The process begins with a seed (the coffee bean itself) planted in sand, where it germinates into a small seedling called a “chapola.” After 3 months, the seedling is transplanted into a small bag, and continues to grow until it is strong enough to be planted in the field.
Once the tree has been planted, it can take up to 2 years to produce its first harvest. Its production cycle typically lasts 6 years before it is replaced with a fresh plant, or pruned for regeneration. Regeneration occurs when the trunk of an unproductive tree is cut at a height of 30 cm off the ground. From this stump grow several new shoots, two of which are selected to develop into a new tree that will produce coffee for another 6 years. Farming practices vary from country to country and change over time. Previously in Colombia, trees were harvested for dozens of years before being replaced or pruned.
For a tree to produce coffee cherries, it first needs to bloom. Flowering usually occurs after an intense dry period, during which hydric stress triggers the tree’s reproductive process to ensure the continuation of its lineage. The flower is shed within a few days, leaving behind a small fruit that matures over the course of 7 to 9 months.
Coffee grows between the Tropics of Capricorn and Cancer
Within this latitudinal range, a tree’s altitude is also determinant of its final quality. In Colombia, coffee is grown between 1,200 and 2,200 meters. The higher the altitude, the colder the climate — and the slower the maturation of the fruit. Slower maturation means that fruit are denser, preserving vital components within their cell walls that are responsible for aroma. The ideal temperature range for the maturation of coffee fruit is between 63 and 73 degrees Fahrenheit. Higher altitude also means fewer pests, making it possible to grow varieties that produce an exceptional final cup, but are more susceptible to diseases.
Soil quality is also critical. Soil must be rich in organic matter, and a number of minor and major elements, in order to provide the “balanced diet” coffee cherries need to flourish and develop exceptional aromatic complexity.
Common pests and diseases
This small, vicious beetle attacks coffee plants after the first 40 or 60 days of flowering, damaging the fruit. Depending on the temperature, its life cycle lasts between 35 and 100 days. It is unable to survive in heat above 45 degrees.
Coffee rust is considered one of the most catastrophic plant diseases in history. It is among the seven pests and diseases that have caused the most devastation in the past 100 years of coffee cultivation. It consists of a spore that attacks the leaves of the plant, defoliating the tree and preventing photosynthesis.
The red spider voraciously attacks the green leaves of coffee trees, causing a reddish or tan discoloration, until they eventually wilt and fall off.
The average age of a Colombian coffee farmer is 55 years old.
The new generation does
not see a bright, financially – sustainable future in growing coffee.
This must change!
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