Growth Of A Coffee Plant: An Untold Story
The coffee plant is where it all starts. It’s the source of something that’s entirely non-negotiable in our lives; the morning cup of coffee. The brown goodness that gets us out of the bed starts as a bright red cherry on a plant with delicate white flowers in full bloom. While it takes us only a few minutes to brew a cup of coffee, the coffee plant needs up to 4 years to bear fruit. During these years, the plant is heavily influenced by its environment. Factors like altitude, climate, and soil play important roles in the flavor development of a coffee bean.
Despite its name, a coffee bean is technically a seed of the coffee fruit. Whereas a coffee plant may also be categorized as a tree since it can reach heights of up to 9 meters. On coffee farms though, these ‘coffee trees’ are trimmed to the size of a bush to make it more manageable. Each farmer chooses a type of coffee to grow. There are numerous factors to account for, and this decision could make or break the harvest of the farm.
A coffee plant in the wild can survive up to 80 years of age. In a coffee plantation, however, they can only thrive for 20 to 30 years depending on the environment, the producer’s approach, and the variety. The region makes a difference too. After a coffee plant matures, flowers bloom soon after rainfall. In countries where rainfall is abundant, there may be multiple harvest seasons. That’s why the producers would need to know the intricacies of the plant, the seasons, the impact of local flora and fauna, and processing techniques.
Additionally, the time required to go from flowering to harvest differs based on the variety. The two most popular types of coffee, Arabica & Robusta are both unique in behavior. Arabica needs almost 9 months from flowering to harvest whereas Robusta doesn’t need as long. Depending on the planning and environmental conditions, Robusta can be harvested 3 times each year.
In the months leading up to the harvest, the farmer doesn’t have time to rest. Among the many responsibilities expected of the producer, some of the important ones include regular inspections to check for progress, ensuring that the cherries are ripening on cue, checking for pests, and making adjustments to create the ideal environment for the plants to flourish. In the war against pests and predators, caffeine is an ally. The coffee cherry uses caffeine as a natural defense mechanism against these uninvited guests. It turns out that the coffee plant loves caffeine as much as we do.
After showering these cherries with constant attention and love, they’re ready for harvest; a new challenge. To pick, sort, and separate the coffee beans is an intensive and strenuous task that demands effort and time. It’s especially difficult if the farmer deals in specialty coffee, like the ones we’ve partnered with. Specialty coffee farmers have to go through a whole song and dance to get their beans certified as “specialty”. The beans have to score above a certain threshold and undergo several evaluations that test every aspect of the coffee from the bean’s color to the brewed cup’s aftertaste. The farmer can rest easy once all parameters are satisfactory. To understand the specialty coffee scoring system, here’s our recommended reading.
In each coffee cherry, there are typically two coffee beans or rather “seeds”. Like all living things, the coffee plant needs several components working in unison. The integral parts of a coffee plant are the branches & leaves, the flowers, cherries, and the seeds. The leaves are responsible for feeding all the different members of the proverbial plant family. The flower, which appears for the first time after 3 years of growth, plays the part of reproductive organs that sustain the plant and brings the next generation to life.
Roughly 7 weeks after germination, a fruit akin to a cherry appears where the flower once bloomed. When they first appear, they’re green in color owing to the lack of ripeness. Over time, these fruits may develop a bright red appearance. But depending on the variety of the coffee plant, the final color may turn out to be yellow, orange, red, or sometimes even pink. While developing color, the fruit also becomes sweeter as it approaches peak ripeness. This would be the perfect time to start cherry-picking.
After harvest, the producer has to process the beans. They need to separate the coffee beans from the coffee cherry and dry them. Factors like climate, infrastructure, and sunlight influence the final product. During the drying process, the beans need some attention and require to be moved around every so often to avoid any undesired fermentation or mold on account of excess moisture. Processing techniques are aplenty, but there are three that stand out; Natural, Washed, and Honey/pulped natural. Each of these employs a different method that imparts a unique flavor to the bean.
To many of us, coffee is just a small part of our day. But some people dedicate their entire lives to cater to this need. Farmer families spend generations perfecting the art of coffee production and are proud of the fruits of their labor. Each coffee tree yields about 2000 cherries per harvest season. These cherries are meticulously harvested by hand yielding about 4000 beans, which amounts to a mere one pound of raw green coffee. Without the farmers’ continued commitment and enthusiasm to painstakingly produce high-quality coffee, our daily cup of joe would be in serious trouble.
We at Bunafr know the best way to honor these efforts. To drink our coffee the way the farmer intended, one must acquire raw green coffee and roast it at home. It should be a habit, one that radically improves our cup of coffee, helps farmers at the source, and lets you enjoy a guilt-free coffee experience at a fraction of the cost. If you’re someone that wants to make a difference in the world of coffee while improving your daily cup, here’s your chance.