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Coffee was first discovered in Arabia about twelve hundred years ago and was subsequently brought to the western hemisphere where Brazil produces by far the largest amount of coffee in the world.
Varieties. The coffee of commerce consists of the seeds or beans of several species of trees or shrubs, chiefly of COFFEA ARABICA, which, if allowed to grow, can attain the height of 7 to 9 meters but in cultivation, it is usually kept down to a height of 2.4 meters. COFFEA ROBUSTA is a disease-resisting variety but is inferior in quality. However, COFFEA ARABICA dominates the world trade. The berries of the plant contain two beans each. After the harvest beans are separated from their covering before the process of drying, curing, and wasting starts.
Though coffee is a tropical product especially of the highland regions its cultivation is found to be restricted to comparatively limited areas.
Physical and economic conditions. In most coffee growing countries the mean temperature of the coldest month is above 11°C and the mean minimum temperature 6°C. The average summer temperature should be 18 to 25°C. Annual rainfall generally varies between 110 cm and 150 cm, occurring mostly during the hot period of the year. Precipitation should not exceed 5 cm per month during the cool winter. Regular occurrence of mist appears to provided ideal conditions to the coffee plant though frost proves detrimental. The occasional occurrence of frost is, however, not too uncommon a phenomenon. Coffee tree thrives well on a rolling surface at an elevation between 600 meters and 800 meters. Coffee plantations have been successfully developed at altitudes of 1,000 to 2,000 meters, in Yemen. Coffees grown at higher altitudes have excellent flavor, which is presumably the result of optimum temperatures. TERRA ROXA (red earth) soils are famous for producing coffee with high yield and fine flavor.
Distribution. The commercial plantation of coffee is confined to the following five regions of the world.
(a) South-eastern Brazil producing nearly 33% of the world's coffee cultivates its coffee on large plantations or FAZENDAS especially in the areas of TERRA ROXA soils.
(b) The hilly country of Colombia up to altitude around 2,000 meters, where small farmers specialize in the production of a finer and milder variety.
(c) The Republics of Central America and some of the West Indian islands which tend to specialize in coffee of a very high quality; the cultivation is confined to the western slopes of the Cordillera and on the western sides of the hills in the islands with a marked dry season.
(d) The highlands of East Africa embracing Kenya, Tanzania and Ethiopia, representing approximately 15% of the world's output.
(e) Southern Asia includes India and Indonesia and the Philippines as important producers.
Coffee in Southeastern Brazil. The coffee culture in southeastern Brazil dates back to 1774 but remained insignificant till 1860 when the European notably the Italian immigrants started rushing in. With this the coffee estates or FAZENDAS started growing simultaneously in number and production. By the turn of the present century Brazil was producing nearly 80% of the world's coffee. The share according to the latest report dropped down to 43% partly as a result of an absolute decline and largely due to relative increase in production in other regions of the world.
Despite these drawbacks several physical and economic conditions favor the coffee plantations of Brazil. The physical conditions in terms of relief, soil and climate are extremely conducive to the growing of coffee trees. The gently rolling plateaus with pronounced steep slopes here and there promote not only good water drainage and air drainage, but the development of railroad transportation as well. The TERRA ROXA soils do not have higher enrichment of humus and other plant food, but their depth, porosity and permeability permit the spread of tree roots for drawing sustenance from considerable area and foster the aeration. Coffee grown on TERRA ROXA is considered softer than that growing on other soils.
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