Where Does Coffee Come From?

green coffee beans

The Origin of Coffee – Botanical and Historical Profile

Although many people are familiar with a morning cup of coffee, many are not so familiar with where coffee actually comes from; coffee is a complicated plant species to classify and botanists still debate today as to where coffee “fits in” in the plant classification system. However, one factor is in agreement – coffee is today one of the world’s most popular commodities.

Botanical Profile of Coffee

Coffee belongs to the Coffea genus and is a member of the Rubiaceae plant family. The Coffea genus includes many plant species such as Coffea arabica, Coffea liberica and Coffea canephora. The Coffea species is usually an evergreen bush or tree that grows to a height of between 16 and 30 feet; Coffea arabica has a gray colored bark, with shiny, dark green leaves and aromatic white flowers. Coffee is extracted from the coffee seed, more commonly known as the coffee bean. Other species of coffee vary in leaf color and other botanical features.

The Ecology of Coffee

Coffee was originally native to the countries of Africa but it is now cultivated in many corners of the world including several countries in Central and South America (for example, Costa Rica and Brazil), Hawaii and parts of Asia. Coffee is a tropical plant which requires certain ecological factors to survive; these include water, the right temperature, wind factor, soil quality and sun light. Altitude levels also effect the success of coffee cultivation; this varies depending on the type of coffee species.

Types of Coffee

There are many types of coffee species; popular coffee species include:

  • Coffea arabica (Arabian coffee) – includes bourbon, tico, Jamaican blue mountain, mundo novo; cultivated predominately in Latin America, Indonesia, East Africa and Central Africa
  • Coffea liberica (Liberica coffee) – predominately cultivated in West Africa and Malaysia
  • Coffea canephora (Robusta coffee) – predominately cultivated in South East Asia, Central Africa and West Africa.

The Early Origins of Coffee

It is widely believed that coffee has its origins in the province of Kaffa in Ethiopia; although the actual date of the discovery of coffee is not reliably recorded, coffee was being cultivated in Yemen in the 15th century (and probably before). The Arabs tried to stop coffee beans from exportation to other countries but eventually the Dutch were successful in “exporting” coffee beans to Holland in 1616; the exportation of coffee then spread to the Dutch colonies in Indonesia.

The Introduction of Coffee into Europe and America

The coffee trade began in Europe in 1615 through Venetian traders and Venice opened the first European coffeehouse in 1623; the exportation of coffee into Europe followed chocolate and tea. The use of coffee is first recorded in America in 1668 but it wasn’t until the 1720’s that coffee cultivation began in the Americas. Coffee cultivation was introduced to Martinique by the French, to Jamaica by the British and to Central and South America by the Dutch. Today, North America is the largest consumer of coffee.

The Importance of Coffee

Coffee is cultivated and farmed throughout the world and is crucial to the survival of many developing countries. Coffee has both risks and health benefits; in addition, some coffee farming methods have benefits ecologically. Coffee is one of the world’s most popular, and legal, “drugs” with approximately four out of five Americans drinking coffee each day.


  • International Coffee Organization, 22 Berners Street, London, England
  • Coffea arabica, 

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