Species of Coffee

Species of Coffee

There are several species of coffee shrub that produce the berries from which coffee is extracted.  The two main species that are commercially cultivated are Coffea canephora (predominantly a form known as ‘robusta’) and Coffea arabicaCoffea arabica, the original and most highly regarded species, is native to the southwestern highlands of Ethiopia and the Boma Plateau in southeastern Sudan and possibly Mount Marsabit in northern Kenya. C. canephora is native to western and central subsaharan Africa, from Guinea to the Uganda and southern Sudan. Less popular species are C. liberica, excelsa, stenophylla, mauritiana, and racemosa.

All coffee plants are classified in the large family Rubiaceae. They are evergreen shrubs or small trees that may grow 5 m (15 ft) tall when unpruned. The leaves are dark green and glossy, usually 10–15 cm (4–6 in) long and 6 cm (2.4 in) wide. The flowers are axillary, and clusters of fragrant white flowers bloom simultaneously and are followed by oval berries of about 1.5 cm (0.6 in). Green when immature, they ripen to yellow, then crimson, before turning black on drying. Each berry usually contains two seeds, but 5–10% of the berries have only one; these are called peaberries. Berries ripen in seven to nine months.

Coffea arabica is predominantly self-pollinating, and as a result the seedlings are generally uniform and vary little from their parents. In contrast, Coffea canephora, C. excelsa and C. liberica are self-incompatible and require outcrossing. This means that useful forms and hybrids must be propagated vegetatively. Cuttings, Grafting, and budding are the usual methods of vegetative propagation. On the other hand, there is great scope for experimentation in search of potential new strains.