Without a doubt nowadays, coffee has become a symbol of relaxation and social acceptance. It is fully integrated in our daily lives and accompanies our breakfast, lunch, even dinner, adding its distinctive aroma and flavor to the several delicacies with which it can harmoniously be coupled with. We drink coffee at home, at work, going to work, on our break and even to relax with friends.
Yet, only a few know what a coffee-tree looks like, let alone the extremely complex process of growing and processing coffee seeds. The pleasure derived from a cup of coffee is rarely associated with the hundreds of hours of labor required to actually make the delicious fruit of the coffee tree into our favorite beverage.
There are countless coffee varieties as well as denominations of origin and production sites around the globe. Kafea or coffea is an evergreen shrub that belongs to the botanical family of the Rubiaceae. It is covered with dark-green, soft leaves that grow in parallel pairs, with the branches reaching a height of 9-12 meters in some cases. Coffee beans (or the coffee tree fruit) resemble those of a cherry or a camellia tree. Current agricultural practice though means that the trees are pruned to take the form of a small bush (2-8 m. height). This facilitates the trimming of the plant as well as the harvest of the fruit. It takes 3 to 4 years after planting for a coffee tree to produce fruit. Its flowers are white and grow on the axils of the leaves while their scent resembles that of jasmine.
Traditionally coffee was grown in the shade as the varieties of the plant tend to be "sunlight shy". The coffee tree is also thirsty and requires a lot of soil moisture to grow healthy. The added bonus, mother nature intended by engineering the conditions for growing in the shade was that coffee grown in the shade of bigger trees would naturally reap the advantage of fallen leaves and mulched soil that helps retail water in the soil.
It wasn't until modern times that coffee farmers would attempt to industrialize coffee farming. The preferred method used to be the planting of several seeds directly in the plantation fields. However, this practice has been replaced by more advanced methods which have been developed to ensure both tree health and vastly increased yields. Modern farmers will usually raise seedlings in controlled environments before transplanting them in fields and production crops.
Most production crops tend to be rotated every decade, however during the first few years of sowing the plants in arable fields farmers will also use other edible crops to both assist and control the young trees.
On the next article in the series we will look at bean production in more detail! Join us again or subscribe to our mailing list to receive regular updates!