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Coffee. The Plant.

Artifacts in the Collection

Historic Overview

Puerto Rican Coffee was served in the Teddy Roosevelt White house.


The Coffea plant is native to subtropical Africa and southern Asia. It belongs to a genus of ten species of flowering plants of the family Rubiaceae. This family includes the gardenia, bedstraw, and madder (Rubia tinctorium) used since ancient times as a vegetable red dye for leather, wool, cotton and silk. The dye is fixed to the cloth with help of a mordant, most commonly alum. Madder can be fermented for dyeing as well (Fleurs de garance). In France, the remains were used to produce a spirit as well.

Mixed with clay and treated with alum and ammonia, it gives a brilliant red colourant (madder lake). The chemical name for the pigment is alizarin, of the anthraquinone-group. In 1869, the German chemists Graebe and Liebermann synthesised artificial alizarin, which was produced industrially from 1871 onwards, which effectively put an end to the cultivation of madder.

It is an evergreen shrub or small tree that may grow 5 meters tall when unpruned. The leaves are dark green and glossy, usually 100–150 millimeters long and 60 millimeters wide. It produces clusters of fragrant white flowers that bloom simultaneously. The fruit berry is oval, about 15 millimeters long, and green when immature, but ripens to yellow, then crimson, becoming black on drying. Each berry usually contains two seeds, but 5–10% of the berries have only one; these are called peaberries. Berries ripen in seven to nine months.