About the environmental factors that affect coffee flavor and sustainability. It’s important how the terroir determines have effect on the character of a coffee and the success of a crop. Among all the environmental factors that could affect a coffee plant in its lifetime, some, such as altitude, are impossible to alter. Others, such as soil nutrition and shade cover, can be altered, but this often requires vast capital expenditure. Our goal is to give baristas and coffee lovers a clearer picture of how certain aspects of terroir can affect a plant’s health and the success of a coffee farm. In this topic, we look a broad range of our experience and long research on the books.

Phenotype vs. Genotype



Terroir is The character of the land and the farming environment. Environmental factors such as altitude, latitude, climate, soil condition, and farming practices affect a crop’s phenotype.

Phenotype The observable characteristics of an organism in a given terroir, resulting from the interaction of an organism’s genotype (genetic code) and the terroir.

Genotype The chemical composition of DNA that gives rise to a particular phenotype; the genetic code for a particular trait.

Great coffee is the result of a plant’s genotype and the terroir that surrounds it. The environmental factors of climate, soil, and farming techniques combine to create the terroir of a coffee farm. This topic explores how the terroir determines the character of a coffee and the success of a crop. Among all the environmental factors that could affect a coffee plant in its lifetime, some, such as altitude, are impossible to alter. Others, such as soil nutrition, can be altered, but only with vast capital expenditure. To get a clearer picture of how expensive farm management can be and how certain aspects of terroir can affect a plant’s phenotype, we conducted a broad range of interviews with scientists, agronomists and green buyers.

This course provides an overview of what factors you can control and how it can be done to produce a sustainable crop and a great tasting cup.

Origin – In the cloud forests of Kaffa, in southwest Ethiopia, Coffea arabica grows as an understory plant. Local tradition stipulates where the coffee can be gathered in the forests and who can harvest it. Coffee plants that grow in this type of heavily shaded terroir have a far lower yield than those grown in full sun on most of the intensively farmed large Brazilian plantations.

Many botanists consider southwest Ethiopia to be the birthplace of Arabica coffee, but the debate about its precise origin is not settled. In Southern Sudan, for example, a bit farther down the plateau, wild arabica ignores human-made borders.

The original terroir of coffee, in the ancient forests on the Boma plateau of Ethiopia and South Sudan, was quite different from that of the Arabian peninsula and the Port of Mocca, from where the global coffee trade first emerged in the sixteenth century. In the opinion of coffee’s leading taxonomist, Aaron Davies of Kew Gardens, it was two-way traffic for coffee across the Red Sea (Jeff Koehler, 2016). Coffee arrived in Yemen and, over time, genetic strains adapted to Yemen’s dryer terroir and poor soil. Eventually, these varieties returned to Ethiopia with certain improvements.

The Taxonomy of C. Arabica – Why isn’t it Called C.Aethiopica?

In 1753, Carl Linnaeus, the originator of plant taxonomy, “unintentionally hijacked Ethiopia’s proprietorship of coffee,” according to writer-researcher Jeff Koehler. Linnaeus had already arrived at the name Coffea (C.), using his new system of classifying plants. In his definitive work Species Plantarum, he added the word arabica (from Arabia) to the passage about coffee. Koehler explains –

A decade or so later he published Potus Coffea, an eighteen-page pamphlet made of rag scrap with words running to the edges, adding that the plant grew spontaneously in “Arabic felici and Aethiopia”. It was too late. He had named it Coffea arabica, not Coffea aethiopica, and Arabia would continue to be regarded in the public mind as the original source of coffee.

Even the earliest-known writing on the subject of coffee, a treatise by Abd al-Qadir al-Jaziri called The Best Defense for the Legitimacy of Coffee, first published in 1558, regarded the origins of coffee to be in Arabia. It wasn’t until Scottish explorer James Bruce ventured into Kaffa in 1769 that Europeans had any evidence as to the origins of arabica coffee. Bruce’s message is reported to have been considered too wondrous to be true, however, and it was widely ignored.

Present-Day Production Methods

Global coffee production worldwide is largely in the hands of smallholder farmers, totaling an estimated 100 million coffee farmers. (F. E. Vega et al., 2003) This means the livelihood-value of coffee farming is immense. In Ethiopia, about twelve million smallholder farming households account for an estimated 95 percent of agricultural production and 85 percent of all employment. The majority of coffee production is carried out as garden coffee, grown in amongst other crops. Only 5 percent of Ethiopia’s coffee production comes from plantations. (Jeff Koehler, 2016) The third means of production comes from an agroforestry practice known as semi forest, wherein some trees are pruned and some of the forest canopy is thinned in order to manipulate the available sunlight coming to the plants, which increases their yields.

In other parts of the world, such as Brazil, coffee is grown on huge plantations using intensive farming techniques involving a high degree of automation — in particular, mechanical harvesting and sorting. Brazil is the world’s largest coffee producer, accounting for around 40 percent of the world’s arabica coffee production, yet in spite of the increased level of technology, 3.5 million Brazilians depend on coffee for their livelihoods.

not every terroir is suitable for high levels of automation, and as global warming advances, it is expected that the suitable terroir for coffee production will shift to higher altitudes and lower latitudes. This is known as the upslope potential.

  • Coffee is the dominant understory plant in most forests, there is a lot of competition for growth from other species.we need to know The Forest coffee production system is one of the popular systems available. This system is known for harboring wild coffee trees. The level of coffee genetic diversity in this system is relatively higher than the level of genetic diversity available in other production systems (semi-forest, garden, and larger private farms). But when we are talking about the level of plant species diversity available in most forests, coffee is not the dominant understory plant.
  • There are various understory tree species growing in most of the forests. And the availability of diverse species basically creates strong competition among different species. Densely of spaced do the coffee shrubs tend to be in the forest and The level of coffee management intervention by the local community who live near the forest highly affects coffee tree population density. Where the level of intervention is minimal, coffee trees are found growing densely. However, those parts of the forest areas that are highly accessible by the local communities are characterized by sparsely populated coffee trees.
  • coffee plants prefer a particular type of forest canopy and plants perform better in spaces where trees have been pruned, sometimes large trees have fallen and created gaps in the canopy but Coffee is naturally a shade-loving plant. Shade helps coffee trees to have a longer and more productive lifespan, with a consistent production pattern year after year. Thus, the nature of the forest canopy determines the inherent production potential of a given coffee variety. A lot of research has been conducted so far on coffee shade trees. A forest canopy that allows 20 percent of sunshine is supposed to be an ideal shade level for optimum and consistent production patterns. Coffee trees under such a shade level perform better than those trees under a closed canopy or on fully open farms.
  • any planting occur in the forest And it’s the way of how they choose the variety is Legally, the local communities who live near the forest are not allowed to bring in and plan their own varieties (coffee or any other plants) in the forest. But in the other production systems like semiforest and garden coffee, farmers or local communities are allowed to do their own plantings.
  • the plants that farmers grow as ‘garden coffee’, outside the forest is differ from the plants that grow within the forest because Varieties that grow in gardens and forest production systems have different characters. The main difference is their morphological (physical) appearance. The coffee trees in the forest are aged. If a [forest] tree is young, it is a little bit longer, with [fewer] primary/secondary/tertiary branches. Moreover, the trees in a forest appear less productive. And the reverse is true with garden coffee trees.
  • Agroforestry is offer coffee plants more protection from diseases, compared with growing coffee outside the forest because Since coffee is a shade-loving plant, naturally, the level of abiotic/biotic stress will be very severe when the coffee is planted without shade or outside the forest. The level of sunlight received determines the level of leaf-to-crop ratio. Under open farms, the level of crop is very high and that a significant level of imbalance between leaf (food source) and crop (food sink) ratio. This causes overbearing (overproduction) dieback (tree death). Thus, agroforestry is an inevitable option to [ensure] healthy coffee trees and consistent level of production year after year.
  • we think makes Ethiopian coffee taste so intensely floral is in their terroir, the genotype(s) and range of factors, like Coffee quality is a very complex trait. It is controlled by genetics (G) (genetic makeup of the coffee tree), environment (E) (altitude, soil, rainfall distribution, and other micro- and macro-climatic factors), and the interaction of both (G x E). Ethiopia is known as a center of origin and genetic diversity. There are a wide range of coffee varieties available in the country, which is one of the reasons behind the intense floral taste. Secondly, the availability of diverse agro-ecology (environment/terrior) interacting with different varieties could create a wide range of flavour notes in Ethiopia. Most Ethiopian coffees are known for their intense floral aftertaste. In particular, coffees from Yirgacheffe, Guji, Sidama, Gera, and Anfilo are known for their floral/ fruity/spice flavours.


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Saeed Abdinasab
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Saeed Abdinasab

Saeed Abdinasab

Coffee Instructor (AST) & (Q)


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