Savor Your Own Homegrown Coffee

June 3, 2005

COFFEE hascontributed to thecountry’s cultureand economy since1820, when landownersbegan plantingit and exportingit to Europe. Duringthe heyday ofcoffee production,in the 1980s, coffeefarmers here receivednearly $300for each 100-poundsack of coffee.However, in the past decade, global overproductionhas resulted in declining pricesand an economic recession for coffee farmers.No longer considered “el grano deoro” (grain of gold), coffee productionhere is facing challenges for the future.Organic coffee production has becomea new trend in the way coffee farmers managetheir farms and market their product.These eco-friendly methods are helping toturn the tide of unsustainable coffee-farmingpractices. Gardeners can also growtheir own organic coffee for a homegrowngourmet cup of java.Coffee (Coffea arabica) is a nativeplant of Africa related to the gardenia. Itsattractive, shiny, evergreen leaves, fragrant,white, star-like flowers and brightred berries make it a useful ornamentalshrub. Plants can be arranged as a borderfor privacy or as freestanding specimens.A mature coffee plant can produceabout one pound of processed coffee peryear. Most coffee cooperatives around thecountry offer young plants for sale, or youcan try starting them from seeds in plasticnursery bags with prepared potting soil.Young seedling plants require shade intheir first stage of growth; after a year theycan be transplanted to permanents sites.Hybrid varieties such as “Catui” requireno shade and are more compact. Oryou may try the older hybrid Arabic plants,which are tall and require partial shade.Coffee plants respond well to organicfertilizers such as compost and composttea. You can also spray the plants with seaweedextract (alga marina) and grape fruit seedoil extract (KILOL) to keep them freeof leaf diseases.The first harvest for young coffee plantscomes in the third year, and they may continueto produce for more than 20 years.Harvest months vary for different zones ofthe country. In the Central Valley, harvestoccurs during the dry season from Januaryto March, while areas in lower elevationsusually harvest September to November.To process the coffee beans, which areactually seeds, you must remove the cherry-like fruit pulp from the seeds with ahand corn grinder (máquina de moler) thathas been opened all the way to permit theseeds to pass through without damagingthem. The pulp can then be separated fromthe seeds by washing them in a five-gallonbucket or tub. The pulp will float and canbe scooped off the surface of the water.Next, dry the beans in the sun onscreens or trays until they are crisp. Thebeans can be stored at this stage or passedonce again through the corn grinder, thistime with a slightly tighter setting toremove the outer husk of the seed.Now you can toast the coffee beans,preferably in a large cast-iron skillet. Youcan custom-roast the coffee: light brownfor a mild flavor or almost black for astrong blend. The toasted beans can then beground in a small coffee grinder, a blenderor the corn grinder with a tight setting.Although coffee is considered a cardiostimulantand a good laxative, excessiveuse can cause secondary effects such asnervousness, irritability, insomnia, muscletension, high blood pressure, heart palpitations,stomach distress, gastritis, ulcers andpoor assimilation of nutrients in theintestines. According to Victoria Bidwell’s“Health-seekers Yearbook,” continuedexcessive use of coffee can contribute torapid aging and greater risk of chronicdegenerative and malignant diseases.So, for your own well-being, try cuttingdown your coffee intake to a cup a dayin the morning. And for a healthier planet,grow eco-friendly coffee right at home.For more information on tropical ecogardens,medicinal herbs and natural livingin the tropics, visit www.thenewdawncenter.org, or e-mail your questions tothenewdawncenter@yahoo.com.

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