Monday, October 29, 2007

Coffee Flowers

Coffee Flowers
Originally uploaded by chipandandy
When we still lived in California, Andy was kind enough to buy me a Coffee Plant. Two actually. They were cute, about six inches tall with three or four leaves each. That was a couple of years ago (seven, almost eight).

Since then, we have moved to Florida, bought a house with a yard that had absolutely nothing in it and therefore had a lot of room to plant said coffee plants. And, I think our house is built on top of a nuclear waste dump, or possibly an ancient indian burial ground, because everything we have planted has grown to twice its normal height or grown to maturity in half of the expected time.
Coffee Plant

This shot is of the coffee plants this past April which would put the Coffee plants at about eight years old. That is them growing around the Frangipani. They flowered last year and even set fruit, but only a few actually made it to harvest. And, I was so excited to have the flowers and resulting beans I never even considered what to do with them.
Coffee Flower

I will draw your attention back to that shot, and then this one, and point out the abundance of flowers on the plant. Coffee flowers are surprisingly attractive even if they don't have much aroma. And there are so many flowers that it looks like snow has fallen, if snow could fall on only one plant and in South Florida.

Once the flowers have done their little bit for the birds and the bees, you wind up with coffee fruit. And then you get to look at green coffee fruit for a long time.
Unripe Coffee Fruit
I don't know how long it takes the fruit to ripen for regular plants in, say, Hawaii, but here it took six months before any color started to show. And, even after they started to show the first blush of red, it was still another month before the fruit were ready to pick. And, without the guidance of Juan and his little burro, I am not sure I waited long enough, or maybe I waited too long, Juan where are you when I need you?

After the fruit looks like fruit, well actually after some of the started to turn from red to brown, I decided it was time to start harvesting. Grab a bowl, start pulling fruit, how simple can it be. Actually, picking the fruit was very easy, it was the hulling of the fruit that turned out to be a mess. Now, the coffee farmers have their methods for hulling the fruit and most of them are mechanical. I, however, am not a coffee farmer and have no nice Coffee Huller 3000 to zip my beans out of their protective fruit casing. Thumb and forefinger is all I got and that is what I started to do.
Coffee Fruit

I should mention here that I have mild ADD. Not clinically or anything, just a really short attention span and squeezing coffee fruits is only fun for about the first thirty minutes. So, over the next two weeks I am squeezing coffee fruit as the ones in my bowl are now turning black as the fruit shrivels up into a surprisingly hard skin over my precious coffee beans encased within. You can see in this shot the beans, some red fruit still ready for squeezing, and plenty of brown to black fruit that will need peeling. Did I mention yet that Florida is not known for its great coffee? And that all of this work may be for nothing because the beans may not be any good once harvested, roasted, ground, brewed and finally poured...

I am determined to try, damn-it, and there are several things spurring me on...

First, about six months ago I read an article in a magazine about this Doctor guy that was using grape growing techniques to train the coffee plant onto a trellis to make the plant fan out and produce more beans. And he spends six months a year in Hawaii growing his coffee, and then six months a year treating sick people. Lucky bastard.

Then, I see a couple of blogs talking about home-roasting techniques, and I am sorry that I can't find them now to link back to them, but the coffee roasting portions were actually in passing so it is not really important. I'll just say it was enough to keep the idea running in my tiny little brain-space.

Then, at the same time I am starting to harvest the beans, I get a new magazine in the mail and one of the major articles is about at-home coffee roasting. The magazine in question is Imbibe and if you drink and don't have a subscription you are so missing out. And the article in question is "HEAT WAVE: Backyard coffee roasters take their morning cup into their own hands. By ANNA MANTZARIS." One of the many options presented for the home-coffee roaster is a air-pop popcorn popper.

Now, having had many of these during my childhood and then giving them up because they quit heating properly or they were offered up in the last garage sale because we only ever use the microwave now to pop our corn it was with some delight that a trip to the local Goodwill turned up a Pop-Air 2 (and several albums, but that is another blog) with a Made-in-America sticker still proudly pasted on the side.

A quick stop for lunch and then home to try my hand at roasting my own coffee. Not just any coffee, but coffee from my own plant harvested by my own hand. The excitement grows, and even retelling the story here gives me a little giggle.

OK, I like my coffee very dark and I typically use espresso roast for my daily coffee. So with my new found knowledge, combined with lots of other knowledge already lurking around the brain, the beans go into the Pop-Air 2. Pretty quickly, the beans dry enough and roast enough to reach the 'first crack,' which surprisingly is exactly what it sounds like, a cracking noise. Very much like popping popcorn, there are a few hints of a cracking noise, then lots and lots of cracking noises, then less and less cracking which is very quickly replaced with the smell of roasted coffee. Like I said, I like my coffee dark so I am going to roast past the second crack by a lot and get what I hope to be a dark roast as close to an espresso roast as I can. Well, the second crack is not as pronounced as the first because I didn't hear it, possibly because of the rather loud motor of the Pop-Air (which, by the way, is proudly Made-in-America because the label said so). So we are all standing around watching the beans go round and round and scooping out a bean every few minutes to inspect the progress. After about twenty more minutes we decide this is as dark as we are going to get, again possibly due to the limitations of the Pop-Air 2.

First batch out to cool, second batch in to start. The second batch reaches first crack in just a couple of minutes because the Pop-Air 2 is still hot from the first batch. And, the second batch delivers a more pronounced second crack, total time from green beans to roasted coffee is about twenty minutes. Mix both batches together and grab the grinder. A good long spin to get a really fine grind and into the top of the Melita it goes. The aroma is promising, the color of the ground coffee is invitingly dark, and the first water from the kettle makes it smell even better. This just might be good!

First pot and three people in the house to try it. I can not live without my morning cup. Our house guest is the same. Andy, she can take it or leave it because she has only in the last few years started to drink it with any regularity. All of us agree that a good cup of coffee is a thing of beauty and that anything less is simply brown water. With all of that in mind we watch as the water slowly drains down through the filter and fills the pot with an impressive looking dark potion of caffeinated bliss. At least we hope it is bliss that awaits us. Did I mention that South Florida is not known as one of the coffee growing capitals of the world?

Finally, the pour.

Six months of watching coffee fruit slowly grown and turn blood red. Messy hands and smelly coffee fruit hulls. Eight dollars for a used Pop-Air 2. All leading to this final moment.....


We have coffee that is drinkable. It is the best cup of coffee I have ever had, but if I offered you some you would not be impressed. It is the best cup of coffee I have ever had because it was brewed with beans that I grew, harvested, roasted, and then brewed myself. So that makes it a very special cup of coffee, to me at least.

I don't, however, think that South Florida will become the next great coffee growing location. But, if you stop by in the next day or two I will gladly share a cup my coffee. I say day or two because all the whole process only yielded a bit less than half of a pound of coffee. That won't last but a couple of days around here.

Here is the entire photo set

Coffee Flower Green Beans First Cup

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Congrats on your successful coffee harvesting and roasting. It would be so awesome to have your very own coffee plantation on your backyard. Odd that this is the first time that I have ever seen coffee flowers