This is the first part in a small series which explains the coffee process from the seed to the cup.
When you envision the planting of a crop, you immediately think of miles of sowed fields ready to be planted by large machines. Generally, this is not the process of planing coffee, although I’m sure many a coffee farmer might wish it was. The real process is much more labor intensive, back breaking work.
There are two basic ways that farmers germinate the coffee seeds. The first method is spreading the seeds over a bed of very sandy soil with good drainage and then covering them with wet burlap sacks. Using this method, the farmer must keep close watch for the first signs of germination as the seeds need to be removed and planted in a poly sack for further development.
The other method involves mixing the seeds with Vermiculite, which is a hydrous silicate material, and placing the mixture in a plastic bag. The seeds will usually stay in the bags until the treeling reaches 40 cm in height.
From Germination to Treeling
One the treelings are pregerminated they are transferred to nursery beds and or poly bags. The trees grow best with a very robust mixture of topsoil, cow poop and coffee pulp. As the trees grow, they are exposed to an increasing amount of sunlight until they are completely uncovered about two months before planting.
For growing Arabica coffee beans, there are two optimal growing climates:
- The subtropical regions, at high altitudes of 16-24°. Rainy and dry seasons must be well defined, and altitude must be between 1800-3600 feet. These conditions result in one coffee growing season and one maturation season, usually in the coldest part of fall. Mexico, Jamaica, the S. Paulo and Minas Gerais regions in Brazil, and Zimbabwe are examples of areas with these climate conditions.
- The equatorial regions at latitudes lower than 10° and altitudes of 3600-6300 feet. Frequent rainfall causes almost continuous flowering, which results in two coffee harvesting seasons. The period of highest rainfall determines the main harvesting period, while the period of least rainfall determines the second harvest season. Because rainfall is too frequent for patio drying to occur, artificial drying with mechanical dryers is performed in this type of coffee growing environment. Examples of countries that have this climate are Kenya, Colombia, and Ethiopia.
Robusta coffee is grown at much lower altitudes (sea level-3000 feet) in an area 10° North and South of the equator. It is much more tolerant to warm conditions than Arabica coffee.
This part of the process is done with great care as it can make or break the entire process. On the best farms, trees are planted in areas near trees that will provide shade for the growing treeling. Farmers will routinely prune the canopies to provide the proper amount of shade and sun.
Look for the rest of the series in the coming weeks.