Enough with transportation, let’s get on to coffee.
As someone who grew up in North America, I had preconceived idea of what a coffee tree and coffee cherry would look like. I know cherry trees, so I envisioned a tall tree with a fruit rich in pulp.
Coffee trees are about 6 feet tall. If you do not prune coffee trees they will grow to 15 feet or more. The farmers prune the tops to keep all of the fruit at easy picking height.
Red vs. yellow coffee cherries is like red vs green apples. They are different species of trees. Although both are in the same family of the catuai, there isn’t a noticeable difference in taste between the colours. Matias did some tasting of exclusively yellow catuai and it felt a bit smoother, not like the apples where the flavor between red and yellow is completely different.
Classic botany images of coffee tree branches.
This illustration shows different stages that cannot be found at the same time in the branch. It shows the white blooms, which in Costa Rica comes in early April. Since coffee is a relative of the Jazmin, the scent of the plantation during the blooming is pure Jazmin, really breathtaking. (Matias produces a coffee bloom honey that is very mild and soft scented.) The blooms are not on the tree at the same time as the beans. The “puyas” (buds) house the bloom before it opens up. The puyas remain in the tree until they are stimulated by rain. Thirteen days after the rains, the puyas open up and bloom for four days.
In this shot, we are looking down the driveway into the mature tree plantation. Coffee trees are tucked everywhere possible. This plantation is about 12 years old, and the planting was done closer. The new plantations plant at 1.25 metres between each plant with two metres between rows. What surprised me was how steep the hills are that the coffee trees are planted on. This helps to keep water from accumulating and gives better sun exposure. If a plantation faces west, it gets longer exposure to sunlight. Matias offered to let me pick coffee, but other than the plants like these on the roadside, the hills were too difficult for me to climb. Later, Panama migrant workers carried out 75 pound sacks of cherries down those hills. I was impressed.
When you peel open a coffee cherry, you can see the sugar-packed mucilage that covers the bean. The inner wall of the peel has a fiber that is used to produce coffee paper. There is a natural split in the bean, two pieces that are separated the minute the beans are peeled. Each of those halves is what we call a whole bean, and the guarantee, when presented as whole beans, is that each of those halves is not broken and therefore guards aroma and flavor better.
When a cherry is peeled, the bean is revealed. In contrast to a North American sweet cherry, a coffee cherry has very little pulp. Most of the coffee cherry is the two beans.
The pulp is very sweet, but the skin is bitter.
In later posts, I will discuss planting and then picking.