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If tasting a coffee is a pleasure shared by hundreds of millions of people, it is thanks to the recent development of this astonishing… agricultural sector. Along with cocoa, coffee is one of the most cultivated and exported commodities in the world. Brazil, Vietnam and Colombia, the three of them share more than half of the market. The other half includes countries in Central America, Africa and Asia.
A little history of coffee
It all started in Africa with the discovery of arabica coffee on the highlands of Ethiopia, in the Kaffa region. It was from Yemen and the port of Moka that it experienced its formidable ascent, in the 15th and 16th centuries. This new drink was called "qahwah" in Arabic, which means "invigorating". Muslim pilgrims, returning from Mecca, contributed greatly to the dissemination of the "qahwah" of Persia to the entire Ottoman Empire. It takes the name of "qahvè" in Turkish, then "caffè" in Venice, where it is brought by the Venetian merchants. The drinking establishments are gradually taking the name of cafes. "Le Procope" in Paris or "le Florian" in Venice were very famous in the 18th century as meeting places for intellectuals (Voltaire in Paris) around the reputedly invigorating drink. It would be a long time to cite the many factors of coffee expansion around the world. What is certain is that the Arabica leaves Europe to conquer the new world during the 18th century and is established in climates always tempered by altitude. Then in the 19th century, the robusta variety, native to the plains of the Congo, will acclimatize to the warmer and wetter areas of low altitude in different countries.
Description of the coffee tree
The coffee tree, of the genus Coffea (Linné), is a branched shrub, of bushy aspect, belonging to the family of Rubiacées. Coffea arabica and Coffea canephora (robusta) are the main species cultivated all over the planet, each with many cultivars. The foliage is evergreen and a beautiful shiny green. The leaves are opposite, the blade is lanceolate (which has the shape of a spearhead) and embossed, its edges are wavy and its veins clearly visible. The numerous white flowers are born in the axils of the leaves. Fragrant, with a jasmine scent, they have soldered petals with a starry appearance. The coffee tree needs 3 or 4 years of cultivation before producing fruits, which are drupes (fleshy fruits with two stones, each containing a coffee bean), first green, then yellow and finally scarlet red, where their name of coffee cherries. It is common for the fruits, sheathing the twig, alongside flowers on the same branch, several blooms per year being possible.
Coffee plantations (coffee plantations) and growing conditions
The location of the coffee plantations is distributed throughout the intertropical zone. Arabica is generally grown naturally on small family farmer farms, in the mountains and in the shade of forests. This variety gives coffee beans with fine and delicate aromas, with a caffeine level of around 1.5%. Yields are lower than in its cousin, the robusta. Robusta is grown in warm, sunny and humid plains. Its cultivation is more intensive in large plantations (haciendas in Brazil), where fertilizers and phytosanitary products are used in large quantities. The caffeine content of robusta beans is around 3.5%. The water requirements for coffee are very high (1.5 to 2 m of water per year). The average temperature should be 20 to 25 ° C, the robusta being less tolerant of temperature differences.
Harvesting and main processing stages
Picking requires a lot of manpower, since the different stages of maturity of the cherries stagger the harvest and make it difficult to mechanize this stage. To obtain a quality harvest (often for arabica), the manual picking of ripe cherries is the best technique. But for cost reasons, destemming, a technique which consists in scraping all the more or less ripe cherries from the same branch, is the harvest practiced in general for robusta. The transformation of the cherry into marketable green grains takes place quickly after harvesting using the dry or wet technique. The dry technique consists of drying the fruit in the sun for 20 days, then mechanically shelling the boiled coffee to obtain plain green coffee. The wet technique eliminates by pulping, then microbial fermentation, the skin and pulp of the cherries. The raw grains are then washed, sorted and dried. Finally, the parchment (grain husk) is removed mechanically and we obtain washed green coffee, of better quality than plain green coffee. Green coffee is transported to export sites and stored in 60 kg jute bags. After importing, the roasters will assemble the green coffees of different origins and carry out the roasting, cooking of the green bean, variable according to the taste of the countries. It is at this stage that all the finesse of the aromas can be revealed. There are still the stages of grinding and other transformations depending on the commercial purposes of the coffee (soluble, decaffeinated).
The coffee tree, houseplant
Far from the objective of producing coffee, the domestic cultivation of coffee brings the pleasure of a decorative and fragrant plant, like the Gardenia of the same family, provided you keep an interior heated all year round (minimum 15 ° C ) and well lit. In summer, the pot should be drenched (soak and drain) twice a week. The plant can be placed on a bed of moist clay beads to avoid too dry air. Above 20 ° C, it is necessary to spray the leaves. A fertilizer supply, twice a month, is important for the plant, during the growth period. Every two years, potting is recommended in a well-drained substrate, based on potting soil.
From cherry to cup, what a journey! And finally, a few words on recycling coffee grounds in the garden. Failing to read the future, it can be used as a repellant against slugs and aphids (spraying café au lait on vegetable plants, protective bead of coffee grounds around the plantations). You should also know that coffee grounds are rich in phosphorus and potassium and can be used as a fertilizer supplement or mulch substrate. Very dry, mixed with very fine seeds, it helps to distribute the seedlings well. Finally, if you have a vermicomposter, add the coffee grounds to the egg shells and to their cardboard packaging, the earthworms love the mixture. Perhaps a stimulant for these "earth brewers" ...