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Arabica beans are actually seeds plucked from the cherries of the Coffea arabica plant and are one of the two types of beans used to produce a cup of coffee, the other type being robusta. Arabica beans have less caffeine, less acidity, more aromatic properties, and are considered to be the superior bean by many coffee drinking aficionados. This is the bean used for the more expensive specialty and gourmet coffees found in the United States. Some coffees are made with a blend of arabica and robusta beans to improve flavor while keeping costs down, but a coffee that meets the highest standards demanded will most likely be produced using 100% arabica beans.
Coffea arabica is indigenous to southwest Arabia and has been growing there for more than 1000 years. However, many varieties of the arabica bean exist and can be found growing in the subtropical and equatorial regions of Latin America and Asia, as well as Africa. Arabica beans are used in about 80% of the world's coffee production, leaving the robusta beans a much smaller 20% share of the market. This is despite the fact that robusta beans are grown on a much hardier plant, and the more delicate Coffea arabica requires very specific climatic conditions to be in place.
When growing in subtropical regions, the Coffea arabica is planted at altitudes of 1800 - 3600 ft (548 - 1097 m), in areas with a well-defined rainy and dry season. This results in one growing season and one harvesting season per year. In equatorial regions, the plants grow best at altitudes of 3600 - 6300 ft (1097 - 1920 m), with frequent rainfall. This results in constant flowering and allows for two harvesting seasons. The higher altitudes required for arabica bean development are the reason arabica coffee is sometimes referred to as "mountain" coffee.
Growing the coffee plant is only the first step in coffee production, of course. When the coffee fruits reach maturation, they are either hand-picked or pulled from the plants with harvesting equipment. Then, from each berry, two seeds (arabica beans) are extracted. These are then pulped, fermented, and eventually dried and prepared for distribution. The final step to prepare the Arabica beans for consumption is to roast the bean. This removes moisture and changes both the structure and color of the bean to suit the tastes of the coffee drinker. Beans from each region will have a distinct flavor and aroma, and will therefore be sought after based on the preferences of the various coffee consumers.