22,308,000,000 pounds of coffee are produced yearly around the world. 1 coffee tree is needed to produce 1 pound of coffee per year. So, let’s talk (coffee) plants.
Is it a tree? Is it a bush? Only God knows (technically it’s a shrub but tree is fine ‘cause they’re tall).
Coffee trees can be grown to a multitude of sizes based on how they’re trimmed and pruned – this is typically done to maximize hand picking. The tree grow little berries called “cherries.” These cherries start as green and as they ripen, turn red (hence the name cherries) alerting the farmer it’s picking time! These cherries are what we all covet. All of us feverish caffeine-cravers, the ever alert java-junkies, the latte-lappers, and so on.
Inside a coffee cherry is a number of components, which you can see, such as silver skin & mucilage, etc. These components are valuable, but for us, our focus is on the seed(s). You can see there are two seeds inside the center of the fruit, each with a flat side that faces inward and a rounded side that faces out. If you buy your coffee whole bean rather that pre-ground (which you should #justsayin) you have probably seen this before. The seeds, most often called beans, grow annually on the coffee tree – occasionally bi-annually – but the second yield is considerably less desirable, as the tree has given its best effort and nutrients to the first crop. We should take a moment's pause to appreciate as consumers how the coffee is only ripe and pickable once a year. This means a great deal for the farmer, soil, coffee sourcing, etc. We will revisit some of these topics in later posts, so stay tuned.
FUN FACT #1 – On occasion, a cherry only produces a single, rounded seed, called a “peaberry”. These are interesting because they’re rare and have to be treated differently during processing and roasting. For example, each peaberry is sorted and set aside by hand!
Coffee grows almost exclusively in what is known as the “Coffee Belt”. This belt is an area near the equator, below the Tropic of Cancer, and above the Tropic of Capricorn. (Thanks Ms. Frangella, 6th grade geography teacher #latitude-fatitude). This section of the globe has steamy enough temperatures needed to grow a tropical plant like coffee – this is why some coffees have tasting notes described as tropical fruits or cocoa. These areas are opposite to that of wine regions. God decided it was best to separate the two best crops so not to show favoritism.
Please enjoy this never-before-seen picture of Jesus enjoying his morning coffee.
In addition to temperatures, we need other conditions to produce healthy coffee trees and cherries, such as elevation. Why? Because the higher a plant grows, the more it struggles (for example: rockier soil and less oxygen), the more it struggles, the denser the fruit. The denser the fruit, the more concentrated the flavor and more resilient the bean is to the heat of roasting. Less dense beans are simply more frail and can’t withstand the roasting process.
So let’s recap: The steamier the temps and the higher the elevation, the more the bean struggles and therefore creates a denser, more concentrated, more resilient bean which is better for roasting and in turn best for drinking. Maybe there’s a life lesson in there? The harder the struggle, the better the brew. Maybe that will catch on.
FUN FACT #2 – a lot of coffee grows on or near volcanoes. Good rich soil and great elevation.
Generally, the coffee belt is split into three main growing regions: Asia, Africa, and Latin America. You can see on a globe that these are the masses of land found in near the equator. These regions are typically understood for having their own general flavor profiles that are most commonly expressed in a coffee crop produced in that area. Latin America is known to be chocolatey and nutty. African coffees have elements of berries and citrus fruits. And Asian coffees are earthy and softly spiced. These flavors are again, natural tasting notes that come from the tree (not from additives).
I hate to be the bearer of bad news; but if your coffee tastes like a peppermint patty hit you on the face, that’s not natural. If your coffee tastes subtly of fresh blueberries or candied walnuts, that’s all nat-ur-al.
The tree’s specific varietal and the growing region also imparts their natural flavors. This flavor imparted by geography alone is called “terroir” and if you think, “Hey that’s pretty beautiful that the earth just gives up complex, rich, and dynamic flavors all on its own” ... you’re right. Coffee plants, the elevation, the terroir, all contribute to RICH flavors that are unique to that particular plant, in that particular location.
Which leads us to our main point. What do coffee plants and Lizzo have in common?
Both are 100% that rich.
Until next time, when we will delve into that rich terroir more.
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