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What Are Arabica Beans?

A cup of coffee made with Arabica beans.
The Arabica coffee bean comes from the coffea Arabica plant.
Arabica coffee beans.
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  • Written By: Hillary Flynn
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 05 October 2014
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Arabica beans are actually seeds plucked from the cherries of the Coffea arabica plant and are one of the two types of beans used to produce a cup of coffee, the other type being robusta. Arabica beans have less caffeine, less acidity, more aromatic properties, and are considered to be the superior bean by many coffee drinking aficionados. This is the bean used for the more expensive specialty and gourmet coffees found in the United States. Some coffees are made with a blend of arabica and robusta beans to improve flavor while keeping costs down, but a coffee that meets the highest standards demanded will most likely be produced using 100% arabica beans.

Coffea arabica is indigenous to southwest Arabia and has been growing there for more than 1000 years. However, many varieties of the arabica bean exist and can be found growing in the subtropical and equatorial regions of Latin America and Asia, as well as Africa. Arabica beans are used in about 80% of the world's coffee production, leaving the robusta beans a much smaller 20% share of the market. This is despite the fact that robusta beans are grown on a much hardier plant, and the more delicate Coffea arabica requires very specific climatic conditions to be in place.

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When growing in subtropical regions, the Coffea arabica is planted at altitudes of 1800 - 3600 ft (548 - 1097 m), in areas with a well-defined rainy and dry season. This results in one growing season and one harvesting season per year. In equatorial regions, the plants grow best at altitudes of 3600 - 6300 ft (1097 - 1920 m), with frequent rainfall. This results in constant flowering and allows for two harvesting seasons. The higher altitudes required for arabica bean development are the reason arabica coffee is sometimes referred to as "mountain" coffee.

Growing the coffee plant is only the first step in coffee production, of course. When the coffee fruits reach maturation, they are either hand-picked or pulled from the plants with harvesting equipment. Then, from each berry, two seeds (arabica beans) are extracted. These are then pulped, fermented, and eventually dried and prepared for distribution. The final step to prepare the Arabica beans for consumption is to roast the bean. This removes moisture and changes both the structure and color of the bean to suit the tastes of the coffee drinker. Beans from each region will have a distinct flavor and aroma, and will therefore be sought after based on the preferences of the various coffee consumers.

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GiraffeEars
Post 4

@Istria- Peaberry coffee beans are the same species of bean as other coffee beans (Arabica, Robusto). When a whole coffee bean is formed, two halves will usually develop within a cherry. When the bean is husked, these two halves split and are roasted separately. This happens about 90% of the time if the bean is fertilized correctly. When only half of the bean is fertilized, the bean does not split, forming a smaller round bean referred to as a peaberry (rather than a flat berry).

Peaberries are better for roasting because they are round and roast more evenly. They are also a little denser, allowing the bean to roast evenly throughout. Peaberry coffees are often associated with Eastern Africa coffees and some Hawaiian varieties. They are sold at a premium because they are rarer and have a richer flavor.

istria
Post 3

What is the difference between a peaberry coffee and other coffees? Are peaberries Arabica beans by definition or are they a separate variety on their own?

I have always wodered this because peaberry coffee seems much more expensive than other roasts. I often find these beans in specialty coffee stores where a pound of coffee can top 40 dollars. Do peaberry coffees taste different from other coffees? Do peaberry coffees have more caffeine or less caffeine than other coffees?

Georgesplane
Post 2

@glasshouse- Coffee can grow in the United States, but it does not grow very well. The best Arabica beans grow north or south of the 10-degree altitude lines, or near the equator at high elevations. Coffee grown between 2000 and 4000 feet in elevation requires both a rainy and dry season for both maturation and flowering. Coffee grown near the equator needs higher elevation and more rain to offset the temperature difference. The result is Arabica beans grown in these higher equatorial elevations will produce two harvesting seasons per year. Robusto is more heat tolerant, and can be grown in drier hotter regions, but the result is a less flavorful coffee.

Climate and soil composition play a large role in the development of coffee plants. The United States have few locales that have suitable climate and soil, and greenhouse grown coffee would be far too energy intensive making it too expensive to grow. It is only possible to commercially produce the relatively cheap ($10 per pound) Arabica coffee beans in tropical regions.

Glasshouse
Post 1

Is it possible to grow coffee Arabica in the United States? I live in the Southern United States, and want to try to grow coffee. What kinds of conditions are required for growing coffee? Is coffee a shade plant or does it require direct sunlight? What are the water, humidity and temperature requirements for growing coffee?

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