Where do coffee beans come from? An extensive guide into the growing and processing of the evergreen Coffea plant that produces coffee beans.

Where Do Coffee Beans Come From?

Coffee beans are found inside the fruit of the Coffea plant. There are many different varieties of coffee plant, however there are 4 main species (Coffea Robusta, Arabica, Liberica and Excelsea) that produce the most popular coffee beans. Each type coffea plant forms a flower and a cherry and inside each cherry is a seed (or 2) which we then process into the bean we use to make coffee.

How Coffee Plants Grow

How Coffee Plants Grow 

A coffee plant takes around 3-5 years to grow . The point at which you pick the cherry and begin the processing can greatly affect the flavor profile of the coffee you create. Once the plant has bloomed and cherries have begun to grow they will change from a light green, to green, red, then finally dark red.

The flower

The sweet jasmine-like flower of a coffee plant serves little purpose except to produce the cherry and “seed” that would later drop onto the ground and pollinate the plant.

Although the caffeine that coffee beans contain is the entire reason we grow coffea on a global scale, it is in fact a byproduct of the actual plant. Its original purpose in nature was not to produce the caffeine kick we seek but to maintain its survival. The caffeine created acts as an insecticide to protect the plant from being eaten. Drugging those that ingested it!

The cherry

Cherries grow in groups, bunched up on the branches of the coffea plant. Inside each cherry is a soft and fleshy fruit called mucilage wrapped around a central coffee bean. Underneath the mucilage is a parchment protecting the bean and inside that a thin layer of silverskin. Leaving these outer layers intact during processing can add a honey-like taste to the coffee layer produced.

Types Of Coffee Plant

All coffee plants have a similar structure and appearance as they originate from the same plant family known as Rubiaceae. Most closely associated with coffea robusta (also known as coffea canephora) the Rubiaceae family contains over 125 different species but only 2 breeds produce the majority of the coffee we drink – Robusta and Arabica.

Other plants like the Coffea Liberica and Excelsea produce popular beans in some small areas of the world but because of issues with quality and yield (number of cherries produced per plant) they aren’t sold on as large a scale.


Arabica beans contain approximately half the caffeine of a Robusta plant and also produce a 50% lower yield. However, they often respond very well to high altitudes, and some of the highest quality coffees ever created have been harvested from an Arabica plant. Because of this, they are regular winners of the “Cup of Excellence” competition. With it said they have a fruity aroma and sweet taste. The beans can be identified by their elongated shape and curved crease.


Coffea Robusta are considered easier to grow as the plant is more disease resistant and produces a higher yield, but this unfortunately seems to result in a lower quality coffee. However, similarly the Robusta plant responds well to high altitudes and this can create some highly competitive coffee beans. With many enjoying the earthy aroma and strong, often bitter taste. The robust nature of this plant also makes it popular when cross-breeding coffea plants. You can spot Robusta beans by their round shape and straight crease.

Find out more about the main 4 different types of coffee beans used in cafes across the world.

Where Do Coffee Beans Grow

Where Do Coffee Beans Grow?

Coffee plants ideally grow in what’s known as the “coffee belt“, which lies between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. 

The Origin Of Coffee

Ethiopia, in East Africa is believed to be the original home of the coffee plant. With Coffea arabica, said to have been discovered here around the 9th century, in an area known as Kaffa – from which the word “coffee” derives. It grew naturally in the highland rainforests, and the local people began to recognize and utilize its stimulating properties.

The Ideal Environment

The ‘coffee belt’ includes parts of Central and South America, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. These areas provide the optimal conditions for coffee cultivation: rich soil, proper altitude (usually between 2,000 and 6,000 feet), and a climate that is neither too hot nor too cold, with temperatures typically between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit (15-24 degrees Celsius). A stable climate with no frost and a distinct wet and dry season is also crucial for coffee plants.

The Biggest Producers

Brazil produces about a third of the world’s coffee making it largest coffee producer in the world. This is due to the country’s vast suitable land area within the coffee belt and the appropriate climate conditions. The second largest producer is Vietnam, which primarily grows the Robusta variety of coffee bean. These two countries are followed by Colombia, which is known for its high-quality Arabica beans, and then Ethiopia and Honduras.

Where do coffee beans come from that we buy in store?

When combing through the coffee on the shelves it may be confusing trying to choose which one will taste “best” but if you are interested in trying a range from different regions here’s what you might expect to find:

  • Bolivia: Arabica
  • Brazil: Both Arabica and Robusta are grown, but Arabica is more predominant.
  • Costa Rica: Arabica
  • Colombia: Arabica
  • Democratic Republic of Congo: Robusta
  • Ethiopia: Arabica
  • Guatemala: Arabica
  • Indonesia: Both Arabica and Robusta are grown, but Robusta is more common.
  • Kenya: Arabica
  • Rwanda: Arabica
  • Timor: Arabica and a hybrid called Timor Hybrid or Hibrido de Timor.
  • Uganda: Both Arabica and Robusta are grown, but Robusta is more common.
  • Vietnam: Robusta
How Are Coffee Beans Processed

How Are Coffee Beans Processed?

Coffee processes result in green coffee beans ready for roasting. The choice between wet and dry processing depends on several factors, including local conditions, available resources, and the flavor profile the producer wants to achieve. Once the Coffea plant is grown, prior to processing, only ripe cherries are harvested – either by hand or mechanically.

Wet Process (AKA Washed Process)

  1. Depulping: The harvested cherries are quickly passed through a depulping machine, which removes the outer skin and pulp, leaving the coffee bean encased in its mucilage.
  2. Fermentation: The beans are then placed in fermentation tanks for 12 to 48 hours to allow natural enzymes to break down the mucilage. This can vary depending on environmental factors and the desired flavor profile.
  3. Washing: The beans are thoroughly washed to remove the remaining mucilage.
  4. Drying: The coffee is then dried to about 10-12% moisture content, either in the sun or by mechanical dryers.
  5. Milling: The parchment layer (endocarp) is removed in a hulling machine, revealing the green coffee bean.
  6. Grading and Sorting: Beans are sorted by size, weight, and color. Any defective beans are removed.

Dry Process (AKA Natural Process)

  1. Drying: The harvested cherries are spread out in the sun to dry for about 2-4 weeks. They are regularly turned to ensure even drying.
  2. Milling: Once the cherries reach the desired dryness (about 11% moisture content), they are hulled to remove the dried skin and pulp, revealing the green coffee bean.
  3. Grading and Sorting: The beans are sorted by size, weight, and color, and defective beans are removed.