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Cultivating Coffee Beans

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The coffee tree grows to a height of 4 to 5 meters but, when cultivated, is usually pruned to about 2 meters. It has shiny, ovate leaves and bears sweet-smelling, white flowers that fall after a few days. The cherry-like fruit, which develops over the next 6 to 7 months contains two beans in a covering of sweet pulp. When ripe for picking, the fruit is a deep crimson color.

The coffee tree is cultivated in the cooler regions of the Tropical Zone. It prefers a rich, well drained, volcanic soil, a warm, humid climate, and it grows at altitudes from sea level to 1800 meters. The trees can be planted direct in the soil but are usually propagated in special nurseries and then transplanted into the field. Coffee trees take about 5 years to produce their first full crop; they then continue to bear for up to 30 years and produce an annual yield of about 0.5 kg.

The crop is harvested in two ways: selective picking and wholesale stripping of the tree, both methods usually being carried out by hand. After being picked, the beans are removed from the outer covering of pulp and dried. The resultant product, called 'green coffee', is then sorted and graded. Different varieties of green coffee are blended and roasted to produce a flavor suited to the public taste.

Coffee is grown from seed or more usually from seedlings but may also be propagated by layering. The seeds are first grown in seedbeds, from which the seedlings are later transplanted. One hectare may have from 750 to 1,500 trees (300-600 per acre) and these start bearing after three to five years. The economic life of coffee trees is usually 25-30 years but to maintain high quality and greater yields they are often replaced after 12-15 years.

Coffee does not normally grow outside the tropics because it cannot survive frosty conditions. Ideal coffee temperatures range between 16°C and 27°C.

The crop requires high annual rainfall of about 1,800 mm.

Being sensitive to strong sunlight, coffee plants need some shading and they do best on rolling lands with good drainage, particularly on fertile mountain slopes facing tropical seas.

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