A shrub that can reach 9 to 12 metres tall, the Coffea arabica coffee bush has been cultivated for over 1,000 years. Coffea arabica was the only species of coffee bush produced until the 19th century.
The name Coffea is borrowed from the Arabic word kahwa, meaning coffee. Arabica means "from Arabia".
Description and flowering period
It is a shrub reaching from 9 to 12 meters in height. The 10cm long, glossy dark-green leaves are persistent and elliptical. The white flowers bear 5 petals. They are arranged in dense rounded clusters called glomerules which stem from leaf-nodes. The fruit is a reddish to purple drupe (fleshy pit fruit) called coffee cherry. Its pulp is sweet. It contains two seeds, facing each other, presenting the characteristic coffee bean shape.
It requires a well-drained, predominantly silty soil. It requires a sunny location yet appreciates the micro climate provided by taller surrounding trees. It is frost intolerant.
Food & drink: As a drink (coffee made from roasted beans). Arabica coffee contains less caffeine and is more sought after for its aroma than robusta coffee, which comes from another species: Coffea canephora.
Cultivated for over a thousand years, it was the only coffee species in culture until the 19th century. Nowadays, it is mostly grown in south-America (Brazil, Colombia), even though beans produced in Ethiopia remain the most sought after.
Arabica coffee is particularly at risk due to global warming: coffee leaf rust (caused by a fungus, which incurs a characteristic discolouration on the leaves and ultimately results in the plant’s premature ageing and death) as well as attacks from the coffee berry borer, a beetle that feeds on coffee beans, and whose numbers have significantly increased as a result of climate change.
Translated by: François Saint-Hillier – MNHN