Culture: Climate control for your coffee hit
Over the last eight weeks Bury St Edmunds has enjoyed temperatures soaring well above historical averages breaking a multitude of regional and national records. It’s not hard to believe considering there have been only four occasions in the last 60 days when temperatures have dipped below 20°C during the day!
With hosepipe bans looming, crops struggling to ripen, scorched grass and once lush areas looking decidedly arid, we are reminded of the importance of water and how it underpins daily life.
The distinct lack rainfall in combination with these tropical temperatures is a somewhat alien concept to the UK, but in coffee producing countries farmers are forced to battle constantly with challenging climatic conditions.
All major coffee producing countries fall in the ‘Coffee Belt’ (as pictured). This area is recognised as offering the best conditions to cultivate Coffea Arabica and Coffea Canephora – the two species of coffee plants. Farming coffee is unfortunately not as simple as planting the seed and harvesting the ripe cherries a few months later; establishing a coffee plant takes anywhere between three to five years to flower, let alone produce quality fruit.
Ensuring the plants have enough of the right water and sunshine is key to eliminating some of the many factors that can prevent crops from flourishing year on year. Often without good infrastructure, farms rely on consistent weather and rudimentary wells to keep plants well watered, whilst erecting makeshift gazebo like structures to shade plants during hot spells. Sadly in several areas of Central and South America farmers have opted to grow cocoa for cocaine production as plants are hardier and yield a more valuable crop.
For those that persevere throughout the growing season, the necessity to process the cherries from fruit to green bean requires just as much resource management. Working to tight deadlines is a reality for many farmers, so preparing the beans for export is achieved by working with neighbouring farms in co-operatives.
The most common method of processing is called ‘FullyWashed’ (abbreviated to FW), whereby the skin and mucilage (fruit) is loosened in a de-pulper and fermented for a few days before being blasted with water (a setup not dissimilar to a giant pressure washer!).
Requiring thousands of litres of water and expanses of drying equipment, co-operatives share the financial burden.
International agents regularly step in and sponsor co-operatives rather than individual farms to raise the overall quality of the green bean in an area; benefiting both producers and consumers after export.
Once in the UK, a 12oz filter coffee would have been directly and indirectly exposed to around 140 litres of water from seed to cup! To avoid monumental resource wastage, getting the water right when brewing coffee is another vital step from seed to cup.
In Suffolk, the water is very hard (high mineral content), and in the context of brewing coffee this creates a flat and underwhelming flavour, certainly no delicious creamy mouthfeel! There are a few ways to combat this problem domestically, but I’d recommend a simple water jug with a regularly changed filter as an essential first purchase for any coffee lover. This easy and affordable solution will help maintain everything from standard kettles to home espresso machines – whilst maximising the flavour of your favourite coffee!
Any questions? Head over to Guat’s Up! on Guildhall street and ask one of our helpful baristas for direction over a cold brew or iced latte.
Rob owns Butterworth & Son coffee roasters and tea smiths, based on Moreton Hall, and Guat’s Up! café in Guildhall Street.
His job takes him around the world visiting coffee farms to source great coffees.