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Plants: Species

Coffee Coffea arabica

FAMILY: RUBIACEAE (Coffee Family)

In the beginning, coffee was only a small, evergreen Ethiopian bush. Legend has it that in about 850 AD, a visiting Arab goatherd noticed his flock acting strangely. When he sampled the berries his goats were eating, he felt so exhilarated that he saved some of the berries and became a sort of coffee evangelist. Eventually, farmers began growing coffee in southern Arabia, and from there, the beans spread to Europe.

Although coffee was virtually unknown in Europe in the early 1600s, by 1700, there were 2,000 European coffee houses. Thanks to high tea taxes and the Boston Tea Party, Americans soon become coffee drinkers as well. Coffee cultivation began in Hawaii in 1825. Today, coffee is consumed by about a third of the world's people. Two species of coffee, Coffea arabica and Coffea canephora, supply most of the brews. Arabica beans are considered more flavorful and aromatic and are grown in Latin America, the Caribbean, and Indonesia. The cheaper Robusta (a canephora variety) is grown mostly in Africa and used for instant coffees.

Coffee is the most traded plant in the world, yet each bean is still picked by hand. Since the Zoo has quite a few coffee afficionados, it's only natural that coffee plants are a part of our collection. You can see Coffea arabica trees in Gorilla Tropics and the Kopje exhibit. Most people think of rich, aromatic beans when they think of coffee. But the plant also has lovely, fragrant blossoms.