From the Flower to the Cherry - how coffee grows

Coffee is the Germans' favourite drink, with a per capita consumption of 164 litres per year. But how does the delicious hot drink in our cups actually come about? We at 19grams get to the bottom of the coffee mystery and take you to its significant origins: the coffee blossom and coffee cherry.

 

Coffee plant

The coffee plant is a tree that can take three to five years to grow from seed to final size. This depends on the country and the type of coffee. It is precisely during this period that the coffee plant begins to flower for the first time. The blossoms later turn into coffee cherries, which contain the coffee seeds. An adult tree can grow 30,000 to 40,000 flowers.

Coffee blossom

Depending on the variety and rainfall, the flowering period can vary greatly. Sufficient rainfall is a basic prerequisite for the white flowers to open and give off their sweet, jasmine-like fragrance. But the flower can do much more than just smell good: both the blossoms and the fruit set provide information about the possible quantity of the future harvest. This plays an important role for farmers to better estimate the harvest in advance.

The coffee flower of the Arabica plant divides into five pointed leaves at the top, that of the Robusta plant into up to seven. There are also differences in size. The Arabica flower is about 18mm, the Robusta flower measures 33mm, almost double that.

The flowering period is relatively short and lasts a few days. However, the flowers can only be fertilised for a few hours. For a flower to form a coffee cherry at all, pollination is necessary during this period. While the Arabica plants can pollinate themselves, the Robusta plants need help from insects for cross-pollination.

A tip for tea lovers:
coffee flowers are an alternative to coffee in the morning! The blossoms have half the caffeine of Arabica coffee and a sweet honey-like taste.

Coffee blossom honey

Honey from coffee blossoms is an exotic speciality and is produced in almost all coffee countries. The honey has a mild aromatic taste, with notes of coffee and caramel. Coffee blossom honey has a dark, almost mocha-brown colour.

Coffee cherry

The fruits grow along the branch, similar to grapes on vines. Here, too, there are differences between Arabica and Robusta: an Arabica bunch consists of 10 to 20 large coffee cherries, whereas a Robusta bunch consists of 40 to 50 smaller ones.

As the cherry matures, it changes colour over time. Initially it is very small, green and hard, then it becomes slightly larger, orange and softer, to finally be harvested at a rich red. The ripening process can take different lengths of time depending on the weather. For Arabica, 7-9 months pass after the flower is fertilised, for Robusta 9-11 months.

Depending on the country of cultivation, there is one to several harvest periods. The ripe coffee cherries are then either harvested by hand (picking) or mechanically. The smaller farms usually resort to picking by hand. The cherries are then processed and, for example, washed or treated naturally.


What happens to the pulp?

The leftovers from processing can be much more than just a throwaway product. The coffee husks are used to fertilise the coffee trees or sold as cascara - a tasty and very caffeinated tea. Cascara is still not approved as a product in its own right in Germany. Nevertheless, there are some exciting soft drinks that work on the basis of coffee cherry tea.


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