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.