Coffee plants grow from sea level to altitudes of around 1,800 metres in a narrow belt between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. Coffee beans are the seeds of the cherries that grow on this plant. Picking the cherries is a very labour-intensive business because coffee cherries ripen at different times and have to be picked by hand.
The traditional coffee-growing countries of the world are in Africa and the Americas. The highlands of Ethiopia are generally considered to be the home of coffee but nowadays Brazil is by far the biggest coffee-producing country, well ahead of Colombia and Vietnam in joint second place.
The traditional coffee-growing countries of Africa and the Americas mainly supply the superior Arabica beans whereas Vietnam has flooded the market with the cheaper Robusta beans. Worldwide, some 25 million small farmers and their families live from cultivating coffee. In real terms, coffee is cheaper than in 1970, which is bad news for these coffee-growers. That is why ethical organisations such as Transfair or Fairtrade are campaigning for a better price.