The popularity of coffee is ever growing with coffee chains like Starbucks on every high street, espresso machines in every restaurant and a coffee vending machine in every office. Considering the number of countries that now produce coffee beans; over seventy around the globe, the conditions necessary for coffee growing are highly specific and the overall output is not that high.
Although we always refer to coffee beans, the term is actually misleading as the green or red object that is roasted to make coffee is in fact a seed. It is found at the center of fruits that grow on trees, often about twenty feet tall but often reaching up to forty feet. The fruit looks a little like a cranberry and has a soft sweet flesh covered by a silver skin membrane. Usually seeds within these fruits are in pairs, although certain types such as the Peaberry only have one seed.
Ideal conditions for growing coffee are moderate temperatures of consistently between sixty and seventy degrees Fahrenheit. Coffee requires a high level of rainfall and humidity, over six inches of rain monthly is the required amount. These conditions are generally found near the equator, roughly twenty five degrees to the north and south, where most of the world’s coffee is produced.
Coffee growing also requires good drainage, and mist and cloud to provide the aforementioned humidity. The highest quality coffees are grown at high altitude, preferably over three thousand feet, as the lack of oxygen at this level ensures that the coffee trees and fruits mature at a slower pace. Robusta coffee can be grown at lower altitudes and is often used because it is resistant to a lot of common diseases, but it has higher caffeine content than its better quality partner, Arabica, which is used for superior roasts.
The initial investment in coffee farming takes some time to pay off. Once a tree is planted it can take at least five years to come to maturity and its first harvest will only yield enough beans to produce two pounds of coffee. To make those two pounds of coffee takes roughly two thousand beans, hand picked and sorted by plantation laborers. Along the equator, in Kenya for example, mature beans can be found on the same tree as still ripening ones, which makes picking a real skill. You can begin to see why coffee is an expensive commodity.
Coffee trees have wide, dark green leaves, and as well as the fruit, the produce a flower similar to Jasmine. The blossom period varies greatly by country, the trees in Brazil and Mexico flower for between six and eight weeks.
From the time of blossoming, the crop will be ready to pick at about nine months, although this is determined by the climate. Trees will bear fruit for about twenty five years, after which the tree is no longer good for producing coffee beans. Depending on the success of the harvest, a good crop will yield between six and nine thousand pounds of coffee per hectare.
So next time you complain about the cost of that after dinner espresso, think about the effort that has been put into producing it and you may be a little softened.
Being very passionate about espresso and coffee, Johnathan Bakers is editing plenty of news on this specific matter. Through his publications on coffee and expresso machines the writer confirmed his skill on the subject.