• Variety, soils, altitude, irrigation, processing

    Variety, soils and altitude

    A vast number of different coffees are traded in the market. Together these represent an almost immeasurable number of combinations of variety, soil and altitude. The better combinations can obviously aspire to better prices but growers, especially smallholders, cannot easily change their location, that is, change their soil type or altitude. Commercial growers however can relatively easily change the variety they grow: depending on their cropping cycle, modern commercial farms automatically replant 10%-15% of their tree park annually. But the choice of variety can be difficult. It is in the best interest of growers to stay informed of the types of coffee available for planting, and to match the best variety to the soils and the altitude conditions of their farms. For smallholders uprooting and replanting are especially costly undertakings, requiring careful consideration and realistic advice concerning all the potential consequences. This applies equally to genetically modified (GM) coffee that may appear in future. As yet there is no commercially available GM coffee but work in this area has been underway during the last decade.

    Rain fed or irrigated

    Stressed trees cannot produce decent, well formed cherries. Coffee is drought-resistant, but not drought-proof. It has remarkable recuperative power from dry spells, but like all living things it needs water to produce.

    Only very few coffees from marginal rainfall areas have made it to the ranks of truly notable coffees. These notable coffees have specific, inherent quality aspects (linked to their variety) which command premiums high enough to compensate for very low yields. Non-irrigated coffee in marginal rainfall areas usually shows the greatest seasonal quality variation.

    Wet or dry processed

    Washed arabica not only needs adequate rainfall or irrigation for growth, but also requires water for wet processing. In many areas it is not uncommon to see multiple washing stations (or wet beneficios) using common sources of water, either small rivers or streams.

    Below-average rainfall can then result in insufficient or poor quality water for washing, which has a direct effect on the quality produced. The preparation of natural or dry processed coffee does not use water, but of course the trees still require adequate water for growth. Harvesting and drying need dry conditions and the best natural coffees are obtained from areas that have little rain in the harvesting season. Examples are Yemeni mochas and some Ethiopian Harars, but the largest group of natural arabicas comes from Brazil, with the best originating from dry areas where the cherry matures and dries quickly.
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