Humankind has enjoyed coffee for almost a millennium. More popular today than ever, cultivation, harvesting, transport, and trade have changed mainly despite many coffee farmers’ traditional awareness.
Behind every espresso bean, there is a complex and finely tuned process that is worth knowing, especially for curious coffee drinkers. We can only touch on some of fascinating fundamentals in this short article, but encourage coffee lovers and students to venture over to ConvergentCoffee.com to pick up the story where we leave off here.
The coffee plant’s favorite climate
Most coffee plants feel most comfortable in tropical to subtropical climates with sufficient rainfall and even average temperatures of 18 to 26 degrees Celsius. In particular, the popular Arabica variety prefers higher-lying areas, which is why it is also called highland coffee. Even if pests are more comfortable to control high up, the effort involved in cultivation, harvesting, and transport increases enormously, which is why Arabica beans are more expensive than the Robusta coffees grown in the lowlands.
In the so-called “coffee belt” of the tropics between 23 degrees north and 25 degrees south, there are over 80 coffee-producing countries. Different areas and circumstances produce different types of coffee, whether Blue Mountain from Jamaica, Kopi Luwak from Indonesia, monsoon or Himalayan coffee,
The journey begins with the cultivation of the coffee plant. Selected green coffee beans are loosely covered with nutrient-rich soil and adequately watered in so-called “nurseries” (similar to a tree nursery). After a few days, the seedlings called “Soldatjes” sprout, and a year later, the young coffee bushes are moved to large plantations. For exceptionally pure variety, parts of a fully grown coffee plant are planted as seedlings in the ground. Often “Coffie Mamas,” called banana or pepper trees, are combined with coffee bushes to provide the shade essential for coffee plants and create a healthy mixed culture.
After three to four years, it is worth harvesting the bushes; most varieties achieve maximum yield after up to ten years. The coffee plants, some of which can be up to ten meters tall, are trimmed and kept in shape throughout their lives to be harvested without heavy equipment. After about twenty years, the first plants begin to lose their fertility and are finally replaced by new ones.
The coffee harvest
Because coffee plants prefer to grow in tropical regions with the most constant climate possible, the seasons they are exposed hardly differ. The flowering time and the resulting fruits do not depend on the season but heavy rainfall. Long-lasting droughts are often devastating, especially for coffee, and are quickly reflected in the level of world market prices. The coffee bush blooms two to three weeks after every heavy rainfall, even if it rains ten times in a year.
Modern farms, in particular, can optimize their production through uniform, artificial irrigation. Since, depending on the species, it can take between six and eleven months before the blossoms develop into ripe coffee cherries, there are fruits of varying degrees of ripeness on the bushes at all times. A high-quality selection is, therefore, only possible with the so-called “picking” method.
Picking and Stripping
With the picking method, the coffee cherries are harvested by hand. The worker only picks ripe, red cherries and can sort out faulty or sour cherries. Because unripe beans and flowers are left on the plant, picking is a very economical method of the coffee harvest that produces the highest quality. Due to the increased workload, coffee that is picked by hand is more expensive, but at the same time, creates more jobs and is preferred for growing arabica in mountainous areas that are inaccessible to machines.
For a full 60 kg sack of green coffee, up to one hundred well-bearing coffee plants must be harvested. With so-called stripping, all coffee cherries are stripped from the bush about once or twice a year. Although unripe and rotten beans are also harvested here, stripping is still cheaper due to the considerable time savings.
Harvesting machines have recently been used, especially in Robusta cultivation in flatter areas. Just like with stripping, all fruits on the tree are always harvested and sorted afterward. For this, the coffee plants must be planted uniformly in rows and must not exceed a certain height. A vertically attached brush rotates on both sides against the plant and brings the coffee cherries down. Older machines require a clean floor with no vegetation to pick up the fruit, causing many herbicides.
Newer appliances, on the other hand, catch-all fruit in a collecting device. Since many coffee plants are damaged by the machines and most of the coffee is grown in impassable areas,