Brief History of Coffee Classification
The first recorded taxonomic description of coffee was by French naturalist Antoine de Jussieu, who described a coffee plant from the botanical garden of Amsterdam as “Jasminum arabicanum, lauri folio, cujus femen apudnos coffee decir” (“Arab jasmine, with laurel type leaves, the beans of which we can call coffee”) (Wintgens, 2009). In 1737 Linnaeus classified coffee into a separate genus, Coffea, in his Hortus Cliffortianus, a catalog of the plants that wealthy Amsterdam banker and hobby botanist George Clifford III (thus the “Cliffortianus”) had accumulated at his country estate, Hartekamp. In his Species Plantarum Linnaeus again classified coffee as a separate genus; Coffea, however, maintained in the epithet the false assumption that the plant originated in the Arabian Peninsula, rather than East Africa.
Throughout the second half of the nineteenth century many new Coffea species were discovered in Africa (Clifford & Wilson, 1985). Full taxonomies of coffee were made by Froehner (1898), Chevalier (1938, 1947) and Lebrun (1941) (Wintgens, 2009). Auguste Jean Baptiste Chevalier’s taxonomy, published as Les Cafeiers du Globe in 1947, grouped the species of Coffea into four sections: Eucoffea, Mascarocoffea, Argocoffea, and Paracoffea. These divisions have since been disputed, and recently Leroy (1980) has suggested creating separate genera for Agrocoffea and Paracoffea (Leroy, 1980). Of note is that the major commercial species of coffee, C. arabica and C. canephora, fall into Eucoffea and Mascarocoffea species and have the commonality of having caffeine.
The most recent taxonomy of coffee, published in 2006 in the Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society 152, lists 103 species of Coffea and can be purchased online from Wiley Online Library.
Division (Phylum): Anthophyta or Magnoliophyta
Also known as angiosperms, flowering plants that produce fruits with seeds that contain an endosperm.
This class comprises dicots, or plants that generally contain two cotyledons, have vascular bundles that only occur in one ring in the stem, and flower parts occuring in sets of five. This class contains six subclasses: Magnoliidae, Hamamelidae, Caryophyllidae, Dilleniidae, Rosidae, and Asterdae (Mauseth, 2003).
Most plants of the Asterdae subclass have 3 common characteristics: Petals are fused together into a tube, there are fewer stamens than petal lobes, and stamens alternate with petals. Many plants in this subclass contain iridoid compounds which rarely found outside the Asteridae subclass. Several important medicinal plants are found in this subclass such as the Cinchona tree, source of quinine, and Vinca, or periwinkle, that has documented anti-cancer properties (Mauseth, 2003).
Variously called the Madder family since the family derives its name from the madder (whose scientific name is Rubia tinctoria), the Bedstraw Family, or the Coffee Family. Other genera besides coffea include Gardenia, Cinchona L.(which contains the anti-malarial alkaloid quinine), Galium L (most species are known as bedstraw) and Morinda L.
Genus: Coffea L.
Shrubs or small trees native to subtropical Africa and southern Asia.
Species: Coffea arabica, Coffea canephora
Note: This coffee taxonomy is based on Morphology of Plants and Fungi (1987) by Bold, Alexopoulos, and Delevoryas (see Sources below).
Taxonomic Categories Defined
The highest taxonomic rank of life. In 1990 Carl Woese introduced a classification above Kingdom called “Domain,” and defined three types of domains: 1. Bacteria: Single-cell prokaryote (lack cell nucleus) organisms. The Domain “Bacteria” has one kingdom, also called Bacteria.
2. Archaea: Single cell organisms that lack a cell nucleus and any other organelles.
3. Eukaryotes: Organisms comprised of cells that contain a nucleus.
There are six widely accepted kingdoms and they are: Bacteria, Archaea, Protista, Plantae, Fungi, and Animalia.
Note that division and phylum refer to the same taxonomic level, with phylum being used in botanical classification. Division names end in –phyta.
Class: Class names end in –opsida.
Subclass: Subclass names end in -idae.
Order: Order names end in -ales.
Family: There is general agreement as to which genera belong to which families. The reason for this is likely the long evolutionary line of each family. Family names end in -aceae. Examples of families are banana (Musaceae), maple (Aceraceae), pepper (Piperaceae), and ginger (Zingiberaceae).
Genus: Members of similar species. Criteria for what defines a genera (the singular form of the plural “genus”) is subjective and often disputed.
Species: The most fundamental level of classification. Plants are of the same species if they can interbreed. Members of different species cannot interbreed.
How do you pronounce rubiaceae?
The most common pronunciation is “ruby a-c-e”
What does the “L.” after coffea arabica mean (see above)?
The name of a species may be followed by the name of the author that first published a valid description of that species. “L.” stands for Linnaeus. Here is the wikipedia link to standard author abbreviations accepted in Botany.
Linnaeus introduced the binomial classification as a simple and clear means of identifying species. Each species receives two names. The first is the name of the genus and begins with a capital letter. The second name, called the epithet, can often be descriptive, describing the origin or a characteristic of the species. An example of this is Lupinus texensis, or Texas Bluebonnet. Since Linnaeus thought that the coffee plant was native to the arabian peninsula (coffee, in fact, had arrived in Holland from modern-day Yemen), he added the epithet arabica.
Mauseth, J.D. Botany: An Introduction to Plant Biology (3rd ed.). Sudbury: Jones and Barlett Publishers, Inc, 2003.
Wintgens, J. N. Coffee: Growing, Processing, Sunstainable Production (2nd ed.). Weinhem: Wiley-VCH, 2009.
Linnaeus, Carl. Hortus Cliffortianus.
Bold, H., Alexopoulos, C., & Delevoryas, T. Morphology of Plants and Fungi (4th ed.). New York: Harper & Row, 1980.
Mendes, A. & Guimaraes, R. Genetica e Melhoramento do Cafeeira. Lavras: Editora UFLA, 2001.
Leroy, J.F. “Evolution et taxogenese chez les cafeiers. Hypothese suure leur origine.” Comptes Rendus de l’Academie des Sciences, Paris, 291, 593-6, 1980.