THE INSIDE STORY
Ever wondered how and where the coffee plant grows? What are the climatic conditions that favour its growth?
Here is the coffee’s story exploring its life from a seed to a plant as told by Grandpa to the 10 year-old Rohit when his head is full of questions while vacationing in a coffee estate.
Grandpa puts down his brewed cup of coffee and walks along the estate with Rohit. He starts explaining the beautiful journey of the growth of coffee plants. Pointing out to a full-grown plant he says, “These are the plants that produce ripe cherries which are processed to give those perfectly roasted beans, an aroma that you love the most, Rohit.
“Firstly, let’s look at the ideal growth and climatic conditions that favour the growth of coffee.
GROWTH & CLIMATIC CONDITIONS
“A coffee plant grows only in the tropical regions of the world. Thus, all the coffee-growing regions of the world lie strictly between the Tropic of Cancer in the north and the Tropic of Capricorn in the south. Coffee Arabica grows at a higher elevation (600-2000 meters from MSL) while the Coffee Robusta grows at medium elevations (200-800 meters from MSL).
DID YOU KNOW?
Only two species of coffee are grown though there are over 100 varieties because growing them commercially is not feasible.
“Temperatures between 16°C - 30°C and good rainfall during the monsoons are ideal for its optimum growth. Fertile volcanic red earth or deep sandy loams are the best soils, although coffee can grow on a variety of soils that are well-drained, like the red soil in India.
“Coffee is grown on hill slopes and under shade in India. In the plantation, the coffee plants are interspersed with bigger trees. These trees not only protect the coffee plants with the shade, their roots also prevent the soil underneath from eroding.
“Farmers also grow a few intercrops like spices and fruits depending on the local environmental conditions. Silver oak trees, which are grown in small numbers, are native to the coffee growing areas in India.
“Now that you know where the coffee plant grows, let me tell you how coffee grows from a small seed”, says Grandpa.
DID YOU KNOW?
Intercrops grown play a symbiotic role with coffee plants and provide a distinctive taste. Farmers also grow them for generating an additional source of income.
“The coffee seeds are first sown in small cups individually and allowed to sprout exposing their tender green leaves. This marks the beginning of the plant life.
“The whole process takes around 4 to 8 weeks after which the seedlings are transferred to a nursery. This is the most commonly followed method for propagating Coffee Arabica.
“These young plants are carefully nurtured for a period of 9 to 18 months in the nursery ensuring that they are exposed to just the right amount of sunlight before they can be transplanted to the coffee plantations.
“Vegetative propagation from an existing mature plant works well for the Coffee Robusta plant. These little plants take about 3 years to produce their first flowers or yield.”
“What’s next”? asks an excited Rohit. To this, Grandpa enthusiastically replies, “Now it’s the time for the beautiful flowers.
“Just after harvest, particularly in the month of February, a coffee plant produces white flowers which give out a very strong sweet fragrance . This phase is called Blooming.
“This lasts for a week to sometimes a few months and then the flower falls off. The cherries grow exactly where the flower blossoms.
“Now, the cherries start to develop and eventually mature. It takes around 9 months for Coffee Arabica variety to mature and about 7 months for Coffee Robusta.
DID YOU KNOW?
The scent of the coffee flowers attracts pollinators thereby facilitating pollination.
“A mature coffee plant starts to produce its full yield from its third year and produces only one harvest per year.”
“Oh! So you have to wait for such a long time to get the harvest?” asks Rohit surprisingly. “Oh yes, and it is also the most time-consuming process every year to pick the correctly ripened cherries from the coffee plant,” replies Grandpa.
“After harvesting, we get green coffee beans which are actually the seeds of the plant.”
He continued, “Life of a coffee plant starts with a small seed. Each fruit (also called the coffee cherry) holds two seeds. The shape of the beans is elliptical or oval. These seeds can be sown for a new crop or further processed to make them into roasted beans.
“The fresh seeds germinate in 2.5 months while the older ones can take up to 6 months.”
“That’s’ quite interesting,” says an overwhelmed Rohit. “I am keen to learn more about the Coffee plant and its types. “Surely, my child. It will take a big round of walk around the estate to show you and explain about the plant. We shall do it soon.”