Coffee — James Pogson (Northern Tea Merchants) — 17th Feb. 2014.

Following his very inter­est­ing talk on tea, James returned to tell us about coffee. You may have wondered how it came to be that the pip of a cherry was cleaned of its pulp and outer coat­ing or parch­ment, then roas­ted and ground down to be covered in very hot water to make the drink we all know today. Legend has it that a goat-herder found his goats to be not back in their stable but dan­cing around in the moon­light. He dis­covered that the goats had been eating the cher­ries of an ever­green shrub. This turned out to be the shrub of the genus Coffea from which we get out coffee today. How it got to being roas­ted is yet another legend.

Apparently some pips were thrown on a fire and the res­ult­ing smell led to ground­ing them down to cover with water and hence our coffee drink was born. Today some 85% of pro­duc­tion is by small­hold­ers who gather the cher­ries from the most inhos­pit­able ter­rain where the plants grow nat­ur­ally. The topo­graphy is so dif­fi­cult that even anim­als find great dif­fi­culty in reach­ing the plants and so it is all done by man and by hand. From the col­lec­tion of ripe cher­ries they remove the flesh to reveal the pip, but that is covered in parch­ment. After drying in the sun on a patio, the res­ult­ant pip is now moved down from the farms to the mill where the parch­ment is removed and the raw coffee bean is revealed. There is little that the coffee farm­ers can do to ensure a good har­vest for it is truly depend­ent on God and some years the har­vest is poor and the farm­ers struggle since there is only one har­vest per year.

In Columbia the remote farms are often infilt­rated by cocaine grow­ers who kidnap the farmer and his family and plant cocaine. James told us how he needed an armed guard when vis­it­ing the farm­ers in the hills and the major efforts the gov­ern­ment is making to erad­ic­ate cocaine grow­ing. A fas­cin­at­ing morn­ing and having enjoyed a cup of his excel­lent Columbian, we all felt that out next cup might just mean a little more.