Webster's Dictionary defines a plantation as a large estate farm, which is typically worked by resident labor. Therefore, a coffee plantation is a large farm on which coffee beans are grown. There are a number of coffee plantations in existence today, some of them, such as the Koa coffee plantations in Hawaii, are both a commercially producing coffee plantation and a tourist attraction. Many plantations around the world also are tapping into the ecotourism movement by promoting coffee grown on songbird-friendly shade plantations.
Coffee was first consumed by humans in Ethiopia. Evidence seems to suggest that coffee beans were made into a primitive type of energy bar long before they were brewed. From Ethiopia, coffee consumption spread to the Arabian Peninsula, where it was first brewed into a drink in the 10th century. From there, coffee spread throughout Europe, thanks to Venetian traders. By the 17th century, the Dutch established the first European-owned coffee plantations in Sri Lanka and then to India and the island of Java.
The demand for coffee made it an important commodity during the colonial era. Plantations of coffee in the Caribbean greatly enriched French coffers in the 18th century. Coffee plants were treated as if they were more valuable than gold. In order to start the plantations in the Caribbean, French naval officer Mathieu Gabriel de Clieu first had to steal a cutting of a coffee plant from King Louis XIV. When Brazil wanted to start its own coffee plantations, it cajoled the plants from French plantations in the Caribbean. As the demand for coffee rose, so did the number of plantations that grew coffee.
Coffee plants are actually small evergreen trees that need constant attention. The soil around coffee roots must be aerated, and the trees grow best at altitudes between 3,000 and 6,000 feet in a warm, equatorial climate. Because of this, coffee is most often grown on plantations under the care of skilled coffee farmers. In these regions it is difficult to harvest coffee with machines. Instead, coffee berries are handpicked.
On a coffee plantation, trees are started by seed or cutting in special beds. When the seedlings are approximately 12 weeks old, they are transplanted to their permanent location. Until the trees mature, they will be constantly monitored to insure that they receive the right amount of filtered light, soil conditions, nutrients and water. Coffee plants can take up to five years to produce their first crop of coffee beans. Once the cherry-like fruits ripen, they must be constantly harvested. Unharvested berries spoil within 10 to 14 days. Once the beans are harvested, the beans are dried and roasted to ensure that the berry pulp does not cause the beans to deteriorate.
A coffee plantation must be large to produce a significant amount of coffee. A single coffee tree will not produce more than 2 lbs. of coffee in a season. Coffee is grown in more than 50 countries throughout the world.