Richard Jackman, Founder and Coffee Roaster
Many of us enjoy our daily ritual of the must-have morning coffee without giving much thought to the humble coffee bean. Some of us might have a vague idea that it comes from distant countries in South America or Africa and that the coffee bean is brown due to it being roasted, but some don't really know much more than that. Questions you may never have asked include: what plant does the coffee bean come from, what does it look like on the plant, when and how often is it harvested and what steps are there to get from the plant to a roasted coffee bean.
It is actually a really fascinating and surprisingly complex process to get to your roasted coffee bean. So in the next few blogs, I will go through some of the steps (and show some cool pics) to give you a small insight into the extensive world of coffee that exists behind our daily staple beverage.
So first up we look at the coffee bush itself. The two commercially important coffee plant species are Caffea arabica (simply known as Arabica) and Coffea canephora (also known as Robusta). As its name implies Robusta coffee bushes are more robust making it easy to grow with lower agricultural input. It is known that Robusta coffee beans have a higher caffeine content than Arabica beans but the flavour is generally inferior. A cup of coffee made using Robusta beans is harsh, less sweet and lacking in the complex aroma and flavours, which high quality Arabia beans are renowned for. Thus, Robusta coffee world prices are much lower than Arabica and most of the Robusta coffee found in the market is in the form of instant coffee. We are going to concentrate on Arabica coffee plant as this is the species that our specialty coffee farmers grow in Peru.
The Arabia coffee plant is a small to medium size bush, growing to 3-4m in height. They are generally pruned to a 2m height for ease of harvest. The Arabica plant generally prefers growing conditions of around 15-24C and at high altitudes. In Peru our coffee growers' plantations are located at between 1500-1750m above sea level.
The fruit of the Arabica coffee plant are often referred to as cherries. When mature they can be either red or yellow and are oblong around 1cm in size. The bulk of the cherry is made up of the seed inside, of which there is usually two inside (each is a coffee bean). Surrounding the seed is a thin layer of flesh. This flesh is actually very sweet and pleasant tasting but it would require you to each a huge amount if you were hungry as there is so little of it per bean.
Cherries mature and ripen at different rates on the bush. Harvesting of immature or over-mature leads to poorer taste (harsh or winey flavours) so for specialty grade coffee such as ours, the coffee bush needs to be harvested multiple times, picking only the cherries that are at the correct maturity. This is very labour intensive.
Our growers in Northern Peru typically have small plantations of around 1-3Ha and a few at 10Ha. Coffee production is around 1200-1800kg per hectare, somewhat lower for our Organic growers. Unlike standard coffee growers, our growers's plantations are modern in design and each have a mix of high quality coffee producing varieties such as Bourbon, Tipica, Caturra and Pache.
Life is different for our Peruvian coffee growers. Whenever we visit Im always amazed (and slightly jealous) at their life-style. They are humble people and use all of their land to live off. Walking through a plantation we often find a huge range of exotic fruits and veges growing between the coffee bushes. Bananas, yuca (a tuber similar to tarro), pineapple, pacay, tobacco, are staples, as well as countless chickens, the odd cow and of course Cuy. Cuy is a large Peruvian breed of guinea pig and is a local delicacy. A bit like our Roast Lamb. The growers are always accommodating, are obsessed with all things coffee and love showing off plantations, new plantings or innovations. Even though my Spanish could be at best described as average, long conversations typically ensue on all things growing and producing coffee.
Im my next blog I will go over harvesting, processing, and drying of the coffee cherry and methods to get at the coffee bean inside.