Coffea arabica

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Related Links
C. arabica flowering flush after rain.
© David Boshier
C. arabica mature fruit ready for harvesting.
© David Boshier
Ripe yellow casturi coffee
© Trade winds fruit
Unripe coffee berries
© Trade winds fruit
Coffee orchard on Kauai, Hawaii
© Trade winds fruit
Ripe Arabica berry
© Trade winds fruit
© J.S. Peterson @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database
Here coffee is grown together with bananas under a seasonal canopy of Samanea saman that is pruned back about once per year.
© Craig Elevitch
For ease of weed control (mowing) coffee is grown in the relatively level areas, while bananas are grown on the steeper, rocky slopes.
© Craig Elevitch
Coffee plantation integrated with bananas, a candlenut windbreak, and patches of the native Hawaiian tree ohia.
© Craig Elevitch
A coffee orchard interplanted with many other fruit trees.
© Craig Elevitch
Coffee and avocados growing under a sparse canopy of the native Hawaiian tree, ohia.
© Craig Elevitch
Hair sheep used to control weeds in a coffee orchard.
© Craig Elevitch
A coffee orchard is interplanted with various trees for home use (here Citrus sp. and plumeria), along with macadamia nuts (background).
© Craig Elevitch
In Kona, Hawaii, coffee is often interplanted with macadamia nuts.
© Craig Elevitch
Coffee grows well under a sparse canopy of the native Hawaiian tree ohia.
© Craig Elevitch

Local names:
Burmese (ka-phi), Creole (kafe), Dutch (arabische Koffieboom), English (Arabian coffee,arabica coffee,Brazilian coffee,coffee tree,Abyssinian coffee), Filipino (kafe), French (caféier,café), German (Bergkaffee,arabischer Kafeeßaum,Kaffeestrauch), Indones

Coffea arabica is an evergreen, shrub or small tree, up to 5 m tall when unpruned, glabrous, with small glossy leaves.

Leaves are simple, alternate, opposite, thin, dark-green, shiny surfaced, fairly stiff; axillary and sub-axillary buds often develop into reproductive lateral branches. Leaves petiolate, sometimes bearing interpetiolar stipules. Prominent leaf midrib and lateral veins.

Flowers produced in dense clusters along reproductive branches in the axils of the leaves. White, sweet scented, star-shaped and carried on stout but short peduncles. Bracteoles united, forming a cup-shaped epicalyx at the base of the flower. There are 5 calyx segments halfway the length, spreading out very widely at the anthesis and 5 stamens inserted in the corolla tube. Anthers carried on long, slender, upright filaments. Ovary inferior, 2 united unilocular carpels, each containing a single ovule attached to the base of the carpel wall. The ovary bears a slender style, which terminates in short, pointed bifid stigmas.

Fruit a drupe; pericarp composed of shiny exocarp, fleshy mesocarp and relatively thin but tough endocarp, in which the seeds are enclosed. Immature berries dull green; on ripening the skin colour changes through yellow to bright crimson. Each berry contains 2 seeds, 8.5-12.5 mm long, ellipsoidal in shape and pressed together by flattened surface that is deeply grooved; outer surface convex. Thin, silvery testa follows outline of endosperm, so fragments are often found in ventral groove after preparation. Seeds consist mainly of green corneous endosperm, folded in a peculiar manner, and a small embryo near the base. Dried seeds, after removal of the silvery skin, provide the coffee beans of commerce.

The generic name is derived from the Arabic word used for the drink, which may have come from the region of Kefa in Ethiopia.


C. arabica thrives in a moderately humid atmosphere and prefers deep friable soil on undulating land; it is unsuited to stiff clay or sandy soils and is considered tolerant of acid soils. It thrives at 1500-2000 m or higher, ideally with rainfall 1500-2000 mm.

Native range
Ethiopia, Mozambique

Tree management

The seedlings are planted on contoured fields 2-3 m apart in 3-5 m rows. Weed control is necessary throughout the entire season. Mulches and green manure are commonly used with chemical fertilizers. Typical application consists of 175 g N, 100 g P and 175 g K per bush, the latter 2 added in 2 applications and N over a longer period (4-5 applications). Other elements are added as needed.

Shading improves leaf and shoot growth but reduces root growth; however, it may be useful when the plants are young. Done at a later stage, it may reduce yields, especially when the trees are fertilized.

Pruning has become an important maintenance operation. High productivity is directly dependent on good pruning practices.

Seed storage behaviour is intermediate. Lowest safe seed mc is 8%, unfreezable mc is 24%, viability is completely lost within 24 hours at -196 deg. C with 8% mc. Results of investigations of desiccation tolerance of 17 seed lots representing 9 cultivars received from 3 continents showed that C. arabica seeds tolerated desiccation to 7-12% mc, that is, in equilibrium with about 40-55% rh, but further desiccation reduced germination in all seed lots; moreover, viability was lost rapidly at cool (5 deg. C and 0 deg. C) and subzero temperatures (-20 deg.C) and at low moisture contents. Optimum air-dry storage environments for the maintenance of seed viability reported are ambient temperature with 10% mc, 10 deg. C with 50% rh (about 10% mc), 9 deg. C with 50% rh, 5 deg. C with 35-55% rh (about 7.5-11% mc), 10 deg. C with 10-11% mc. Excised embryos tolerated desiccation to 16.4% mc; viability was reduced to 56% and 8% on desiccation to 8.4% and 7.7% mc, respectively; no loss in viability after 1 hour’s cryostorage in liquid nitrogen with excised embryos at 16.4% mc, little loss (by 14%) in viability with excised embryos at 8.4% mc, but no excised embryos at 7.7% mc survived 1 hour in liquid nitrogen. 

There are about 3 200 seeds/kg.

C. arabica thrives in a moderately humid atmosphere and prefers deep friable soil on undulating land; it is unsuited to stiff clay or sandy soils and is considered tolerant of acid soils. It thrives at 1500-2000 m or higher, ideally with rainfall 1500-2000 mm.

Propagation is usually by seed. The viability of the seeds is comparatively short, depending upon conditions, and it is advisable to plant within 2 months of harvesting. The older the seeds, the longer they take to germinate and they lose viability. They can be planted with the parchment attached but germination is quicker when it is removed. A traditional method of planting is to put 20 seeds in holes each 3.5 x 3.5 m at the beginning of rainy season; half will be eliminated naturally. A more successful method is to raise seedlings in shaded nurseries; at 6-12 months, seedlings are planted out to the field. It has also been successfully propagated by rooting, layering, marcotting and budding. For rooting of coffee cuttings, the single leaf-bud cutting is commonly used.

Poison: C. arabica seeds contain caffeine, which has been described as a natural herbicide, selectively inhibiting germination of seeds of Amaranthus spinosus.

  Dried seeds (‘beans’) are roasted, ground, and brewed to make 1 of the 2 most popular beverages in the world. In its native Ethiopia, it has been used as a masticatory since ancient times. Cooked in butter, it can be used to make rich flat cakes. Coffee is widely used as flavouring in ice cream, pastries, candies, and liqueurs. In Arabia, a fermented drink from the pulp is consumed.

Fodder: Pulp and parchment are occasionally fed to cattle in India.

Apiculture:  Honeybees collect nectar and pollen from the flowers. The honey is light with a characteristic flavour. Mixed coffee-orange honey is very highly valued.

Timber:  Wood is hard, dense, durable, takes a polish well, and is suitable for tables, chairs and turnery.

Medicine: Reported to be analgesic, an aphrodisiac, anorexic, antidotal, cardiotonic, CNS-stimulant, counterirritant, diuretic, hypnotic, lactagogue and nervine. Coffee is a folk remedy for asthma, tropine poisoning, fever, flu, headache, jaundice, malaria, migraine, narcosis, nephrosis, opium poisoning, sores and vertigo.

Soil improver:  The pulp and parchment are used as manure and mulches. Annual litter fall from both shade and crop trees, including pruning residues, maintain soil organic matter levels and hence the cation exchange capacity; this reduces the risk of leaching losses and permits a more efficient use of any inorganic fertilizers applied.

Intercropping: C. arabica is often intercropped with food crops, such as corn, beans or rice, during the 1st few years.