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Coffee

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 17, 2012

"Coffee is not only a popular drink, but also part of our history and culture." Rhonda Ferree, University of Illinois Extension educator, horticulture, looks at coffee from a Jamaican viewpoint based on a trip she took there a few years ago." Jamaicans are quite proud of their Blue Mountain coffee," says Ferree. "According to them, it is the best because the mountainous climate at 7402 feet above elevation produces a crop with optimum quality and flavor."

"Literature from Jamaica says to get the best taste from the coffee plant Jamaican growers germinate the seeds for one to two years." They then cut off one of the two root systems before planting. They feel such methods make for slow growth (five years to harvest) but produce a better quality crop.

The Coffea arabica tree or shrub is an evergreen. Its leaves are broad, shiny, and shaped like an arrowhead. They are three to six inches long and line up in pairs on either side of a central stem.

Its flowers are small, white blossoms that cluster at the base of the leaves. In the wild, it grows to a height of 14 to 20 feet, but when cultivated it is usually kept pruned to about 6 feet to facilitate picking the beans and to encourage heavy bearing.

When mature the coffee tree's small oval berries are about the color and size of a small cherry. Inside the skin and pulp are nestled two coffee beans with their flat sides together. Each tree can produce between one and twelve pounds of coffee per year, depending on soil, climate, and other factors.

Coffee grows best in conditions where there are no frosts or hot extremes, in fertile, well-watered but well-drained soil, with only two hours a day of direct sunlight. Arabica trees grown at altitudes between 3,000 to 6,000 feet usually produce coffee with a "hard bean." The colder climate encourages a slower-maturing berry, with a small, dense, less porous bean with less moisture and more flavor. Coffee bean harvest is done by hand and only when the cherries are ripe.

Coffee plants are grown widely in tropical places round the world. In the mainland U.S., coffee is grown only occasionally as an ornamental for its attractive flowers and colorful fruits. It actually makes a nice houseplant. Rhonda says that she grew many coffee plants as a college student for a research project.

"As you enjoy your coffee this holiday season, think about the coffee plant and how it was grown. I think I'll appreciate my cup even more now." For more information on this or other horticultural issues, visit Rhonda's webpages at http://web.extension.illinois.edu/fmpt.

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Source: Rhonda J. Ferree, Extension Educator, Horticulture & State Master Naturalist Coordinator, ferreer@uiuc.edu