L'écosystème du café




Coffee grows between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. It is produced as far as 25° North and 30° South. It can grow up to an altitude of 2000 metres above sea level but it only flowers when the temperature rises above 15°.

plantation irrigation

Temperature, soil, irrigation and exposure to the sun

Coffee bushes – especially the Arabica variety – thrive in temperatures between 17 and 23° with very little variation. Soil rich in humus and nitrogen is essential for the balance of the coffee plant’s functions. To grow coffee without irrigation requires abundant rain: between 1500 and 2000 mm over a period of 8 months. Finally, coffee plants do not like wind.


plantation altitude


Arabica grows at a high altitude and robusta grows on plains. Unlike Arabica, the robusta variety enjoys the sun. These differences influence the type and configuration of plantations. Thus, in Mexico one often has to climb the mountain tracks for more than an hour, on mules, to reach a plantation. Different place, different ways: in Brazil, plantations are traditionally on plains and they can cover thousands of hectares; aircraft are often used to reach harvesting areas.

Plantations may contains a few dozen bushes, a few hundred, a few thousand, or even a few million. In the former cases, berries are harvested by hand. The latter plantations require mechanised harvesting.




Equatorial and tropical zones are under the influence of two seasons: the rainy and the dry season. Unlike in our climate which is subject to four seasons (regulated by temperature variations), coffee shrubs bloom over a period of several months depending on humidity averages, under the influence of only two seasons (regulated by humidity variations). In equatorial zones, the coffee shrub can sometimes flower up to 8 times in one year. So it is not unusual to find flowers and berries on the same bush, at different stages of ripening. Harvesting therefore takes place in several stages.

In tropical climes, however, the seasons are more marked and berries are harvested in one or two stages. The berries are ripe eight to nine months after they flower. In the space of just two weeks, all the plantations in one area may be covered with berries.





The shrubs grow at an altitude between 500 and 1700 metres between the Tropics. They are generally planted in the shade of taller trees (banana, cocoa palms) because the sun is not good for them. In their natural state, Arabica coffee trees can grow to a height of 5 or 6 metres. Their tops are cut off at a height of 3 metres to make cultivation and harvesting easier.

Different varieties have evolved either through their adaptation to different soils or through cross-breeding. Certain varieties are now widespread in many areas, such as the fruity-tasting Moka, the Bourbon which is found in Mauritius or the Maragogype which originated in the town of the same name, near Bahia in Brazil.

More localised (Blue Mountain, High Mountain, on the island of Jamaica) or less common varieties (Mondo Nuevo, Arabigo, Garnica) are also commercialised. Arabicas are grown in the Americas (Central and South America and in the Caribbean), on the East coast of Africa, in India and in Papua New Guinea. Even though growing arabica is a more delicate affair than for Coffea canephora – the other dominant species – it still accounts for three quarters of the world production.






Robusta, the main variety of the Coffea canephora species, owes its name to its excellent resistance. It grows wild in nearly all the forests of the African tropics. It is cultivated in the less elevated zones of Central and West Africa, in Asia, Sri Lanka and the Philippines.

Fertilisation takes place thanks to insects which cross-pollinate the flowers from one bush to the next. Coffee canephora is the original plant behind a large number of coffee varieties such as Robusta itself, grown in Indonesia as Palembang or Mandheling; Kouillou which owes its names to a river in Gabon; or the Conilon variety in Brazil, Niaouli in Togo and Dahomey or Gimet in Central Africa.


cafeier sauvage

Wild coffee shrubs

It would appear that the Coffea arabica bush originally came from the Kaffa region in Abyssinia (now know as Ethiopia). It also grows wild in Arabian countries in the region of Moka. Even though we don’t know how it travelled from Ethiopia to Yemen, we know that the Yemenites were the first coffee-growers. Wild coffee was not discovered until the late 19th century in the plains and low-altitude tropics of Africa. They grew to be an important element in the economy .