Coffea arabica takes about seven years to mature fully and does best with 1-1.5 meters (about 40-59 inches) of rain, evenly distributed throughout the year. It is usually cultivated between 1,300 and 1,500 m altitude, but there are plantations as low as sea level and as high as 2,800 m. The plant can tolerate low temperatures, but not frost, and it does best when the temperature hovers around 20 °C (68 °F). Commercial cultivars mostly only grow to about 5 m, and are frequently trimmed as low as 2 m to facilitate harvesting. Unlike Coffea canephora, Coffea arabica prefers to be grown in light shade.
Two to four years after planting Coffea arabica produces small, white and highly fragrant flowers. The sweet fragrance resembles the sweet smell of jasmine flowers. When flowers open on sunny days, this results in the greatest numbers of berries. This can be a curse however as coffee plants tend to produce too many berries; this can lead to an inferior harvest and even damage yield in the following years as the plant will favor the ripening of berries to the detriment of its own health. On well kept plantations this is prevented by pruning the tree. The flowers themselves only last a few days leaving behind only the thick dark green leaves. The berries then begin to appear. These are as dark green as the foliage, until they begin to ripen, at first to yellow and then light red and finally darkening to a glossy deep red. At this point they are called 'cherries' and are ready for picking. The berries are oblong and about 1 cm long. Inferior coffee results from picking them too early or too late, so many are picked by hand to be able to better select them, as they do not all ripen at the same time. They are sometimes shaken off the tree onto mats, which means that ripe and unripe berries are collected together.
The trees are difficult to cultivate and each tree can produce anywhere from 0.5-5 kg of dried beans, depending on the tree's individual character and the climate that season. The real prize of this cash crop are the beans inside. Each berry holds two locules containing the beans. The coffee beans are actually two seeds within the fruit, there is sometimes a third seed or one seed, a peaberry in the fruits at tips of the branches. These seeds are covered in two membranes, the outer one is called the 'parchment' and the inner one is called the 'silver skin'.
In perfect conditions, like those of Java, trees are planted at all times of the year and are harvested year round. In less ideal conditions, like those in parts of Brazil, the trees have a season and are harvested only in winter. Gourmet coffees are almost exclusively high-quality mild varieties of coffea arabica, like Colombian coffee.
Arabica coffee production in Indonesia began in 1699. Indonesian coffees, such as Sumatran and Java, are known for heavy body and low acidity. This makes them ideal for blending with the higher acidity coffees from Central America and East Africa.
The first written record of coffee made from roasted coffee beans comes from Arabian scholars who wrote that it was useful in prolonging their working hours. The Arab innovation of making a brew from roasted beans, spread first among the Egyptians and Turks and later on found its way around the world.