Eventually cultivated on four continents, arabica coffee grows in some of the most scenic and climatically pleasant regions of the world. A mountain-loving plant, it prefers volcanic soils at elevations between 2,000 and 6,000 feet (600-1,800 m) above sea level. In the absence of irrigation, arabica requires moderate rainfall, at least 47-59 inches (120-150 cm) per year. Too much rain can cause erosion and nutrient loss from the soil. The plants tolerate only a narrow range of temperatures, with an annual average of 70 degrees Fahrenheit (22 C). When temperatures are too hot, the white blossoms drop from the bushes before they have a chance to bear fruit. Low temperatures cause the plant to grow too slowly. Frost can be lethal and, when combined with drought, can cause massive crop failures such as the 1975 "Black Frost" in Brazil, so named because the dead coffee plantations appeared black from above.

Such widespread failures are especially damaging to the arabica industry because coffee seedlings must mature for three to four years before the plants will fruit. Mature plants produce green berries that turn bright red when ripe and ready for picking. After harvest, the sticky outer layers of the berry are washed away or removed after drying, leaving two beans per berry, or roughly four thousand beans per plant per year, which will make about one pound of roasted coffee. To establish new plants, cultivators squeeze the berries to remove the sticky pulp, then wash the beans in water. They then either dry the beans in the shade or soak them in water, and ferment them for up to ten hours before drying. Typically growers cultivate seedlings in a nursery before planting them in the ground.