I Like Coffee...

Way back in the mists of time, or 1140 to be precise, it is told that an Ethiopian shepherd complained of lack of sleep because his sheep strangely jumped around all night after grazing on berries of plants growing locally. 

Some monks tried the berries and reported the same sleeplessness. Struggling to stay awake for their long nights of prayer, they saw this as a sign from God and started to cultivate the plant, making an infusion from its berries – the first written evidence of coffee. The highlands of Ethiopia and Yemen were the home of this much-loved plant; named coffee from the Arabic word quahwah.

Most of us would rightly assume that Brazil is the biggest coffee producer, followed by Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico, Jamaica with lesser plantings in Kenya, India and Vietnam. But coffee has a long history in Spain too, so you won´t be breaking new ground if you want to try it! In 1788 King Charles III of Spain issued an order to plant coffee bushes in Tenerife; they had been tried in the Royal Gardens of Aranjuez but the rigours of the Madrid 

climate had been too much for the little plants. However, plantings in Tenerife were successful and sometime later it was introduced to Gran Canaria, again with great success. To this day, the only commercial plantings of coffee in Spain are in Gran Canaria, where it grows happily in the fertile and protected valleys. The quality of the coffee is said to be very high with a great flavour and aroma. Due to high labour and production costs the growth of both coffee and tobacco is treated as artesanal rather than serious business and growers fight to maintain their 200 year history as the only coffee growers in Europe. Look for Café de Agaete if you want to give it a try and support this local industry and gourmet coffee.

For me the best smell and taste early in the morning is that first cup of coffee  … mmmmm! So wouldn´t it be really cool to be able to harvest your very own coffee beans!

Coffea Arabica is a tropical evergreen shrub with deep green shiny leaves and lovely white fragrant flowers so you can enjoy its beauty whilst waiting for your coffee. It will start to crop at about 4 yrs old but will need another couple of years before it comes into full production. Being tropical it needs a warm sheltered position or, better still, use it as a conservatory plant; it´s certainly beautiful enough to warrant a special position. It is self-fertile, so you will only need one plant.

In the ground, it will form a large shrub probably to about 5m tall in our climate but, in cultivation, it is pruned to keep it between 2 and 3 metres. The bushes make comfortable companions for citrus, mangos, avocados, 

tobacco or bananas as they require similar conditions and the trees provide some shade for the coffee. The bushes don´t mind being pruned hard and constant pinching should be carried out to encourage bushiness. Lightly dappled shade is ideal or, inside, in good light but not sunlight. Fertilise regularly, much as you would for any productive shrub; the leaves should always be that lovely rich green and are a good indicator if your plant is happy.

After you´ve harvested your crop, there are three options to prepare your coffee beans; washed/wet process, pulp natural and sun-dried – this latter being the traditional method and still practiced. The cherry (as the fruit is 

called) is dried around the bean, either on or off the bush, then husked off and discarded. It gives a very pronounced fruity flavour to your coffee.

To toast your coffee beans, set your oven to 240C and spread the beans on an oven tray. Roast for 8 to 10 mins, be attentive; long/over-roasting will increase bitterness; under-roasting will increase the sweetness. You will 

notice cracking sounds – the sugars caramelizing, water evaporating and the oil of the bean coming forward - and a change of colour. Experiment – it´s a matter of personal taste to perfect your very own brew! In any case, cool 

as quickly as you can by moving the beans onto a cooling tray and moving them around. Always roast in a well-aerated house as some smoke will be produced; the delicious smell of coffee will permeate the house for days!

Then sit back and enjoy!

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