Not many people have the possibility of knowing the details of growing coffee and even less the chance to visit a coffee plantation. My blog has been about some of the people involved in the delicate -and strenuous- chores of producing good quality coffee presenting the persons who dedicate their lives to coffee, not as a commodity but as the fragrant fruit of their loving work. Now I want to give you guys a few numbers to ponder over your next steaming cup or refreshing glass of iced coffee.
What's in the news now is the upward trend of the international price of coffee. When the price was low and going down, it did not hit the news.
Anyway, let's take a quick look and some figures related to coffee production. These facts are taken from Colombian stats and are an average. Some Latin American countries -and perhaps some Asian countries also- may fall into the same ballpark figures, but this is not a course in coffee economics, but a bird's-eye view of the coffee agriculture.
Planting in the mountains must be done by hand, there are no machines devised for this type of operation yet and one hectare may contain somewhere between 4000 and 5000 plants. After the third year, crops begin to stabilize (yes, the first three years are "dead") and increase yield from less than 0.3 kilo per shrub to 0.9 kilo per shrub in the 6th year. This means roughly going from less than 1,000 kilos per hectare in year three to around 4,500 kilos of ripe cherries per hectare after year six.
No worries, you will not be bored with details on weeding, caring, debugging and composting.
Now, this is the yield in carefully hand-picked cherries, where only the ripe beans are selected (no machinery here); these beans are then processed: depulped, selected, cleansed, selected washed, selected, sun-dried and again selected to obtain good parchment coffee. All these selection steps are the guarantee that you, the roaster and the consumer will receive only the best coffee. The shells and other remains end up in the compost.
For each kilo of ripe cherries picked, the yield in dried coffee beans is of around 0.45 kilo after these processes. This means a yield of around 1,400 kilos of dried coffee beans per hectare planted.
After peeling, one metric ton (2,200 lbs) of dried, green beans per hectare is now ready to be roasted either locally or in a foreign country. Simply put, 4500 kilos of ripe cherries are harvested and after processing the result is 1000 kilos of dried green beans.
A very large amount of growers own fincas of less than 4 hectares, and all of them dedicate no less than one fourth of the space to native trees, both for shadow and as buffer zones at the finca's borders.
There is another way to get a grasp of what it takes to grow coffee: plan a visit to the countries where coffee is produced and visit the fincas. The sights are gorgeous, the climate is cool and the people are warm, caring and always happy. Anyone interested, don't hesitate to contact me.
1 hectare = 2.47 acres
1 kilo = 2.2 pounds
Finca = farm