For me, coffee is one of the basic food groups. Any day that I don’t get my morning fix is a grim day for everyone. So, I was delighted when Cheryl Reed invited us to her coffee farm to demonstrate the coffee production process from beginning to end. High on a lush hillside, coffee trees nestle under banana trees for shelter. A coffee bean is actually the seed of the tree that, if it isn’t processed for consumption, can be planted. The seeds are usually planted in nurseries. Once they have sprouted, the seedlings are carefully repotted into plastic bags. After seven months they are approximately eighteen inches tall, and are ready to be permanently planted.
It takes between three and four years for the tree to mature enough to bear fruit, known as coffee cherries. The cherry turns a vivid red when it is fully ripe. Harvesting is done from April to August or September, and the pickers rotate among the trees every week to ten days choosing only the ripe cherries.
Once the cherries are picked, processing must start quickly before spoilage sets in. At Cheryl’s farm, the wet method of processing is used.
They remain in the tanks for about twelve hours to allow the naturally occurring enzymes to breakdown the layer of mucilage that is still attached to the bean.
Before those beans hit my grinder, they still have to be hulled, polished, graded and sorted, and roasted. It takes 9 minutes to roast the beans and they are checked every step of the way. At every stage of production, the beans are repeatedly tested by experts for quality and taste.
The tasting process is as intricate as that of a winery.
The expert takes a sip of the brew, there is much inhaling of air into the mouth and then swishing around of the liquid to release all of the nuances. After all that, the darn trees are only productive until they are about ten years old, so each coffee farmer must continually plant new trees. It is clearly a real labour of love to get my morning cup of divine deliciousness, and I have a whole new respect for the bean and those who produce it.
I will prepare my coffee thoughtfully and with full gratitude to the many people responsible for bringing it to my cup.