As you may have guessed, Arabica coffee gets its name from Arabia, the land of kings. When it comes to coffee, Arabica is definitely king. As legend has it, a goat herd named Kaldi discovered coffee on the Arabian peninsula around 500-600 A.D. He observed his goats excited behavior after eating the red cherry-like berries of a coffee plant.
Hence the name Arabica, however, scientific evidence indicates that coffee first grew in Kaffa, what is now Ethiopia, in Northeastern Africa and was transported shortly afterwards across the mouth of the Red Sea to Yemen.
One could assume that the name coffee comes from the word Kaffa which would support the evidence that coffee first appeared in this region. Semantics aside, it is accepted that Arabia was the origin of commercial coffee trade so Arabica coffee is appropriately named.
Of the more than forty species of plants in the Coffea genus only two are suitable for making coffee, Coffea arabica and Coffea canephora the latter of which is more commonly known as Coffea robusta. Of the two, Arabica is definitely the premium bean.
Many factors determine the quality of the end product. Such as, where the coffee is grown, soil, climate and elevation, not to mention harvesting, processing and roasting of the mature beans. However, one fact is undisputed, the finest coffees in the world come from Arabica coffee plants.
Arabica coffee accounts for about 80% of all coffee produced in the world. It prefers higher elevations and drier climates than its cousin C. robusta.
The tropics of South America provide ideal conditions for growing Arabica coffee which grows best between 3,000 and 6,500 feet but has been grown as high as 9,000 feet. Generally, the higher the plant is grown the slower it matures. This gives it time to develop the internal elements and oils that give coffee its aromatic flavor.
Within the C. arabica species there are three main varietals; Typica, Bourbon and Caturra. Each has subtle differences that add character nuances to body, acidity, balance etc? that are detectable to the discerning palate.
More importantly, the sub-species of Arabica coffee have been bred to adapt to a specific growing region to be resistant to certain afflictions such as fungus, parasites, insects etc? that differ from region to region.
Interestingly, C. arabica, is self-pollinating as opposed to C. robusta, which is not. This might explain why Arabica coffee is more abundant throughout the world. Also why it does well at higher elevations where bees might be less active due to cooler temperatures and why Robusta prefers lower, hotter, climates where bees are more plentiful. Just a theory but food for thought.
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