Deccan Coffee 101 | Coffee Genus | India

The coffee cherry and bean structure

  1. Center cut
  2. Bean (endosperm)
  3. Silver skin (testa, epidermis)
  4. Parchment (hull, endocarp)
  5. Pectin layer
  6. Pulp (mesocarp)
  7. Outer skin (pericarp, exocarp)


When you drink your morning cup of coffee with its welcoming aroma and smooth taste, do you think about what’s in your cup and where it came from?

A glass of orange juice doesn’t fall far from the tree, and you know there’s a cow behind every glass of milk. But you may be a little less certain about coffee. You know that the hot brown liquid in your coffee cup is made from “beans,” but what kind of beans are they and where do they come from?

The short answer: coffee “beans” are the seeds of the coffee plant. For a complete botanical treatise, you’ll need to look elsewhere. But here’s a little more information about the coffee plant and its seeds.

Coffee’s botanical family

Coffee is part of the botanical family Rubiaceae, one of the largest families in the plant kingdom. The Rubiaceae family comprises almost 500 genera and more than 6,500 species.

Species in this family include trees, shrubs, and herbs. They grow widely in tropical and sub-tropical regions throughout the world and are typically found in the lower story of forests.

Economically, the coffee plant (the Coffea genus) is by far the most important member of the Rubiaceae family, but other members of the family are also economically significant. In addition to beverage plants, the family also includes:

  • Medicinal plants: the bark of Cinchona officinalis is the source of quinine, used to treat malarial fever
  • Dye plants: the roots of Rubia tinctora (common madder) are one of the oldest sources of red dyes
  • Timber plants: the wood of Adina cordifolia is used for furniture, flooring, and more
  • Ornamental plants:Gardenia jasminoides (common gardenia, cape jasmine) is found in many gardens

Coffee plant characteristics

The coffee plant is indigenous to the Kaffa region of Ethiopia in Africa. According to legend, it was discovered by Kaldi, a young goatherd. Coffee plants are now cultivated in more than 70 countries, primarily in the equatorial regions of Central and South America, Africa, and Southeast Asia.

There are some 25 major species within the Coffea genus. The plants and seeds display significant variations, making precise classification difficult.

All coffee species are woody evergreens, but the plants range in size from small shrubs to trees more than 10 meters (30 feet) tall. Leaves vary in color from yellowish to dark green, with touches of bronze or purple. Leaf size and shape also vary, but most coffee leaves are oval or elliptical.

The plant produces white flowers and red berries or “cherries” that contain seeds. The seeds of the berries are the “beans” from which the coffee beverage is made. Most coffee berries contain two seeds. (About 5% of berries contain only one developed seed. These coffee beans are known as “peaberries”).

Once the coffee berries are harvested from the trees, they are processed to extract the beans, which can then be roasted to make the coffee beverage. 

Click and read our next Coffee 101 - Coffee varietal