The best-loved beverage in the world, most of us gratefully quaff our morning coffee without a second thought as to its origins, but it's an interesting story. 

Mostly grown in the Bean Belt - the equatorial region in the Americas, southeast Asia, India and Africa - coffee crops provide a sustainable living to many third world farmers. Unfortunately, many earn a pittance on what we pay for our brew in the shops (but that's for another post). 

Coffee's natural habitat provides shade for young shoots, which take between three and five years to produce fruit, or 'cherries'. When ripe, they're mostly harvested by hand, although some of the bigger farms do have mechanical harvesters. Harvesting happens over about three months and is done weekly or even daily as the fruit ripens. 

The beans are either left to dry in the sun - called the dry process - or they're processed wet to separate the beans and the pulp. They're then hulled and polished in a mill, then graded and sorted. They're usually exported at this point and roasted at their final destination.

The two most common species of coffee beans are arabica and robusta. Arabica the more sophisticated, makes up 70% of the world's consumption, even though its caffeine content is slightly lower. Robusta, as the name would suggest, is stronger in flavour and a hardier plant. Although most people know these two types, fewer know that arabica is the broad term for a range of cultivars, each known for its flavour or growing habits. It prefers the higher tropics, growing best at 3600 - 6300 ft, while Robusta grows best between 1800 - 3600ft, in more sub-tropical climates. From shrubs to 8m tall trees, coffee plants range in appearance and can live to around 80 years, although in a plantation, they'll do service for 20-30.

South Africa isn't a much of a coffee producer. The cost of labour is partially blamed for this - sadly, it's cheaper to import our beans prior to roasting. Also, although weather conditions are workable, they're not ideal (and the current El Nino drought has severely affected viable crops). One successful coffee grower is Beaver Creek Farm near Port Edward, which has a plantation of around 60 000, with a range of cultivars. It's really well worth a visit if you can't live without your daily brew and want to know more about the story of coffee. 

Until next time..... Manus

Leave a Reply

* Name:
* E-mail: (Not Published)
   Website: (Site url withhttp://)
* Comment:
Type Code