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Coffee - Bean Growing

#226 - 18 - 0 - Coffee - Bean Growing
[ 2008-09-24 05:48:16 ] - lizc

For a tree grown in over 70 countries, from Indonesia to Brazil, it's curious how narrow a range of conditions is required to produce quality 'beans' and how relatively small the total output is.

The word 'beans' is deliberately in single-quote marks, since the thing
that gets roasted and ground to make the drink isn't really a bean at
all, it's a seed.

In particular, it's the seed of a fruit that grows on trees that can
easily reach twenty feet or more. Some wild varieties grow to over 45
feet or 15m. Most of those seeds come in a pair, though there is a
variety that produces only one (the peaberry). The berry resembles a
cranberry, with a sweet pulp covered by a membrane called a silverskin.

In a band around the equator from approximately 25 degrees north or
south, comes the overwhelming majority of the world's coffee output.
Temperatures of between 60F (15C) and 70F (21C) are best as is rainfall
of six inches per month or more.

Loamy, good-draining soil is needed and also helpful is high humidity -
plenty of mist and cloud at the high elevations, over 3000 ft (915m)
for the good stuff. At these elevations the oxygen content is lower, so
the trees take longer to mature.

The robusta, or coffea canephora, goes into making the majority of
coffee because it can be grown at lower altitudes and is more disease
resistant. But it's the high-altitude coffea arabica that forms the
base of a gourmet cup.

Diffuse light and moderate winds are helpful, both of which are
sometimes produced by deliberately growing in the shelter and shade. By
contrast, wine grapes like hot sun and lots of it.

Once planted, the tree takes about five years to mature to first crop
and even then a single tree will only make enough for about two pounds
(1 kilogram) of coffee.

Those two pounds equal about 2,000 beans, (correct or not, it's the
standard term), usually hand-picked by manual laborers. Manual they may
be, but ignorant they are not. Coffee bean harvesting is a skill
developed over time, where the picker learns to select good beans and
discard the bad. Bean by individual bean. That's only one reason coffee
is high priced.

The trees have broad, dark green leaves and produce a flower that
resembles Jasmine. Some - in Brazil and Mexico, for example, - blossom
over a six to eight week period. In countries that lie along the
equator such as Kenya and Colombia, though, a tree can have mature
berries growing alongside still ripening ones. That's part of what
makes picking such a specialty.

Blossom to harvest may cover a period of up to nine months depending on
the weather and other factors and the cycle will be carried out for the
life of the tree - about 20-25 years. With the best cultivation
technology, a good harvest will be between 6,600 lbs (3,000 kg) and
8,800 lbs (4,000 kg) per hectare. (One hectare is about 2.47 acres.)

From these inaccessible regions, where conditions are harsh, the
berries are brought down and processed to make up the world's second
largest commodity (by annual dollar volume).

So, the next time you savor that brew, give a thought to the long
journey it traveled to reach your cup. It might make that high price
seem less steep.

Source Coffee All Day

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Coffee in Latin America and the Caribbean by Liz Canham

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