Everything You Need to Know About the Coffee Tree

Coffee, a drink that fills us with energy every day. But do you know anything about the coffee tree? In this guide, you will get all the information you should know about the plant that produces your favorite beverage. 

You may be wondering why is it important to know about the coffee plant? Coffee is an important economic resource in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Other countries also benefit greatly from daily coffee consumption. According to one study, it is the second most-consumed drink in the world!

By reading on, you will know about its history, the description of the tree with all its most important characteristics, the conditions for growing coffee, the types of plants, and the most common pests and diseases that attack this plant.

Immerse yourself in this tour of everything you should know about the coffee plant.

A little bit of history

The history of coffee is one of the most fascinating you can know. Every continent, every country, and every region has its own version. 

Its origin dates back to Ethiopia around 700 A.D. with a very particular story about goats and coffee cherries. Although people began to talk about this unknown drink from that time, it was until the 13th century that it successfully expanded throughout the world.

It was so controversial, that it was banned for a while because it was considered a devil’s drink for its stimulating effect. Even, for many years, the cultivation of this plant was privatized until a man named Bada Budan decided to take some seeds from the Ottoman Turkish empire to India. It was up to 1583 that the German botanist Leonhard Rauwolf first described the coffee plant.

The coffee expansion to the rest of the world it’s a story you can’t miss.

What is the coffee plant like?

The coffee plant is a tree and is known as the coffee tree or coffee bush. That’s how it’s classified. This tree can grow up to 10 meters when in the wild. But when in harvest or in production, it measures about 3 meters and looks more like a bush. This plant is classified within the family of Rubiaceae.

Do you know what makes this tree special? It can produce flowers and fruits at the same time.

That’s right! The coffee tree also produces white flowers whose details we will explain later. Now let’s see more features of this tree.


Do you think coffee is a bean? If your answer was yes, you believed a big lie. But many people believe that when it is actually a seed. 

It is a seed found within the red cherry that normally contains two seeds in each fruit. Then, the “coffee bean” is really the seed of the coffee tree

Only about 5% of coffee plants don’t have two fruits. Either because of a defect or because it is a peaberry, which means that the two seeds develop together to form only a larger, well-rounded one.

This seed is covered by mucilage, a layer of parchment, and pulp. This seed must go through a complex process before being dried, roasted, ground and finally, become the beverage we love.


As in all plants, the root is fundamental for the adequate growth of the coffee tree. In addition, this ensures the quality of the fruit. Why? 

Because the root is the part in charge of absorbing all the nutrients and moisture of the earth to distribute them throughout the tree and ensure their survival in challenging weather conditions.

The main root of the coffee tree can be about 50 centimeters deep. Other roots or branches that can lengthen another 30 centimeters are shed from this.

Branches and leaves

The coffee tree leaves are ellipse-shaped and have a very vibrant dark green color. It is quite a sight to see the coffee farms full of this bright green! 

Leaves are very important because that’s where photosynthesis occurs. This is a process by which the energy from sunlight reaching the plant is converted into chemical energy in the form of sugar. These sugars give energy and organic carbon to the plant. 

That is, the whole process to reproduce the cherries occurs in the leaves.

picture of the coffee tree in Colombia
This is how a coffee tree looks in a crop in Colombia

The branches are born from the stem that is called orthotropic. These branches called plagiotropic grow horizontally and are divided into primary, secondary, and tertiary. Most of the flowers and, therefore, the fruits are concentrated in the primary branches. 

You may be wondering what those somewhat complex terms mean. Very simple! They are names that have been designated for a certain type of taxonomy or plant form.

  • Orthotropic: when the stem grows perpendicular to the ground.
  • Plagiotropic: when the stem grows parallel to the ground.


The coffee plant blooms around the third or fourth year of growth. It produces flowers with a sweet fragrance and a white or light pink color. 

The flowers are the sign that the fruit is approaching. That is, they are the reproductive organ of the plant. These flowers are characterized because several are born on the same stem, about 4 per stem.

coffee tree white flowers
You wouldn’t believe the coffee comes from this flower!

As the flower is the reproductive organ of the coffee tree, it is born right at the union of branches and leaves. 

The fertilization process can change depending on the variety. Among these varieties, the two most cultivated and known are the Arabica and robusta. In Arabica, the flowers are self-fertilizing. But, in the case of the robusta variety, they need pollinating insects.

In addition, the time of flowering can vary depending on the climate, the geographical area, and again, the variety. 

For example, in Colombia, coffee trees can bloom twice a year depending on the rainy season. That is, if they bloom twice, they bear fruit twice. But if you are interested in knowing more specific data on coffee cultivation in this country, visit our guide on Coffee Growing in Colombia.

Cherries (fruit)

Semi-ripe coffee cherries

The fruit of the coffee tree is known as drupe or cherry. From flowering, it can take up to 9 months for the fruits to be ripe. However, this time can change depending on the variety, climatic conditions, the form of cultivation, the soil and other reasons that we will explain below.

For example, for the Arabica variety, it can take 9 months between flowering and harvest. In the case of the robusta variety, it can be harvested up to 3 times per year.

These fruits will be born in the same place where the flowers were.

At first, these cherries are green. As they ripen, they change their color to red, yellow, orange, and even pink. This depends on the variety. And, like most fruits, as cherries ripen, they get sweeter and sweeter.

Coffee growing conditions

Now let’s see some general conditions for the coffee tree to be cultivated successfully. Remember that these conditions change depending on the variety of coffee. For example, Arabica coffee is more delicate in its cultivation and requires both more environmental conditions and more care. Another key factor is whether the crop is shade-grown or open.

But don’t worry, although it seems to be a lot of information, you will find a general idea of the minimum and necessary conditions to grow coffee in this article. Remember that this article is for informational purposes only and is not intended as a strict cultivation guide. So, if your desire is to start growing coffee, you will need a lot more training and field experience.

Geographical area

The coffee tree grows among the tropics from 200 meters (656 ft) above sea level. In general, coffee is grown from the Tropic of Capricorn to the Tropic of Cancer.

The two most common varieties need grounds at high altitudes to be cultivated. However, altitude is also an influential factor in the acidity and body of the coffee. The higher the altitude, the coffee will have a denser body and a more pronounced acidity. Therefore, coffee growers choose the perfect altitude to grow the coffee with the body, aroma, flavor and acidity they want to have.

Arabica coffee prefers an altitude between 600 and 2,000 meters (1970-6560 ft) above sea level. This also determines the climate, which is known as mountain climate for being cool humid.

Instead, robusta coffee can be cultivated between 200 and 900 meters (656-2950 ft) above sea level. This variety grows successfully in what is known as the tropical high plateaus.


The Arabica variety is more sensitive to climate. It requires lower temperatures than robusta, so it is grown in higher areas. When there are not such high areas, the ideal temperature can be achieved with a shade crop. 

In contrast, robusta coffee can be grown in a warmer climate, as it has a higher yield, which translates into more fruits and seeds. 

That is, the arabica coffee can be planted in regions between 15 and 26 °C (59-79 °F) and the robusta coffee, because it is more resistant, can be grown between 24 and 29 °C (75-84 °F).

Keep in mind that the climate is fundamental for the coffee tree to bear fruit. This plant needs both rainy and sunny seasons. However, it doesn’t resist well extreme climates because it will be more sensitive to pests and diseases. In short, coffee requires neither a very dry climate nor too much water.

Soil type 

As with any plant, the soil is an extremely important resource for the coffee tree to grow. When we look for what type of soil we need for this plant, we talk about three fundamental aspects: the texture, the structure, and the amount of organic matter present in the soil.


A soil that has similar proportions of clays, sands, and silts is needed. These are compounds found in soil. This soil is characterized by having the perfect porosity and permeability for the coffee tree. These characteristics allow the coffee tree to absorb the necessary amount of water and oxygen.

Soil structure:

This means the formation of the soil that may or may not favor the growth of the roots. For the coffee tree, you need a granular type of soil, as it favors the development of its roots. This type of soil contains very small sand, silt, and clay particles, which are perfect for water to circulate easily.

Organic matter:

As we mentioned before, coffee requires many nutrients to bear fruit, so dark soil is needed. This type of soil contains about 8% organic matter which is ideal for this type of plant to receive all the nutrients it needs for its development through fungi, bacteria, and more nutrients.

The dark soil is really good because it helps the productivity of almost any plant with the benefit of retaining moisture.

Types of coffee trees – Varieties of coffee

So far we’ve talked about how many factors change depending on the variety of coffee. But, do you know what those varieties are? O do you know the difference between species and variety? 

As we have said, the two most known and produced species around the world are the Arabica and robusta. However, there are more than 100 species with different characteristics and varieties.

Keep in mind that varieties are born from species. Among the best-known species are the Arabica, Dewevrei, Eugenioides, Liberica, Robusta, and Salvatrix. Within those species, for example, you can divide some varieties depending on whether they are short or tall

For example: In the short category are the Caturra, Colombia, and Castillo varieties, and within the tall ones are the Bourbon, Típica, and Tabi. Learn more in our Coffee varieties guide.

We could spend a long time talking about varieties. As in many other plants, there are also hybrid varieties. That is, two or more varieties are combined to create one with greater productivity, better taste, and quality, being more resistant to diseases. So let’s look at the two most important species around the world!

Arabica Coffee

It is the most consumed coffee species and represents around 70% of worldwide production

This coffee is characterized by being of better quality and presenting better flavors and aromas. However, it has less caffeine than robusta coffee and is, therefore, more sensitive to pests. Caffeine is a natural way for coffee to protect itself from some diseases.

This coffee is sweeter and aromatic and less acidic. Physically, its seeds are more elongated and the centerline is “s” shaped. Brazil, Colombia, and Central America are its largest producers.

Robusta coffee

Represents around 30% of worldwide production. Because of its caffeine content, it is more resistant to pests. It has a higher yield because it produces more cherries and therefore more seeds. 

This coffee is not always synonymous with higher quality because it is more bitter. But it doesn’t mean that it is bad, its use is different from that of an Arabica coffee.

Physically, this seed is much rounder and the centerline is straighter. Central Africa, West Africa, South Asia, and Brazil are the largest producers of this variety. Robusta coffee is widely used in combination with the Arabica variety to create instant coffee.

Coffee diseases and pests

Now that you have a broader view of the coffee plant, let’s get closer to a very important topic: the diseases and pests that can damage the coffee tree. 

There are many factors that can influence the coffee tree to get a disease or pest. This could result in total devastation, which means great economic loss.

What can cause a disease or pest in coffee?

There are many factors at play. Sometimes the plant can be very well physiologically but still catch a disease or pest. So, let’s see what are the main factors that can cause the coffee tree to catch a disease or a pest.


This will depend mostly on the variety of coffee. Again, you should pay special attention to which variety you want to grow to know its pros and cons. There are some varieties that by genetics are more sensitive to contracting pests. For example, the Bourbon variety is very susceptible to rust


Understanding how coffee cultivation works is key. More advanced and experienced knowledge is needed to be able to grow coffee successfully. This factor has countless variables that could induce your plants to have pests or diseases.

For example, leaving fallen leaves on the ground may be a fertilizer option. Sure, if you know how to do it! If not, this could end up in a perfect place for different pests to grow in the mold. Coffee growers learn every day how to grow to have a higher yield and more profits. It’s not something you can learn by reading a single blog.

Environmental conditions:

Coffee trees can contract different diseases and pests depending on the region or country. However, many of these pests need certain conditions to reproduce. For example, the coffee borer beetle is a pest that is created under high humidity conditions.

So it is with many pests and diseases. But this is not the case for all of them! There are diseases that are very strong and don’t need certain environmental conditions to reproduce. For example, coffee rust is one of the most common and is present in almost all countries and varieties.

Most common coffee diseases

Now that you know why coffee trees could get a disease or pest, let’s look at the ones that breed in most parts of the world where coffee is grown.

Coffee rust

It’s a fungus that can attack coffee trees all over the world. Colombia, for example, has been fighting this disease for many years. 

It’s one of the most dangerous your plants could get. This disease could cause an entire crop and even a variety to run out. There is a study that assures that, if this disease is not controlled, it could wipe out the national product of a country such as Colombia.

This disease occurs specifically in temperatures of approximately 21 °C (70 °F). The danger of coffee rust is that it spreads through rain and wind, so it is very easy that if a plant contracted this disease, in a very short time the entire crop becomes infected.

What does this disease look like in the coffee tree?

It’s an orange powder, similar to rust in metals, which is concentrated in the lower part of the leaves of the coffee tree.

What does it affect?

It affects productivity because it doesn’t allow new stems to grow. That is, it has negative effects on photosynthesis. You can have losses between 23 and 50% in quantity and quality of the affected variety.  

In addition, once the coffee tree contracts rust, the cherries cannot fully ripen and, therefore, will not have a good taste.

How can it be solved?

As it is one of the most aggressive diseases against coffee, many countries have created varieties resistant to this disease. In the case of Colombia, Cenicafé has created two special varieties that don’t contract this disease to ensure the productivity of Colombian crops. These varieties are called Castillo and Colombia.

Coffee wilt

It’s another fungus that attacks the trunk of the coffee tree. The trunk and branches of a tree are like the vascular system of human beings. If this part is affected, water and sap cannot circulate freely throughout the plant.

What does it affect?

As the plant cannot receive the water and nutrients needed to survive, its leaves begin to fall off, its branches die and the ripening of cherries is also affected. A cherry that is not ripe means that it has no acidity, is not sweet but bitter and has unpleasant flavors.

Pink disease

It’s an infection affecting the “skin” of the plant, that is, it is a pink tissue that adheres to the branches of the coffee tree. The reason why a coffee tree can contract the pink disease is due to deficiencies in luminosity and aeration.

It is a disease that is present in many coffee-growing areas but especially is found in Brazil, the largest coffee producer in the world.

What does this disease look like in the coffee tree?

Branches infected with this pink tissue wilt and dry. Then they look yellow and fall because they die. If the leaves die, then the photosynthesis of the plant is affected.

What does it affect?

The branches that contract this disease die and therefore the leaves and fruits of those branches are lost.

Most common coffee pests

Coffee borer beetle

This pest is found in almost all coffee-growing areas of the world. They are very small beetles of about 1.5 mm (0.05 in) of black color that take refuge inside cherries. Therefore, it is one of the strongest pests to fight, because it is inside the fruit, which works as a protector to not attack the pest. 

These beetles mainly attack green cherries. Around 3 or 4 months after flowering, these cherries are the most susceptible to contracting this pest. Also, those that are already over-ripe and have not yet been collected from the tree.

Being one of the strongest pests that attack coffee trees around the world, some climatic conditions favor its reproduction. Places with an altitude below 1,600 meters (5250 ft) above sea level and with temperatures above 21°C (70 °F) are the ideal place for this pest to spread easier.

One of the ways to prevent this pest is a strategy called RE-RE in Spanish. This strategy consists of collecting the fruits that are already ripe and checking again not to leave any ripe fruits on the tree or on the ground.

What does this disease look like in the coffee tree?

There are small black dots on the fruits of the coffee tree.

What does it affect?

It affects crop yield. Cherries that are not yet ripe may fall off the tree prematurely. Also, those that are already ripened can lose weight, since beetles damage the inside of the fruit. 

When this pest is very strong on the plant, the seeds can taste very bitter even after ripening.

Coffee leaf miner

It is a 2 to 3 mm (0.07-0.1 in) long moth that attacks the leaves of plants. There are two species of moth that vary depending on the area. In Latin America, the moth Leucoptera coffeella prevails and in Africa, the common moth is Leucoptera caffeina. In general, these moths are a bright white or silver color with a black spot, but they are very small.

This pest is seasonal, that is, it requires certain conditions for it to develop and therefore, it is not present all year round. It is common in places that are between 1,500 and 1,700 meters (4921-5577 ft) above sea level in summer.  

What does this disease look like in the coffee tree?

If there are not many moths per leaf, leaves have holes and dark brown or white and gray spots.

What does it affect?

As the name implies, it affects the leaves of the coffee plant. These moths feed on the leaves until they cause necrosis, which is the death of that part of the tree. If the leaves are affected, then photosynthesis too. This means that the productivity of the coffee tree decreases and the fruits don’t ripen properly.


These are several insects that are not only present in the coffee tree. It is also a pest that can affect various trees and plant species. They can damage the branches, nodules, leaves, roots, and flowers of the coffee tree. That is, it is also a very strong pest that can attack various parts of the plant. 

These insects feed on the sap of the tree and produce a sticky liquid that attracts ants. These mealybugs can appear since the plant is in the nursery.

What does it affect?

As it affects several parts of the plant, the coffee tree can become very weak with this pest. In addition, the substance that is produced by these insects generates a black mold that damages the leaves reducing photosynthesis. This causes the coffee tree to enter a period of stress and the fruits don’t ripen properly.

Southern red mite

It’s a mite very difficult to see that attacks coffee plants, avocado, tea, mango, apple, among other plants. It reproduces on the leaves, both at the bottom and the top. 

It occurs when there is an increase in temperature and very little rainfall. As well as other diseases and pests, this can be reproduced in other plants by means of the wind.

It’s a seasonal pest. It breeds in times of high drought and is reduced when the rainy season arrives. Why is it reduced? Because the rain cleans the leaves of this plague.

What does this disease look like in the coffee tree?

The leaves look darker than normal because the sap of the coffee tree is infected.

What does it affect?

As leaves are most affected, photosynthesis is reduced and therefore crop yield is damaged. Crop yield can be reduced by up to 70% depending on the variety and how strong the pest is.

Knowing more closely where your cup of coffee comes from is an amazing process. 

Remember that this is not a guide on how to grow coffee. This is an article for you to fall in love with coffee every day knowing the fundamental characteristics of the plant. 

And now you are familiar with the plant that produces the second most consumed beverage in the world.