In areas of Ethiopia, where coffee was discovered centuries ago, wild “heirloom” coffee bushes proliferate everywhere—by the roadsides, on the hills, untended. On the other end of the spectrum, in some countries—Colombia and Brazil, for example—research and mechanization have changed the face of coffee growing, and many new cultivars are produced in laboratories.

It all starts on an equatorial mountainside.

Coffee climates are typically found within 1,000 miles of the equator, and coffee grows sweeter as the altitude rises, until around 7,000 feet (2,100 meters) above sea level. At this point, the climate ceases to be temperate enough to permit growth. Coffee plants are usually nurtured from seed to seedling and then transplanted to the field, beginning to produce fruit in their fourth or fifth year. With careful tending, coffee trees can last for upwards of 40 years, depending on the variety.

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