Is a Coffee Plant a Tree or a Bush?

We’ve all seen coffee beans, but I couldn’t tell you what a coffee plant looks like.

I’ve seen photos and short videos of laborers picking coffee. Usually, they show the branches and fruit, but never the whole tree, or is it a bush? For now, we’ll go with coffee plant until we sort this out.

My purpose of this blog is to follow my coffee education and since I’ve no clue if coffee grows on a bush or a tree it is time to learn.

The Coffee Plant

From my research I’ve learned that coffee plants like to grow in sub-tropical climates at elevations between 2,500 and 6,000 feet above mean sea level.

The plant is suspectable to frost and grows below the frost zone in sub-tropic mountain-side forests or on highland plateaus.

Although climate dictates where coffee plants can grow, it can tolerate many different types of soils and has an extensive root system capable of growing in semi-arid as well as tropical environments.

It’s a good thing for us that coffee plants can grow in a variety of soils, as the minerals in the soils have a lot to do with the multitude of flavors that coffee presents us.

The coffee plant can tolerate some shade so it can be undergrowth plant.

But it also will do well on level plantations where coffee plants are laid out similar to orchards.

Is the Coffee Plant a Tree, Shrub, or Bush?

I’ve read books and articles where authors have called coffee plants both trees, shrubs, or bushes.

Although not particularly important to most people, I like to know the correct terminology.

So I looked up the defining characteristics of trees, shrubs, and bushes.

To be called a tree, a plant needs to grow larger than 20-feet tall and have a trunk larger than 3-inches in diameter.

Since coffee plants rarely reach 20-feet tall, they aren’t considered trees.

Narrowed Down to a Shrub or Bush

A shrub is defined as a woody plant that grows taller than 6-inches, and less than 20-feet tall. They can also have multiple stems whereas trees generally have a single stem.

What about a bush?

There isn’t a proper horticultural term for a bush. Whether a plant is called a shrub or bush depends on its use (is it a landscape plant grown for that purpose; or is it a native plant and grows in the woods) and the preference of the person naming the plant.

Shrub and Bush are interchangeable terms.

Coffee plants are for the most part shrubs or bushes, though in places that can grow into small trees.

I’m sure native or feral coffee plants can eventually grow into small tress, but the cultivated coffee plants we’ll be discussing are more like shrubs. Since I think coffee shrubs sound odd, they’re coffee bushes to me.

Coffee Plantation

Below is a short film created by the NW Collective of the Menendez Family Coffee Farm in El Salvadore, Central America.

The film is a good narrative on how coffee is grown and in part it explains the processing of the coffee fruit.

I know it’s around 10-minutes long, but it has some great scenes of where coffee is grown what the coffee plants look like in several stages of growth.

Well, worth watching.

Coffee Bush It Is

The coffee plant is a dense woody bush that grows in sub-tropical mountains or highlands. Wild or feral coffee plants can grow into small trees, but the cultivated varieties grow smaller so they are easier to harvest.

Coffee plants are indigenous to Africa but now grow in tropical areas worldwide. Learn how coffee plants spread across the globe in this article, Where Did Coffee Originate and How Did It Spread Across the World?

In the next article, we will investigate the fruit and seeds of the coffee plant in more detail.

Please leave a comment below and let me know if you like videos or short films like the Menendez Farm. I will search for more video like that so we all can have a better idea of how coffee makes it to our grinder.

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The Coffee Pragmatist

No-nonsense advice on artisan and speciality coffee. From bean to cup, though I prefer mugs. Get how-to advice, reviews, recommendations, interviews and discounts on coffee beans from roasters around the country. 

© 2016

Don't Miss a Post or Review - Sign-up for Updates