Rubiacee family, Coffea genus.
Rubiacee family, Coffea genus. This is the correct scientific definition of the coffee tree the two most important and well-known species of the entire family belong to: Arabica and Canephora, more commonly known as Robusta:
L’Arabica e la Canephora, più comunemente nota coma Robusta.
Undoubtedly the most popular species, from whose cultivation we get about three-quarters of the world’s coffee production. The tree’s height varies between three and five meters, which when grown on the plantation drops to two-three meters. Its trunk is smooth and straight with long, slender branches and lance-shaped, leathery leaves. Two ovules are contained in the bottom part of the ovary, divided in two, from which we get the coffee beans. It is a species that easily adapts to different environmental conditions, and that prefers the changes of season. The Arabica can grow at an altitude of between 900 and 2000 meters, where the temperature ranges between 15° and 24°C. The green Arabica bean has an aromatic richness and a range of precursors higher in terpenes, with a lower quantity of pyrazines and furans. It also has the greatest quantity of cyclotene, 5-hydroxymaltol and phurphuril pirrols.
A widespread species that perhaps is not as superior but is certainly hardier. In its wild state its height varies from seven to 13 meters; it has fine, elliptical-shaped leaves, and its round fruit is particularly impressive. Unlike the Arabica, the Robusta is grown at a lower altitude – between 200 and 600 meters – precisely because it does not like the temperature range of high altitudes and is fond of constant temperatures between 24° and 29°C. Rather inflexible from the climatic viewpoint, the Robusta is however less subject to disease and therefore requires less care. Robusta is richer in phenols, alkylpirrols, caffeine (1.6-3.2%, and even more) and other compounds. After roasting, these factors bringing difference in aroma and taste are brought to the fore.
How it is grown
The coffee tree can be propagated by seeding or by cutting. In the first case the fruit is harvested when it is completely ripe, then its flesh is stripped off and the best specimens are selected by hand with the help of water (the seeds that float when placed in water are certainly of poor quality). Then they are placed in wooden cases and covered with soil, humus and large leaves awaiting the birth of the new plants.
In the second case, on the other hand, a small branch of the adult tree is placed in the ground. Arranged singly in an actual nursery, the future coffee tree stay here for about one year, to then be transferred to the plantations where they will start to bear fruit following another three years of acclimatization. A certain amount of time is necessary, but it seems right to grant it: the coffee tree then bears fruit for almost forty years, and never goes on holiday.
Harvesting: picking or stripping
Harvesting is unquestionably one of the most expensive operations weighing on the balance sheet of farms that manage coffee plantations. There are several harvesting techniques that ensure different levels of quality. As previously stated, since fruit is produced on the same tree several times a year, we can find blossoms as well as undeveloped cherries or cherries that, on the other hand, are already ripe. The picking harvesting method is the most expensive because it is performed only by hand. However, it is very precise because only the red, ripe cherries are selected and picked, but it does require having to go through the rows of the same trees several times over several weeks. Stripping involves a technique that is more brutal, but is less costly in terms of time and money. Everything is stripped from the branch passing between the hands – from the ripest cherries to the most undeveloped, and even those that have gone bad. The result is a lower quality harvest.
Processing: dry or wet method
Here as well there are two methods to choose from: the dry and wet processes. The first gives us natural coffees, whereas the second produces washed coffees. And they naturally affect the bean’s characteristics. First of all the drupes are separated from all the rest gathered in the dry process. To do this, the cherries can be sifted and then either struck with a powerful jet of air or immersed in tubs of running water. After we have obtained just the cherries, they are placed in special yards directly exposed to the sun in order to dry them out. Then they are normally remixed and naturally covered with tarpaulins should it rain so as to prevent them from absorbing water, dried completely with a mechanical process and hulled.
And thus, the bean finally sees the light of day. In the wet process, carried out above all on cherries harvested with the picking method because it is necessary to have homogeneous and fairly tender raw material, the process is instead more complex. First most of the pulp is eliminated with a special machine, then the fruit is immersed in tubs full of water for two or three days. In this way the part of the pulp that remains, which is subject to fermentation, is swept away, releasing the bean. One certainly must pay careful attention to the process because the cherry becomes ruined, resulting in irreparable damage, if it is left to ferment too long.
The beans are washed with water and dried following fermentation. One important detail: the washed coffee beans obtained with the wet process and from more homogeneous raw material prove to be of better quality and have a special, unmistakable fruity-floral aroma. In any case, the coffee obtained at the end of these processes is called green, and is almost ready for export
Selection, storage and grading
The green coffee at the warehouses can be subjected to an additional selection, which can be done manually or electronically by reading the colour, so as to discard the ripe, overripe or even fermented beans. After the product is selected and classified – bearing in mind that every country has its own method established by custom, but that the one proposed by the New York Coffee and Sugar Exchange is of particular importance – it is necessary to store it in such a way as to ensure it is well-preserved.
Before being shipped, green coffee has 11-12% humidity, and keeps rather well if stored at a relatively low humidity (better if it is below 50%) and at a certain temperature. This does not mean that it has exceptional resistance as time goes by.
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