Environmental Conditions for Growing Coffee


Very little crops receive so much attention in respect to its relation with the environment as does coffee. Coffee is produced in tropical and subtropical areas, and is considered a "North" - "South" product. Coffee is a tropical plant which grows between the latitudes of 25 degrees North and 25 degrees South but requires very specific environmental conditions for commercial cultivation. Temperature, rainfall, sunlight, wind and soils are all important, but requirements vary according to the varieties grown. Robusta coffee is grown at much lower altitudes (sea level-3000 feet) in an area 10° North and South of the equator (Illy, 22).  It is much more tolerant to warm conditions than Arabica coffee.

For growing Arabica coffee beans, there are two optimal growing climates:
1.       The subtropical regions, at high altitudes of 16-24° (Illy, 21).  Rainy and dry seasons must be well defined, and altitude must be between 1800-3600 feet.  These conditions result in one coffee growing season and one maturation season, usually in the coldest part of autumn.  Mexico, Jamaica, the S. Paulo and Minas Gerais regions in Brazil, and Zimbabwe are examples of areas with these climate conditions (Illy, 21).
2.       The equatorial regions at latitudes lower than 10° and altitudes of 3600-6300 feet (Illy, 21).  Frequent rainfall causes almost continuous flowering, which results in two coffee harvesting seasons.  The period of highest rainfall determines the main harvesting period, while the period of least rainfall determines the second harvest season. Because rainfall is too frequent for patio drying to occur,  artificial drying with mechanical dryers is performed in this type of coffee growing environment. Examples of countries that have this climate are Kenya, Colombia, and Ethiopia (Illy, 21).

Ideal average temperatures range between 15 to 24ºC for Arabica coffee and 24 to 30ºC for Robusta, which can flourish in hotter, drier conditions but does not tolerate temperatures much below 15ºC, as Arabica can for short periods. All coffee is easily damaged by frost, a danger either in southern Brazil or, closer to the Equator, at altitudes around 2000 metres.