.