Coffee is an important cash crop grown in more than 60 countries, from South and Central America, Asia, to Africa with over 11 million hectares of farming area, almost the size of Peninsular Malaysia. It is most commonly grown in tropical and subtropical regions known as the Coffee Belt. What drives coffee to become the world’s most traded commodity behind petroleum is an explosive mix of caffeine and flavours.
Arabica – “e Mountain Coffee” – constitutes about 60% of world coffee production with Brazil at the top. Robusta represents 39% with Vietnam leading the world in production. The remaining 1% is represented by Liberica. Arabica and all its varietals are cultivated for their complex flavour ranging from healthy acidity, delicate floral notes to fruity sweetness. Robusta is less favourable flavour-wise, however being disease and pest resistant with high production yield, it is easier farm.
In the world of exquisite and refined flavours, coffee is still in its enigmatic infancy. As shown in Diagram , there are 124 accepted species in the coffee family. Arabica, Robusta and Liberica are only a small part of this extensive family. What is regarded as “Arabica” in common marketing colloquial is in fact an unspecified cornucopia of Arabica varieties or cultivars, each with their own unique flavour signatures.
As sophisticated consumers pursue more specific and unique food and beverage experiences, specialisation occurs. e best example is the consumption of speciality durians or apples. Varietals’ marketability are oen associated with specific flavour characteristics.
WORLD OF COFFEES
In Malaysia, we are acquainted with three main species – Arabica, Robusta and Liberica. To understand the uniqueness of each of them, we dive into the world of Arabica and spoke to Caden Lee, a Q-Grader (Arabica Grading certification), R-Grader (Robusta Grading certification) and Speciality Coffee Association of Europe trainer. Caden, a native Malaysian, recently expanded his coffee school – Dcodes Lab – to Hanoi, Vietnam. Jason Liew, owner of My Liberica Plantation & Processing Mill in Johor, gave us a tour of his Liberica farm and shared some of his research.
“Arabica is the only known selffertile and self-pollinating species – a single plant can pollinate itself and be sustainable,” Caden explains. All other known species including Robusta and Liberica are cross-pollinating, which require neighbouring plants to procreate. ere is a purity to Arabica species. Each variety of Arabica is like an island of flavour characteristics. One varietal is unable to pollinate another. Only in some rare occasions can hybrids occur.