ORIGIN OF COFFEE
Coffee has been drunk for its taste as well as for its invigorating properties for a long time. While it is difficult to pinpoint the origins of coffee, a very widespread legend attributes its discovery to an Ethiopian shepherd who observed its stimulating effects on his goats after nibbling on a coffee bush.
According to another legend, this same shepherd would have discovered the tasty aroma of coffee by exposing, by chance, a branch of coffee tree to the heat of the stove.
Whatever the true account of the discovery of coffee, there is every indication that it did indeed come from Ethiopia, where it has been consumed since prehistoric times. It would have started to be cultivated and marketed in Yemen in the 6th century.
Originally suspect in the eyes of the Church, because of its “euphoric” properties, coffee is today one of the most traded consumer products in the world. Around 2.25 billion cups of coffee are consumed worldwide every day.
It is the drink of choice for Canadian adults, even ahead of tap water! They consume an average of 2.8 cups a day! In Canada, this globally represents a $6.2 billion industry!
Currently, Brazil is the largest coffee exporter in the world, followed by Vietnam, Colombia, Indonesia and Ethiopia. World coffee production is based on the work of around 25 million small producers who make a living from growing coffee.
Perched in the mountains, cultivated land is sometimes found up to 2000 meters in altitude.
The coffee tree is a botanical genus with more than a hundred species. Of these, two are grown commercially: coffea arabica, which accounts for nearly 60% to 80% of world coffee production, and coffea canephora, also known as robusta.
Arabica coffee is generally finer and has a higher aromatic potential. Robusta, as its name suggests, is more robust, in addition to being higher in caffeine.
The coffee bean comes from the fruit of the coffee tree, the drupe, commonly called “the coffee cherry”. There are generally 2 coffee beans per drupe. In general, coffee is harvested by hand, by selective picking or by destemming.
Generally used for robusta coffee plants, destemming consists of the indiscriminate harvesting of all the drupes, ripe or not, from a shrub, when most of them should be ripe. Some large modern Brazilian plantations use a device that shakes the robusta plants to knock all the cherries out at once.
Longer, more tedious and more labour-intensive, curbside recycling produces consistent, high-quality results. Since only fully ripened cherries are picked, the same shrubs are visited repeatedly, over a period of a few weeks, until all of their cherries have ripened to perfection.
After the harvest comes the time to extract the coffee beans from the fruit of the coffee tree. To do this, the grain is stripped of its husk, by the natural or wet method.
The natural method is the oldest coffee processing method and does not require any special equipment. The coffee cherries are washed and sorted, then spread out in the sun on a brick or concrete terrace.
During the process, which can take up to a month, the drupes are turned regularly to ensure even drying. Once dried, the cherries are sent to the mill where they will be mechanically peeled.
Wet-processed cherries are shelled before being dried. They are first sorted by flotation: the ripe fruits sink while the immature fruits float. The wet method is largely mechanized.
A first layer of pulp is removed using a pulper and the remaining pulp is then removed through a fermentation process, followed by cleaning. The coffee beans are then dried, either naturally or mechanically.
Typically, grains treated with the wet method are sun-dried until they reach 12% moisture content. Drying is then completed by machine up to 10% humidity.
Once dried, the beans are sorted again and the selected beans are ready to be shipped to market.
There are several methods to decaffeinate coffee beans. The classic method is to dissolve the caffeine using an organic solvent, then remove it by distillation. Another method involves injecting a powerful jet of CO2 into the bean, which dissolves most of the caffeine.
It is finally possible to soak the beans and filter the water obtained with activated charcoal to remove the caffeine. The water is then reinjected with the grains and then evaporated, in order to preserve as much of their flavor as possible.
It is, for all practical purposes, impossible to completely decaffeinate coffee beans. The caffeine content varies according to the method used and can reach up to 20% of the content of untreated coffee in some producers.
ON 3 CONTINENTS
In the 17th century, to escape the Yemeni monopoly, the Dutch were the first to succeed in growing seeds from Ethiopian varieties in their Indonesian colonies. This variety took the name Typica, which means the first variety.
From plants offered by the mayor of Amsterdam to Louis XIV, the French developed on Reunion Island, formerly called Ile Bourbon, a new variety which took the name of Bourbon.
The spread of these Arabica plants on the American, Asian and African continents is inseparable from the colonial history of the modern era.
Exported with the colonization of the “new world”, Typica and Bourbon are at the origin of the many varieties found in Central and South America.
Fruits of crossbreeding and adaptation to new terroirs, the first varieties of Arabica have greatly diversified. Some species are the result of natural mutations linked to adaptability to the terroirs such as Catturra derived from Bourbon, Maragogype descended from Typica, Pacas mutation from Bourbon.
Others are the result of crosses to improve yields, such as Mundo Novo, a hybrid between Bourbon and Typica, Catuai, a cross between Caturra and Mundo Novo, or even Pacamara and Maracaturra.
Besides Ethiopia, other countries like Kenya have developed unique species from Mocha or Bourbon. We find in particular K7, SL28 or SL34, SL being the acronym of Scott Laboratories, a British laboratory that created these new species in the 1930s.
Thus from the first known species, many subspecies have appeared. The Bourbon variety is now available in red bourbon (very present in Rwanda), yellow, orange or pink, while the endemic variety of Reunion Island is called Bourbon pointu.
In Asia, we observe the same phenomenon. The Typica planted in Java in Indonesia became Java. The cross between an arabica and a robusta gave rise to Timor and a hybrid of Caturra and Timor gave rise to Catimor.