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Cultivating Coffee Cherries

When you think of coffee, the first thing that comes to mind probably isn’t cherries. But believe it or not, those beautiful coffee beans that help you wake up in the morning were once the seeds (or stones or pits) of a coffee cherry. That’s right — coffee comes from a fruit! And a very precious one indeed. In fact, a single cup of coffee is made up of around 40 grams of harvested coffee cherries. Think about that the next time you enjoy your first cup of morning coffee. So, where do these coffee cherries come from? And how do they go from a flowering plant to fruit, to seed, to bean? Let’s take a look.

Coffee Flowering

There are two main species of coffee plants that produce what will eventually become the coffee beans you know and love: Arabica and Robusta. Arabica plants are self-pollinating while Robusta trees need both a male and female tree to pollinate. Each of these trees can produce up to twelve pounds of coffee per year, depending on the climate, soil, and other cultivation factors. Once matured, both will display beautiful white blooms resembling honeysuckle or jasmine flowers. Depending on the region where they grow, these trees produce millions of these flowers after a long period of heavy rains. This marks the beginning of the coffee plant’s life cycle.

In most coffee-growing regions, this process happens just once a year and only lasts around 5-7 days before the flowers die. Left behind, is a node where the flower once bloomed. From these nodes, a single coffee cherry will spring. Inside them are two precious coffee seeds ready to become beans. Depending on elevation and environment, the fruit, which begins as green cherries, can take approximately 3 to 5 months to grow and another 3 to 5 months to ripen before they are ready to be harvested.

The Coffee Cherry

Imagine a tiny lime. That’s what a coffee cherry looks like in the beginning. As they mature, they start to resemble a small, oval shape measuring about 1.5 centimeters in length. While most of the cherries will turn a bright red color when fully ripened, there are also certain varieties and hybrid plants that can produce yellow, gold, or orange-colored cherries. Meanwhile, as the cherries are changing colors on the outside, the fruit on the inside is developing a sweet honey-like pulp called mucilage, which surrounds the coffee seeds in the middle of the growing cherry.

Unfortunately, not all cherries will ripen at the same time. This means that coffee farmers have their work cut out for themselves in deciding when it’s time to harvest the cherries and begin the long process of taking them from fruit to bean. One branch of the coffee tree may contain lots of cherries at different stages of ripeness from unripe green to past-ripe black cherries. Farmers are looking for quality over quantity when it comes to harvesting, so the end goal for coffee growers is to pick only the best, mature, ripened coffee cherries to use in the coffee production process.

Harvesting Ripe Cherries

Harvesting ripe cherries is perhaps the most important part of the coffee process. The choices farmers make during harvesting will ultimately determine the coffee’s quality and taste. Coffee processed from ripe cherries will produce sweet, floral, and fruity notes. Unripened cherries, on the other hand, will produce a more bitter-tasting coffee, and overripe cherries may taste moldy or even fermented.

Depending on the size of the crop and the workforce, this part of the process might take several weeks. In order to pick only the best, ripest fruit, farmers often spend hours handpicking the cherries. If this is the case, the harvest may happen in phases, with some cherries being picked in the first harvest and others maturing until the second or third round of picking.

Of course, it’s not always possible to pick only the best cherries during multiple harvesting phases. This requires time, money, and labor. In parts of the world where labor is scarce, or if smaller farms are unable to afford the extra help, the cherries may all be gathered together in a single picking. Combining ripe, unripe, and overripe cherries is the quickest way to low-quality coffee. But that is often how your typical commercial-grade coffee gets made. Specialty coffee, on the other hand, will use only the best fruit available from the harvest.

At Nomi Brew, we’re committed to bringing you only the best-tasting coffee. That’s why we work with farmers who harvest only the ripest, highest-quality cherries. And all of our coffee is specialty-grade. Check out our coffee shop page to sample some of the different flavors and taste the difference for yourself.

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