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The Coffee Plant: It's Origin, Region, and Genetic Diversity

The Coffee Plant: It's Origin, Region, and Genetic Diversity

Nov 05, 2022


K.K Beckley

Did you know that coffee comes from many different parts of the world? Coffee has an African origin, but it is found in many other places around the world. Coffee plants have a long and rich history, and continue to play a big role in many different cultures. In this article you can read more about the coffee plant, it's origin, and the genetic diversity that exists among these plants.

Where did Arabica coffee come from?

The coffee plant is indigenous to Ethiopia. Coffea Arabica, more commonly known to us today as Arabica coffee, was found in approximately 850 A.D. It is believed that Ethiopian goats were the first to discover the coffee plant.

It is rumored that people noticed that their goats seemed to have more energy after they ate the berries of the Arabica coffee plant, but we do not know for sure. Some wild Arabica coffee varieties are still found today in the forests of the Rift Valley in eastern Africa.

Rift Valley Kenya

(Photo from Rift Valley in Africa)

Where did Robusta coffee come from?

Robusta coffee was found around 1870 in the Congo basin. At first, Robusta coffee was not as popular because it was less flavorful than Arabica coffee. But eventually people started to grow Robusta because it is more resistant to disease and pests than Arabica coffee and it can be grown at lower altitudes.

What is the Botanical origin of coffee?

The Rubiaceae family of plants is commonly known as the coffee, madder, or bedstraw plant. They consist mainly of trees and shrubs with simple opposite leaves that have interpetiolar stipules (which means between paired leaf stalks) along their midribs where they attach to the stem; additionally there are also plants called lianas. Lianas can sometimes be confused for vines, but these plants tend to not have true roots like other types of plants do. Lianas simply grow root-like attachments at specific points on their surface instead - this form seems more similar in function.


Any organism in the Rubiaceae family that flowers and produces coffee beans (seeds) is considered a coffee plant. What we consider today as commercial viable coffees would be divided into 2 genera, Psilanthus and Phenotype. This genus of coffee typically has two seeds in each fruit. These seeds are better known as coffee beans.

There are over 100 known species of coffea in the world, and this number is still growing. There is a variety of many different species of coffee plants, and they come from many different parts of the world.

Geographical Distribution of Coffee

The coffee plant is mainly found in central Africa, but it has been grown all around the world for commercial purposes. Distribution of coffee worldwide was originally thought to be limited only to the humid regions of Africa and certain islands in the western Indian Ocean. However, it has been found in many other areas of the world as well.

Most coffee that is grown around the world flourishes in elevations that are less then 1000 meters (3200 feet). This is because the coffee plant requires a lot of rainfall and humidity to grow. The ideal temperature for coffee growth is between 15 and 24 degrees Celsius (60 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit).

What are the different cultivated varieties of coffee?

The two most common cultivated varieties of coffee are Arabica and Robusta. These varieties can be found all around the globe in regions suitable for growing coffee, with a large distribution around equatorial areas.

 Arabica coffee makes up about 60% of the world's coffee production. Arabica coffee is known for its delicate flavor and aroma. The Arabica plant is best suited to grow in elevations of up to 800 to 2000 meters, and is grown mainly in central and southern America, Ethiopia, and Indonesia though it is even grown in many other areas such as Jamaica, Hawaii, and even in California.

Robusta coffee is not as popular as Arabica and makes up the remaining 40% of the world's coffee production. Robusta coffee is known for its strong flavor and high caffeine content, and it grows best in elevations between 500 and 1500 meters. Robusta is grown mainly in the countries of Vietnam, Indonesia, and India.

What are the different genetic varieties of coffee?

The genetics of quality is a complex and ongoing area of research. However, there are a few key biochemical determinants of coffee quality that have been identified. These include:

  • Sweetness: Higher sweetness is associated with higher quality coffee. Several compounds in coffee contribute to its sweetness, such as soluble carbohydrates, monosaccharides fructose, glucose, galactose, oligosaccharides, sucrose, raffinose, and stachyose. This is a marked advantage for Arabica over Robutsa coffee, which is not known for its sweetness.
  • Acidity: High acidity is another important flavor attribute of coffee. It contributes to the bright, fruity flavors that many coffee drinkers enjoy. However, the type and concertation of acidic compounds can be problematic to many coffee drinkers who are sensitive to the many acids found in coffee. Robusta coffee has a greater concentration of coffee acids, but its bright flavor notes are more limited than Arabica.
  • Caffeine Content: Caffeine is a bitter compound that can contribute to the overall flavor of coffee. Higher caffeine levels are found in Robusta coffee, with some varieties having 1.5 times more caffeine than the Arabica varieties.

So, what determines the sweetness, acidity, and caffeine content of coffee?

The coffee plant's genetic makeup is the primary factor, which is why Arabica coffee is more commercially preferred, especially in specialty markets. With the varieties of Arabica and Robusta, geographic and environmental factors can also have an impact.

For example, the altitude at which the coffee plant is grown will affect its sweetness, while soil type and pH can affect its acidity. Coffee is grown in a number of different soils, including volcanic loom. Annual rainfall totals and humidity can also affect the coffee's attributes. All of these factors and more have lead to the selection of Arabica and Robusta as the two most commercial viable species of coffee.


In conclusion, there are many different genetic varieties of coffee, which are affected by a variety of factors, including the plant's genetics. And coffees that are grown at high altitudes tend to have preferred "acidity" contributing to taste. However, low altitude grown coffees will have more caffeine and coffee acid concertation, which can make the coffee plant more resistant to insects but negatively affect taste.

The different genetic varieties of coffee, therefore, can have a significant impact on the flavor of the final product. This is why it is important for coffee growers and processors to carefully select the right varieties of coffee for their needs. And, it is also why coffee drinkers should be aware of the different types of coffee available to them so that they can choose the ones that best suit their taste preferences.


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