Two Branches from the Coffee Family Tree

Today’s post compares two very different branches from the coffee family tree:  a Panamanian varietal whose beans retail for outrageous sums, and a native Florida plant producing beans in my backyard. 🙂  Let’s start with the latter:

20130217_150205The Psychotra nervosa (wild coffee) above was started from stem cuttings 13 months ago.  It grows as a dense, round, multi-stemmed shrub, reaching 5′ tall and 4-8′ wide. The  glossy, puckery,  5″ leaves are light green when grown in full sun (like mine) or a deep forest green when shadegrown. Deep veination lends texture, but a nicer attribute is the gardenia-like fragrance that arrives in spring with the tiny white flowers.  By fall, bright red, half-inch berries (beans) appear.

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Just like commercial coffee beans, wild coffee berries are round on one side and flat with a groove on the other. Although not considered safe today for human consumption, Native Americans brewed the berries for ceremonial/medicinal purposes. What the beans lack in caffeine they make up for in extractable hallucinogens  (DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME!) In raw form however, the berries are safe for wildlife.

In contrast,  Geisha coffee beans exported from Central America are SO palatable they command crazy high prices!   Although you wouldn’t know it by looking at the plant now, would you:?:

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In 1931, the Geisha tree was brought from Ethiopia to Central America where it grew in relative obscurity for close to 70 years.  In 2003, Dan Peterson, owner of Hacienda la Esmeralda plantation (in Panama), was looking for something unusual to enter in a “Best of Bean” competition.  He noticed a patch of taller, thinner trees with elongated beans growing among his other varieties so on a whim, decided to harvest and taste-test them separately. Recognizing the result was dramatically different from everything else at the plantation, he entered his new single roast into competition, and the rest as they say, is history!

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What happened over the next ten years has turned the coffee industry on its ear, with farmers throughout Central America buying and planting seeds with hopes of cashing in….but not everyone’s been so lucky. If ever a plant was finicky, this is the one!

Not only does Geisha produce relatively few beans (note photo above), it’s extremely sensitive to soil, climate and altitude with this last factor being key. Grow it at less than 4500ft and the result is ordinary run-of-the-mill coffee!. Yikes!

So what does this coffee actually taste like?

Geisha is described as light bodied with a jasmine-like aroma and honey/citrus taste profile. Although I’m a coffee freak,  I haven’t bought it yet…prices are a bit too steep, with whole beans ranging 30.00 to 45.00 per lb. depending on stockist. Green Mountain currently sells  Geisha Special Reserve K-cup 18pks  for 31.99. Yowzaa!

Until next time….

🙂 🙂 🙂

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22 thoughts on “Two Branches from the Coffee Family Tree

  1. I like your wild coffee tree, actually I like most plants with red berries. Too bad about the hallucinogenic effects, not what you really want before heading off to work. Well, some of us might …

  2. I’d have thought, in the interest of research, you’d have begun a small change collection to fund a taste testing of this vanilla and jasmine coffee from the high altitude tropics!!!! Love your ‘wild coffee’. I don’t think we can have enough sweet smelling plants with white flowers – with the bonus of red berries, lets hope someone begins exporting it to other warm countries so we can grow it too.

  3. Such an interesting post!!! Too bad that the wild coffee plant that you are growing yourself can’t produce delicious, edible coffee beans. But I was pleasantly surprised at how pretty the wild coffee plant is! 🙂
    Kenley

    • Thank you! I’m finally satisfied with how that plant is growing. Initially I had it sitting in a clay pot in a shaded section of my rear garden and it didn’t look good at all. When I dug it into the opposite side it really took off! It seems to appreciate sun in the afternoon. 🙂

  4. $31.99 for 18 K-cups? I enjoy a good cup of coffee, but maybe not that much! I would strong second NOT trying to drink that hallucinogenic variety. The Native American rituals included a great deal of vomiting after drinking the brew. Don’t try this one at home, kids!

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