The arabica tree produces a fine quality coffee; the highest grades of arabica coffees are sold primarily by gourmet retailers. Arabica beans are delicate and flavorful and sell at higher prices because of their quality and limited availability. Because the arabica tree is susceptible to disease, frost, and drought, it requires very careful cultivation with just the right climatic conditions.
The robusta tree, which bears more coffee cherries, is hardier and more resistant to disease. Although generally not found in gourmet shops, robusta beans are often used in the processing of soluble (instant) coffees and popular commercial blends.
For the next 18 to 24 months the plants are fertilized, pruned, and weeded. The white, jasmine-scented flowers soon follow. It is not uncommon, however, to find blossoms, green berries, and ripe red cherries on the same branch of a tree.
While a robusta tree yields 2 to 3 pounds of green coffee a year, an arabica tree- because of its delicate nature-yields only 1 to 1.5 pounds. This is the equivalent of approximately 2,500 cherries or one pound of roasted coffee per tree.
Harvesting high-grade arabica coffees is very labor intensive because only the ripest cherries are selected for processing. Workers must return to the trees more than once, as all cherries do not ripen at the same time.
Generally, workers hand pick the cherries,
although harvesting times and practices often
vary with the growing region.
In the wet method, the pulp is removed mechanically. To loosen remaining pulp, the cherries are placed in a large, clean concrete tank to ferment. The beans are then poured into water and thoroughly washed. They are drained and spread out to dry in the sun or dried mechanically. Next, hulling machines remove the parchment and silver skin to reveal the green beans, which are then sorted and graded for various levels of quality.
In the dry method, the cherries are spread out in the sun on patios or drying mats. Turned by rakes several times a day, the beans dry in one to two weeks. when dry, they are transferred to hulling machines for removal of dried husk parchment and silver skin in preparation for sorting and grading.
Gourmet coffee (arabica) can be processed by either the wet or dry method. For example, Colombian, Costa Rican, Guatemalan, Kenyan, Hawaiian Kona, and Mexican coffee beans are processed by the wet method. Most Brazilian coffees, some Ethiopians, and some Indonesians are processed by the dry method. Once the beans are sorted and graded, they are bagged and transported to ports for warehousing and shipping.
Although some coffee is grown in Hawaii, the United States imports the majority of its coffee. Through the principal ports of New York City, New Orleans, and San Francisco comes one third of the world's coffee supply, all destined for U.S. consumption. The major producers of coffee imported into the United States are Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Angola, Ivory Coast, El Salvador, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Kenya, and Indonesia.
Gourmet coffee retailers order from specialty roasters or roast their own coffees to provide the freshest, finest quality beans. Like you, roasters and retailers of green and roasted coffee beans carefully select their merchandise for quality. They examine coffee beans for imperfections and for small, broken beans, which roast darker than the rest and give a burnt taste to brewed coffee. Specialty merchants generally will not accept coffees containing broken beans or other defects that negatively affect the flavor of the brewed coffee.
Although a coffee's aroma, body, and
flavor vary according to how and where it is
grown and processed, certain characteristics
are expected in each fine coffee. Cupping not
only reveals these distinct qualities but also
identifies coffees that can be used in flavorful
blends. Only after it meets the rigorous
requirements of the taster's test will a gourmet
coffee be offered to you, the consumer.
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