Farms & Plantations
Coffee beans are currently grown on plantations in more than 70 countries. Most Australian coffees are sourced from coffee farms in different countries where the environmental conditions make for a good quality plant. Generally speaking, the closer to the equator, the better the plant.
The best coffee beans are found on farms with very rich but porous soil, from areas with steady temperatures of around 20ºC. Temperatures can vary from anywhere between 15-25ºC and still remain healthy; even the slightest frost can kill an entire crop.
Technically, the coffee bean isn’t actually a bean, it’s a seed that’s found inside a fruit that grows on certain trees. Coffee trees are normally pruned to 2m shrubs on plantations, which also encourages lateral branching. This means plantations are able to garner a high yield of plants to make the most of their limited space. It takes around five years before a planted tree will yield its first fruit. Even then, it may not be ready to harvest until up to nine months after it flowers, and most trees will only grow a crop of about 1kg in their lifetime. One kilogram of coffee is usually equal to about 2,000 individual beans.
The beans found on coffee trees are normally mutations of the Arabica or Robusta varieties. Arabicas produce about 70% of the worldwide harvest, with Robustas responsible for the rest. The country that produces the most coffee beans is Brazil, where a third of all coffee beans come from. Arabicas and Robustas are native there and have been since Brazilian coffee farms first started in the early 18th century. In Brazil, and in other big producers such as Colombia and Indonesia, coffee is a commodity that benefits the economy greatly. In several countries, the monetary value of coffee exports even outweighs the value of oil.
Since several coffee plants grow best at high altitudes, transporting harvesting machinery up steep hills is impractical. Most plantations employ farmers instead to hand-pick coffee beans off the plants, with workers having to know which beans to throw away and which ones to keep.
The coffee plants need to be watered as often as possible in order to keep the soil moist and require effective drainage to stop the soil from getting too damp. The soil on a plantation needs to be replenished with a balanced fertiliser every 2-3 months to keep the plants healthy, particularly in spring and summer when the plants tend to struggle through the heat.
Once the cherry containing the seed turns a bright red colour, workers harvest the cherries before they are processed.