Some Facts about Coffee....

Like wine, the taste of coffee depends on many factors. The species of the coffee bush is the most significant factor, of course, but native soil, climate, elevation and methods of harvesting and processing all affect the final taste of the coffee.

Coffee isn't a bean at all: it's the seed of the coffee bush. Coffee belongs to the botanical family Rubiaceae, which has some 500 genera and over 6,000 species. Most are tropical trees and shrubs which grow in the lower storey of forests. Other members of the family include the gardenias and plants which yield quinine and other useful substances, but Coffea is by far the most important genus in the family economically. Most commercially grown coffee comes from two main species: Coffea Arabica and Coffea Canephora.

The fruit of the coffee bush, when ripe, has a thick, red, slightly bitter outer skin. The inner flesh is very sweet and surrounds the 'parchment', a thin layer that separates the sweet flesh from seeds inside - the much-prized coffee 'beans'. About 5-10% of the berries on any coffee bush contain a single, small seed rather than the normal two: these 'peaberries' (vietnamese: 'culi') usually produce a more intense flavour and are often more highly prized as a result.

Arabica Coffee

Arabica coffee has been enjoyed for centuries. Probably originating in the plateaux of Ethiopia, coffee first spread to the middle east then to the rest of the world. There are many varieties and cultivars of Arabica coffee, all with differing characteristics and tastes.

Arabica coffee is complex and aromatic, but requires careful cultivation and is fussy about soil, climate and elevation. The coffee 'cherries' fall to the ground when ripe and so the beans must be harvested carefully by hand as they ripen. For this reason, Arabica coffee tends to be somewhat more expensive than other varieties.

Robusta Coffee

Robusta (Coffea Canephora var.Robusta) is, as its name implies, a strong plant and can be grown under a wider variety of conditions. Robusta grows at lower altitudes and is more resistant to disease. Unlike the Arabica, the beans do not fall off the plant when ripe. These facts all contribute to a plant that is easier to cultivate, especially in poor soils and under marginal growing conditions and this has led to large quantities of mediocre or poor quality Robusta beans hitting the world commodity market, most of it finding its way into instant coffees.

Because of this, Robusta gets a bad press. However, when grown under ideal conditions and handled and processed with care, Robusta is an excellent coffee, broad, fragrant and chocolatey. Robusta coffees are usually 30-40% higher in caffeine than Arabicas. Many people actually prefer good Robusta to Arabica, it is very much a question of personal taste. Robusta is also particularly good when blended with Arabicas, adding to the range and complexity of the tastes, in the same way that rye whisky is added to malt whisky to add interest and 'bite'.

Chari & Catimor

'Chari' is a French name for the variety Coffea Liberica var. 'Dewevrei' also known as 'Excelsa'. (Coffea Dewevrei, Coffea Dybowskii and Coffea Excelsa used to be considered as separate species but were reclassified in 2006 as synonyms for Coffea Liberica var. Dewevrei.) Coffea Liberica is a different species to Coffea Arabica or Coffea Canephora and accounts for only about 1% of world coffee production. It is a large strong tree, up to 18 metres in height, with large leathery leaves. The beans have a bright and fruity flavor and little or no caffeine. It can be enjoyed on its own but is often not thought to produce a 'balanced' cup of coffee, so it is usually blended with other coffees.

Catimor (Coffea Arabica var.'Catimor') is an Arabica cultivar whose beans are quite bitter and sharply flavored. They are used to "punch up" the flavour of the multi-variety blended coffees such as TN Sang Tao #4 Premium Culi and Gourmet Blend. Fans of strong coffee will like the extra kick the Catimor bean provides.

The Secret's in the Blend!

With all the 'Only 100% pure Arabica beans' marketing razzmatazz that you hear, it's easy to think that Arabica is the only game in town. The truth is that, grown, processed and blended with care, Robusta can smooth, round, and give sweetness and weight to blends of all kinds, and together with Chari and Catimor adds a range of flavours and aromas that you simply don't get with Arabica alone.


"This coffee plunges into the stomach...the mind is aroused, and ideas pour forth like the battalions of the Grand Army on the field of battle..."
Honore de Balzac (1799 - 1850)