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Coffee tree, fruit tree!

To do an article on this famous black nectar that warms the heart and awakens the spirits, we have to...

Coffee tree, fruit tree!

To do an article on this famous black nectar that warms the heart and awakens the spirits, we have to start at the base of the process, that is to say at the botanical side of caffeine. We are so used to seeing coffee in its roasted form that we forget that it comes from a beautiful white flower. Grown mostly between 23 degrees North and 28 degrees South latitude, in the area commonly referred to as the "coffee belt", the coffee tree has its origins in Africa. Just like the grapes on the vine, the immediate environment in which the coffee tree grows influences the taste of the cherries. Humidity, temperature, sunshine, soil and water are all factors that will make the reputation of a production region such as the Blue Mountains in Jamaica, the Tarrazu in Costa Rica or the Yirgacheffe in Ethiopia.

Coffee tree in bloom in the Blue Mountains of Jamaica. Photo credit: Ma Caféine

There are several species of coffee trees, but those used mainly for cultivation and consumption are Coffea arabica and Coffea canephora, more commonly known as Arabica and Robusta, which produce 60% and 35% of the world's coffee production respectively. The coffee trees are maintained at heights of about 3 to 5 meters (Arabica), 10 to 12 meters (Robusta). They are pruned over a cycle of about 7 years in order to harden them and to stimulate a more abundant annual flowering. From the flowering will result in beautiful red cherries after having matured between 9 and 11 months!

Coffee cherries,
Blue Mountain Jamaica
Photo credit: Ma Caféine

Arabica coffee plants.
Credit: Ma Caféine

Arabica and Robusta are two completely different coffee trees. The first is narrow, grows at high altitude, produces few fruits and is relatively sensitive. The second is stronger, grows at low altitude, produces a lot of fruit and is very resistant. Once harvested, sorted, washed and dried for 2 to 5 weeks in the sun (to remove as much moisture as possible), the red pulpy shell of the cherry gives way to 2 small lime green beans. Here again, the differences between the products of the 2 trees are still very present to the naked eye. The oval shape of the Arabica bean has a slight sinuous curve that separates the seed while the Robusta is rounder, harder and has a straight line in the center of the bean.

Drying of arabica coffee beans. Photo credit: Ma Caféine

Containing more oil and sugar in its composition, arabica blends have better press and their tastes are more elaborate, fruity and tasty. More sought after and often promoted by the industry with its ''100% Arabica'' designation (which is not always true unfortunately), it is much more expensive per pound than robusta. With global warming, its production is more at risk because it is done in high places where temperatures are between 18 and 21 degrees Celsius.

Because of its stockier look, easier production and its caffeine content, twice as high, the robusta bean is often denigrated as a product especially in filter coffee causing a drier and more bitter taste. One of the main reasons why roasted robusta is not optimal in taste is that it is neglected in its harvesting process. Due to the much lower market price of Robusta than Arabica, growers do not take the time to process it properly with the same rigor as its counterpart, resulting in harvests that often contain more immature or lower quality beans. However, its lower oil content allows it to make cremas during espresso infusions more dense, stable and colorful.

In the end, we can say that Robusta and Arabica beans are to coffee what red and white grapes are to wine: a matter of taste profile.

Coffee conservation myth and reality

From the moment it is roasted, the flavor, oils, sugars and gases are released from the coffee and the countdown to freshness begins. Considering that coffee is a fruit, it is not an exception to the winning conservation conditions that come with it. It is important to keep coffee in an airtight container away from humidity, light and temperature variations. The freezer is a dry place, but moisture can build up in the container as it is removed and replaced.

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Choose your coffee like choosing your fruit

When you drink a coffee, you consume an infused fruit. Coffee being a product traded worldwide on the stock market, there is a wide variety of bean types and quality offered by producers. The roaster has the luxury of choosing from many options, creating his own blends or original coffees. Take the time to look at and evaluate the product offered by the roaster as if you were choosing your strawberries or blueberries. Aside from the roast and the origin of the beans, what is the quality of the beans that compose it? Do they seem to be mature and of good size? Do the beans seem to have opened up after roasting to release their full flavor? By eye and smell you can detect the quality of the product even before you drink it.

Coffee beans

Find here all our coffee beans.

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Fun exercise

Open a bag of coffee beans nearby. Pour a small portion on the counter and separate the beans that, according to your judgment, seem to have the qualities hard, closed or small. Using the same concept, try to differentiate between Robusta and Arabica (it is possible that the blend is 100% Arabica) by taking into account the qualifiers (round with a straight center line for Robusta and oval with a sinuous center line for Arabica). With the naked eye, you can have fun evaluating the quality of the product you have been offered. The coffee is sold by weight, so you can judge the quality of the blend versus another. I would like to keep a caveat, the most important thing will always be your personal appreciation of the result once brewed.

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