Coffee – The Social Drink Of Choice (Cont.)
The Coffee Cultivation
- Coffea arábica, with the variety Typica or Arábica and the Bourbon, including its mutant, the Caturra
- Coffea canéphora, with the variety Robusta
- Coffea libérica, with the varieties Excelsa and Barako
Coffea arábica finds its origin in the Abessinian highlands, Ethiopia, where it is growing in the wild at 1000 to 2000m. It was traded already some 200 years, in the Arabian peninsula, with, what is now known as Yemen, as a center of commerce, when Linnaeus, the Swedish botanist, described the plant in 1753.
Arábica coffee named after the region where it was traded first, was later spread all over the world. The first cultivation in Asia was already reported from the end of the 17th century, while the Americas, got involved in the mid`19th century. Later the variety Bourbon was brought to South America. This variety was named after the French island of Bourbon, where it was found. The island is now named Reunion and is near Madagascar. Columbia is the main production area of this variety and its mutant, the Caturra, which has a very good mild flavor.
At one time arábica was believed to belong to a sub-genus Eucoffea arábica and this could have been true, as this specie has a double set of chromosomes (44). Time will tell as for now it still is officially known as C. arábica, with its varieties arabica arabica or arabica tipica and the arabica bourbon
A strain of Coffea arábica was found in Ethiopia, as described by Maria Bernadette Silvarolla, a researcher of Instituto Agronomico de Campinas (IAC), who published her findings in the journal Nature. This strain contains about 5% of the caffeine content of normal arábica, but with the same taste. This may be a possible candidate for genetic hybridization of coffee with no caffeine. Breeding and hybridizing is still ongoing
Around mid 19th century, another specie made its debut in the coffee regions, the canéphora, with better resistance to the common diseases and two times higher yield and almost two times higher caffeine content, but with a lesser quality than the arábica. The beans make strong, but bitter coffee. It is frequently used as filler. In blends, it is preferred in Italy for the strong flavor. I personally do not qualify this specie as having a bad quality. The bitterness is just due to the higher caffeine content.
This specie originally is from the central African region, Cameroun and neighboring countries. They are less or not susceptible to diseases of the arabicas. Vietnam converted most of its cultivation to this specie.
During the problems at the end of the 19th century, liberica coffee from Liberia and Ivory Coast was introduced in the coffee growing regions and although the significance of this specie is very limited it is cultivated in Western Africa, Malaysia, Philippines and Coastal area of Suriname, where labor became a problem, after the abolishment of slavery.
The Dutch also introduced it in some parts of Indonesia at the same time. The variety Barako saved the Philippines coffee culture. The plants grow up to 18 meters high and withstand the climate issues as drought and heavy rain better.
The Harvesting of Coffee
The harvest of the Coffea arábica is very expensive as it has to be done by hand to pick only the ripe drupes. The ripeness of the drupes is crucial in this specie as it affects the taste. The plants are much smaller than the other two species and it is still the most important specie in the coffee market with some 2/3 of the total production.
Although at the end of the 19th century it was almost blown away by diseases and pests. The rapid action to control this problem and bringing it back in proportion avoided this disaster. Harvest in the western hemisphere is done mostly in the winter months (Brazil), while in Asia (Indonesia) harvesting is done year around.
Another advantage of canéphora specie is, that the harvest season is much more prolonged and the flowers are not damaged by heavy rains. The ripened fruits also stay on the tree. Vietnam converted most of its cultivation to this specie. The harvest may be mechanized.
As the trees are taller, the workers need to use ladders, most made of bamboo.
Harvest of the libérica is done in the same way as the canéphora and further shares most of the resistance to climate problems with that specie.
The most expensive coffees in the world are those recovered from the droppings of Civet cats and rodents. The price may run up to $600 to $700 per pound. The coffee drupes are eaten by these animals and the seeds are dropped with the husk intact, to be collected later by hand. These coffee beans come from Indonesia, Philippines and Vietnam.
Hype or not, the taste in general is very smooth and special, an evidence that fermentation process of the pulp is essential in the preparation of the drupes. the price is mostly hyped, although due to quantities and harvesting method the price is surely influenced.
There are many ratsnakes in the coffee fields, scaring much of the workers. One coffee plantation in Brazil, at one time, thought to please the workers and eradicate most of the snakes. They, however, soon had to reverse the measure as the action provoked an explosion of rats. Never ever disturb the natural balance of nature, unless there are other mechanisms in place.
In the Americas the single-seeded drupes, which normally appear at the end of the branches, are frequently selected out and traded separately under the name of Caracolillo or Peaberry, The name Caracolillo is given to these single-seeded drupes, because the seeds being single in the drupes forms a round green seed, more or less resembling a small snail shell. It is on one hand good to select these drupes as the green coffee performs different during roasting. The extra quality to this selected beans is mostly perception.
The major coffee producing regions lie in the tropics, 23° north and south of the equator, Nowadays more than half the world production comes from the Americas with 58.3% in 2011, followed by Asia & Oceania, with 26.9% and Africa with 14.7.
The world coffee production from a little over 70 producing and exporting countries, reached almost 8 million tons in 2011 and from this, 63.2% came from arábica species and 36,8% from canéphora, mainly variety Robusta.
Brazil remained the highest producer with 32.8%, followed by Vietnam with 14.0%, Ethiopia with 7.4%, Indonesia and Columbia with respectively 6.6% and 6.4%.
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